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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 1157

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (10:05): I am pleased to rise to support the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011, the TUSMA Bill, and also the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011, or the reform bill, and the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill 2011, or the levy bill. This legislative package delivers on the reforms to the universal service obligation announced by the government in June 2010 when Telstra entered into the financial heads of agreement with NBN Co. that set in motion Telstra's structural separation. I am pleased that that structural separation was approved by the ACCC yesterday. It is something that those opposite could never achieve in 11½ years of government. The bills will allow the progressive migration of Telstra's customers to the NBN Co.'s fibre network, a network that takes Australia into the modern age of telecommunications.

The three bills the government proposes to introduce to parliament—the TUSMA Bill, the Telecommunications Legislation Amend­ment (Universal Service Reform) Bill and the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill—represent further steps in the govern­ment's reform agenda for the telecom­munications industry. Together the bills form a legislative package to reform the long-term arrangements for the delivery of universal service outcomes and related public policy outcomes, which will facilitate the transition to the National Broadband Network and a more competitive and open telecom­munications market. These bills are part of the broad package delivering the NBN, and the resulting retail competition will certainly be a boon to all Australian consumers.

The TUSMA Bill will provide the governance, funding, and reporting/account­ability framework for this new statutory agency to make sure that universal service outcomes and other key public interest services continue to be delivered effectively in this new competitive environment. TUSMA will have responsibility for putting in place contracts or grants so that all Australians continue to have reasonable access to a standard telephone service and payphones—it is absolutely essential that payphones still be available in many regional areas and absolutely essential that consumers have access to standard telephone services. I want to make it clear that people will not be forced into any complex or confusing service arrangement with any of the providers. Australians will have reasonable access to standard telephone services and payphones.

It is also important that calls to the Emergency Call Service will continue to be handled and transferred to the relevant emergency service organisation. We have witnessed some of the most devastating disasters in this country over recent years, and the government is well aware that we have to continue to provide an Emergency Call Service under these new proposals. TUSMA will also be responsible for ensuring that the National Relay Service continues to provide voice-equivalent services for those with a hearing or speech impairment. This government is absolutely committed to ensuring that people who have impediments, either physical or mental, have access to reasonable and decent services. That is what building a good society is about.

Appropriate consumer safeguards will be in place to support voice-only customers migrating to an NBN fibre service as Telstra's copper network is decommissioned. I have heard a lot of talk about why the copper network should be maintained, but I have also heard in my position as chair of the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee about the problems with the copper network—why the copper network is decaying around the country, why the copper network is costing more and more to maintain and why we need to make sure that we do migrate to an NBN fibre service that ensures the telecommunications security and telecommunications initiatives that a modern country needs to take its place in an international economy that is becoming more and more productive and more and more competitive. We need the NBN to deliver in that area. So customers who remain fixed-line voice-only customers after migration will have appropriate safeguards.

Technological solutions will be developed as necessary to support continuity of public interest services—for example, public alarm systems and traffic lights. We all know what happens when traffic lights go down—it causes absolute chaos. It is a productivity issue, it is a social issue, people cannot get home, and companies end up losing production if there are traffic jams and traffic chaos, especially in our bigger cities. Technological solutions will be developed to support continuity of these public interest services.

A key focus for the government is to minimise disruption for consumers and industry by maintaining basic safeguards as the NBN fibre network is rolled out and replaces the old copper network. Telstra is being required to maintain its copper network to deliver voice services outside NBN fibre areas. There are some areas where the copper network is rolled out where the NBN fibre will not go in, but for voice the government is requiring Telstra to maintain that copper network. Importantly, under the agreement Telstra made with the government, announced on 23 June 2011, Telstra will also be required to be the 'retailer of last resort' for voice-only services over the NBN fibre network.

The TUSMA legislation will ensure that basic telecommunications services remain available to all Australians and that the new agency responsible for delivering these services operates efficiently, transparently and with a high degree of accountability. The TUSMA Bill creates a rigorous oversight and accountability framework for TUSMA's activities. This includes a requirement that it maintain a publicly available register with key terms and services to be provided under all contracts and grants it makes. TUSMA will also be required to prepare annual reports and corporate plans and its operations will be reviewed before 1 January 2018 to consider how effective the agency has been in achieving its policy objectives.

Because of the complexity and sensitivity of many of the issues TUSMA will deal with, decisions that affect industry and consumers will be made collectively by a chair and members who together will have an appropriate mix of industry experience. TUSMA will be a statutory agency estab­lished under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 and its CEO and staff will be employed under the Public Service Act 1999. The arrangements for remuneration, disclosure, termination and delegation for the CEO and members of TUSMA generally reflect the standard approach under Commonwealth legislation, as set out in the Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005.

The TUSMA Bill enables existing consumer safeguard instruments made under the Telecommunications (Consumer Protec­tion and Service Standards) Act 1999 to form the basis of contract standards or benchmarks for voice and payphone services provided under the Telstra agreement

he minister can also determine key performance standards or benchmarks for other contracts entered into or grants made by TUSMA.

It is expected that TUSMA will have total costs of $340 million per year for its first two years and around $330 million per year after that. To help it meet these costs and alleviate the burden on industry, the government for the first time is making a significant contribution of at least $50 million in budget funding per year for the first two financial years of TUSMA's operations and $100 million per year after that. The government is also consolidating the universal service obligation and the national relay service levies into a single levy. To provide a smooth transition for industry, arrangements will be put in place for 2012-13 and 2013-14 so non-Telstra contributors do not have to contribute more than their aggregate liability for the USO and NRS levies in 2011-12. The contribution of each participant towards the proposed new levy will be based, as is currently the case, on its eligible revenue as assessed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, and they will remain responsible for collecting it. Arrangements will be put in place so smaller carriers with eligible revenue of less than $25 million will not be required to contribute to the new levy, consistent with current thresholds for the USO and NRS levies.

I turn to the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011. The bill primarily amends telecommunications legislation to support the new arrangements for delivery of universal service outcomes within the telecommunications sector, and facilitates the establishment of TUSMA and the smooth transition to new levy arrangements. The government has previously committed to removing USO regulation. A key aspect of the bill is a proposed framework so that after a transitional period the minister may remove USO regulatory obligations from Telstra and move to a complete contractual delivery model. USO regulation can only be removed if the minister is satisfied within two years after commencement that there are satisfactory contractual arrangements in place. The minister will be required to take into account Telstra's record of compliance with its contract and regulatory obligations and any other relevant matters. Separate decisions are required in relation to the standard telephone service and payphone elements of the USO and each decision is subject to disallowance by parliament.

If there are satisfactory contract arrangements in place, the payphones element of USO regulation will be removed across Australia; and STS USO regulation will be removed in areas that will not be covered by the NBN fibre network. STS regulation in NBN fibre areas will be progressively removed as the NBN fibre network is rolled out and Telstra implements structural separation in those areas by closing down its copper network. Even if STS USO regulation is progressively removed, the existing regulated customer service guarantee that applies to all providers of the standard telephone service will continue to apply to telephone services provided by Telstra under the TUSMA contract.

I now turn to the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill. The Telecom­munications (Industry Levy) Bill is a short bill that ensures that the government can raise the consolidated industry levy. I chaired the inquiry of the Senate Standing Com­mittee on Environment and Communications into the bill and our report was tabled last Friday. Despite some concerns about the industry levy proposed in the bill, the telecommunications industry representatives supported the structural separation of Telstra and agreed that their positions in the market will be more competitive as the NBN is implemented. That is a key point. This is the industry conceding that there will be more competition as NBN is implemented—not less, as the argument has been put by the coalition. As a consequence of submissions from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, the committee recommended that TUSMA and the TIO enter into the necessary agreements to share certain information to assist TUSMA's monitoring and reporting responsibilities and that the TUSMA bill be amended to enable TUSMA to disclose information to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. This is about transparency and openness in the industry and for customers to have confidence that the whole approach is working not just for the industry but for the community.

Our inquiry also heard from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network. As a consequence of what they had to say, we recommended that the TUSMA Bill be amended to make it a criterion for one of the appointments to TUSMA to be a person with experience or knowledge of consumer affairs—again, an important part of ensuring that there is confidence in the whole NBN approach.

These bills before the Senate today are a part of building one of Australia's biggest infrastructure programs ever. That infrastructure program, the NBN, is about delivering affordable high-speed broadband to all Australians, no matter where they live. The NBN is already in use in Tasmania, Armidale, suburban Melbourne and Kiama. Recently, it was announced that Australia's two largest telecommunications companies, Telstra and Optus, had signed up to the NBN, and we had yesterday an announce­ment that the ACCC has given final approval to develop the NBN. That is a major landmark for the nation's telecommunica­tions industry. The National Broadband Network is a key nation-building infra­structure project. The project will deliver significantly improved broadband services for all Australians at affordable prices. It will connect our cities, our regional centres and our rural communities—something that the coalition never imagined and could never achieve in 11½ years of government. This reforms Australia's telecommunications sector.

The NBN is critical to our future digital productivity growth. It will deliver high-speed, reliable broadband to every home and business in Australia. The NBN will provide access to high-speed broadband to 100 per cent of Australian premises. Ninety-three per cent of those premises will have access to a high-speed fibre network capable of providing broadband speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. Seven per cent of Australian premises will have access to next-generation fixed wireless and satellite technologies providing peak speeds of 12 megabits per second. For a country like Australia, with its massive area to cover, with the concentration of populations on the coastal fringes of our country, to be able to act to provide high-speed broadband to the whole country is a nation-building exercise. It is one of the best infrastructure projects this country has ever seen and it allows Australia to improve its productivity, to improve its communications and to take its place as a modern society as the rest of the world continues to adopt broadband infrastructure.

But the NBN is just a platform; it is the use of the NBN that will enable our businesses to develop new and efficient ways of doing things—new and efficient ways of improving productivity and improving communications. The NBN infrastructure supports the evolution of the Australian economy by inspiring a new wave of digital innovation that will change and improve the way Australians live, receive services and connect with the world. It will drive productivity improvement across Australian businesses by improving logistics, expanding customer bases and creating new ways of working. It will transform service delivery, increasing efficiency and effectiveness in areas such as health, education and government services. Why should Aust­ralians in the regional areas of this country not have access to the best medical advice? The NBN delivers that. This is a transforming approach by this government. It will transform the economy, it will transform health delivery, it will transform education, it will transform every aspect of the economy.

These bills before the parliament today help that process to come to fruition. These are major initiatives by the government and they should be supported by the whole parliament.