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Monday, 22 November 2010
Page: 1777

Senator WORTLEY (5:07 PM) —The package of reforms incorporated in the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010 strengthens the regulator’s ability to enforce existing consumer safeguards, mitigating the risk of Telstra reducing service quality on its copper network pre-National Broadband Network. The amendments are focused on retaining and strengthening existing regulations to better protect consumers’ access to and reliability of basic telephone services and also address concerns about the removal of pay phones. They also enhance ACMA’s enforcement powers when issuing infringement notices for breaches of civil penalties sections in the Telecommunications Act 1997, the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 and the Telecommunications (Interception and Access)Act 1979.

One would have to ask: who could object to these reforms? Not the stakeholders, including Telstra; not business; not leaders in health, education, transport, the law, finance and infrastructure; not a certain member of parliament who, despite his public opposition to the scheme, has 10 million very good reasons to support it. He has, I read, invested in more than five million shares in an IT company which will benefit from the National Broadband Network. Clearly, that particular member recognises the benefits of the scheme. Equally clearly, he is well ahead of his coalition partners in doing so, because it is the coalition that continues to stand in the way of progress. It is the coalition that continues to dwell on what it perceives as a golden past where people knew their place and where ‘wireless’ meant warming up the valves. It is the coalition which, as I have said, consciously and wilfully squandered the opportunities for reform. The coalition would apparently be happy to see our country become a digital rust belt while other countries enjoy the increased competition and economic edge that widespread broadband access confers both now and in the future, when uses we have not yet imagined will be commonplace and accepted as a matter of course.

It is the government that has seized the moment. The Labor government has demonstrated the vision and the determination our nation needs right now. It is the Gillard Labor government that, despite the best efforts of those opposite to wreck and destroy, is determined to provide affordable, reliable, future-proof broadband to people in the city and the bush. It is this government that has accepted and is acting on this crucial challenge.

To conclude, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010 is designed to reshape regulation in the telecommunications sector in the interests of (1) consumers, (2) business and (3) the economy more broadly. Its implementation will position the telecommunications industry to make a smooth transition to the NBN environment as the network is rolled out. It includes measures to streamline the regulatory framework to enhance competition and, importantly, to better protect consumers. I commend the bill to the Senate.