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Monday, 22 November 2010
Page: 1720

Senator WORTLEY (1:54 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010 and, in doing so, I would like to refer for a moment to the present debate surrounding the passage of this legislation in light of the government’s present scrutiny and release, in due course, of the National Broadband Network Company’s business plan. Let us not assume that those opposite are motivated by anything other than political expediency in calling for the immediate release of the plan. They know that, given their long—far too long—occupation of this side of the chamber, that documents of this scale and complexity require careful consideration before entering the public domain. I note the remarks of Mr Windsor from the other place on the ABC’s Lateline program. He said:

I think the Opposition’s agenda has been very clear. Tony Abbott made statements earlier today that it was about demolishing the NBN. So, I think any amendments now that they introduce have one aim in mind and that’s to delay rather than assist in terms of scrutiny or transparency.

In their zeal to wreck and destroy, those opposite would have our country lose out on cutting-edge, 21st-century technology, the benefits of which already have been so widely acknowledged. There is widespread acceptance throughout Australia that the federal government’s National Broadband Network is critical infrastructure that needs to be rolled out around Australia. The opposition need to take a good look at themselves and the needs of their constituencies, put aside their determination to demolish and destroy, and consider what will lead this country forwards rather than, as they seem to prefer, backwards in terms of opportunity, productivity and competitiveness.

I turn to the bill. This piece of legislation will overcome the constraints on reform presently operating due to one entity’s dominance in the telecommunications marketplace. Its aim, simply put, is to strengthen protections for consumers in the telecommunications environment as we move towards the implementation of the NBN. The bill does this in three ways. First, the legislative scheme will result in the structural separation of Telstra so that services to consumers will operate in a new, entirely wholesale arena. Next, the conduct regimes of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 with regard to anticompetitive behaviours and access will be rationalised to foster competition in the market. Finally, the current consumer protection regulation will be strengthened to facilitate consumers’ transition t the NBN.

This government is entirely committed to the program of reform laid out in the competition and consumer safeguards bill. The reforms we discuss today are reforms that constitute the most wide-reaching overhaul of our telecommunications sector since the introduction of competition in 1997. They are in the interests of consumers and businesses and, therefore, by extension, in the interests of the broader economy. At present Telstra is highly integrated, providing both retail and wholesale services. While it is strong in asset base and resources, owning the fixed line copper network, the most sizable mobile and hybrid fibre-coaxial cable networks and half of Foxtel, Telstra’s level of integration has been recognised as a fetter on competition, with the result that Australia is not keeping pace with other developed economies in this field. This is because Telstra presently has the capability to place its retail concern ahead of the business of its wholesale customers. This has been well and truly recognised by Telstra’s competitors. As an example, the Director of Government and Corporate Affairs for Optus recently said:

We believe that the telco reform bill - including the structural separation of Telstra and greater power for the ACCC to enforce a level playing field in the fixed line market - must be a priority for the new Government.

One could not find a more considered endorsement than that of the Telstra CEO. He was quoted in the Australian on 20 October saying:

On balance we support the passage of the Bill …

                   …              …              …

We believe the interests of Telstra shareholders would be best served by the Bill being passed this year so that a definitive agreement on our involvement in the NBN can be reached quickly.

The legislative scheme proposes that Telstra migrate its fixed line traffic to the NBN. This would be achieved under a settled regulatory scheme as the network is introduced.

Debate interrupted.