|Title||TELSTRA (TRANSITION TO FULL PRIVATE OWNERSHIP) BILL 2003
|Speaker||McGauran, Sen Julian
Senator McGAURAN (11:41 AM) âI seek leave to incorporate Senator Colbeck's speech on the second reading of the Telstra (Transition to Full Private Ownership) Bill 2003 in Hansard.
The speech read as followsâ
In Opening my remarks today I would like to reiterate the precise commitment of the Government with respect to the full sale of Telstra.
We have heard here in the last couple of days many interpretations of the commitment, particularly from the Labor Party who are obviously very keen to colour or confuse the matter but it is thisâdelivered as a part of the Governor General's speech on the opening day of this 40th Parliament.
âThe Government will not proceed with any further sale of Telstra until it is satisfied that arrangements are in place to deliver adequate services to all Australians.â
The Government has since reiterated that commitment including the further commitment to âmaintaining the improvements to existing services.â
The Government has already demonstrated, in its response to the Estens Inquiry, that it will honour that commitment.
The obvious question that comes from the Government's statement, delivered by the Governor General, is ... what is regarded as âadequate serviceâ? There is very little doubt that as a result of the rapid development of technology that expectations can change very quickly however, the Government, in its response to Estens, has again recognised this with funding commitments to continue the enhancement of these services.
The Federal Government has accepted all the 39 recommendations of the Regional Telecommunications (Estens) Inquiry and will invest $181 million in a comprehensive response that will ensure all Australians have access to adequate telecommunications services, enhance a range of existing services, and ensure that regional Australia continues to share equitably in the benefits of future technologies.
As a result of the Inquiry, the Government has obtained a formal undertaking from Telstra in relation to the completion of the upgrade of its older radio concentrator systems in a publicly available timetable. This will provide an enhanced array of phone and Internet services for the small proportion of regional Australia whose systems have not been upgraded and did not have access to a subsidised two-way satellite service under the Government's $150 million Extended Zones tender.
The Inquiry recommended that the Government provide additional funding to support the capital costs of extending land-based mobile phone services to small population centres and key highways in regional Australia. The Government will spend an additional $15.9 million over four years to further extend coverage to small population centres and along highways in regional Australia.
As part of its response to the Besley Inquiry, the Coalition introduced a satellite handset subsidy for people living or working in areas of Australia where it is not feasible to provide terrestrial mobile phone coverage. The Government will review the eligibility guidelines for the scheme and has committed an additional $4.0 million to extend the subsidy.
The Government will also provide an additional $10.1 million over four years for information technology training and support services in rural and remote areas, building on the significant funding already provided for these services under the Networking the Nation program.
There is a need to ensure that people in regional areas continue to share equitably in the benefits of advances in technologies and the Government has committed to a blueprint for âfuture proofingâ regional Australia's communications future, which addresses each of the recommendations in the Estens report, as well as many of the recommendations in the recent Broadband Advisory Group report.
As part of its Inquiry response, the Coalition Government will develop a National Broadband Strategy with funding of $142.8 million over four years. A central objective of the NBS will be to provide access to affordable broadband services in regional Australia.
To achieve this, the Government will fund a National Broadband Strategy Implementation Group, broadband demand aggregation brokers and, to accelerate the rollout of broadband into regional Australia, a Coordinated Communications Infrastructure Fund.
The Coalition will spend $107.8 million over four years on the Higher Bandwidth Incentive Scheme. The HBIS will provide financial incentives to higher bandwidth service providers to offer services in rural and remote areas at prices reasonably equitable with those available in urban areas.
To ensure that the future communications needs of people in regional Australia are assessed on a regular basis, the Government will legislate to require the current and future governments to conduct regular reviews of the adequacy of regional communications services. Independent expert groups will conduct these reviews and there will be a requirement upon governments to formally respond to them.
This Government's fine record in respect of its commitment to telecommunications and regional Australia is clear.
Labor on the other hand seems to have suddenly discovered regional Australia. Fortunately regional Australia sees through this newfound zeal as they remember well the number of times they have been sacrificed by Labor.
Labor has complained bitterly over the last few days about suggestions that they would sell the rest of Telstra. They put their hands on their hearts and say they will retain majority public ownership.
The real problem for Labor is that nobody believes them! The public has heard it all before from Labor and seen the resultsâQantas and the Commonwealth Bank are prime examples and the process continues today under state administrations where in Tasmania for example the Grain Elevators board is being sold despite industry and local concerns and despite its returns to government.
It has to be remembered that it was Labor that started the privatisation process in 1991 when they corporatised the companyâsetting it up for sale, making it operate on a corporate basis. The Howard Government has made its intentions known all along but Labor continues to hide behind this veil of denial. Importantly though, the public are awake to them.
In this place on Tuesday, Senator Mackay made some inferences about the situation in our home state of Tasmania. Consequently I would like to put on the record some of the antics of Labor in Tasmania.
Obviously this debacle goes back some time and the first matter that I would like to mention dates back to 1996 and again questions Labor's credibility.
During the 1996 election campaign Dick Adams MHR, the Member for Lyons, sent out across the electorate what could only be described as bogus telephone bills, conducting a fear campaign that the 33% sale of Telstra would see telephone charges soar.
Mr Adams told the people in Lyons that they would be subject to a network charge, similar to that charged by the Hydro in Tasmania. A charge predicted to be $1,250 in Queenstown, $950 at Ouse, $680 in Deloraine, $910 at St Mary's and $680 at Oatlands. The bogus bill clearly states that telephone accounts areââTo increase after saleâ. By how muchâunknownâbut there was the clear inference that the increase would be in the order of the network charge.
Now we all know that the opposite of what Mr Adams was suggesting has in fact happened.
According to the latest statistics from the ACCC, all call prices fell 24.8% between 1996 and 2001. Fixed mobile call costs fell by 13.3%, mobile call costs fell by 27.4%, local call costs 29.1 %, long distance call costs fell by 29.6% and international call costs fell by 61.2%. The price of fixed telephone calls for people living outside capital cities fell by 22.4%.
These outcomes give a clear demonstration of Labor's credibility and why people don't believe Labor when they say that they won't sell Telstra.
Last week Senator Mackay, along with opposition communications spokesperson, Lindsay Tanner, conducted what could only be described as a media stunt which presented a series of photographs attempting to make certain implications relating to the network in Tasmania.
Unfortunately for this intrepid pair, it was clear to those who have had exposure to this industry that the photographs were of works in progress. Amusingly, some of the captions even confirm this. In other words, the photographs were not a reflection on the network.
Quite disturbingly though, the inference made by Senator Mackay and Mr Tanner was that Telstra workers in Tasmania were guilty of shonky work practices.
I have to say that this is an outrageous slur on the employees of Telstra and the contractors that work on the network in the State. I know that these employees and contractors are rightly very upset at having this slur cast upon their professionalism.
We have had Senator Webber in here during this debate inferring that contactors working in the telecommunications industry are only capable of inferior quality work, so it is obviously a view that is rife throughout the Labor Party.
I am sure that all of the thousands of contracting companies and their employees across Australia, some of them former Telstra employees who have developed very successful businesses in the communications industry, are all delighted to know what Labor really thinks of them.
The reality of the situation is that service levels in Tasmania are quite different to those inferred by the Labor Party.
In 1998 when the Customer Service Guarantee was introduced, Telstra repaired 83% of Tasmanian services on time. During the September quarter this year it was 95%.
In 1998, when the CSG was introduced, Telstra connected 82% of Tasmanian services on time. During the September quarter this year it was 94%.
In September of this year 99.23% of Telstra's Tasmanian customers did not experience a fault and 99.95% of Tasmanian customers had constant access to service.
I would like to return to the issue of employees and contractors working on the telecommunications network. Labor makes a great deal of the changes in employment levels at Telstra. However, they constantly fail to consider or even acknowledge the changes that have taken place in the telecommunications industry.
When the Howard government came to office in 1996 there were about 1,300 people employed by Telstra in Tasmania. When you consider the staff and contractors who are undertaking the same tasks within the network in the State today, that number stands at about 1,200.
Now admittedly that is less but, when it is placed against Labor's claims and when it is considered against industry changes, it is quite justifiable.
To give an example relating to the change in technologyâto repair a 100 pair copper cable can take between 4-8 hours depending on the ease of pair matching and testing. To repair an optic fibre cable with a similar capacity can be completed in 15-30 minutes.
I have seen, over 25 years working in the construction industry, enormous changes in the way that telecommunications systems are provided.
When I commenced work in the late 70's and well through the 80's all services and systemsâline work, backbone cabling, systems installations, were provided by the then Telecom. You had to wait for them to be there and that was it. I have already indicated service levels prior to the introduction of the Customer Service Guarantee by this government.
When the regulations were changed, so too were the practices employed and there were significant improvements in service, productivity and cost to the industry and consumersâprovided by contractors and Telstra.
I know that Labor is reluctant to recognise the changes in the industry which give weight to arguments that they are living in the past with respect to policy on telecommunications, but they themselves continue to provide the evidence that that is in fact the case.