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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7649


Mr TURNBULL (Wentworth) (19:20): The minister's response is what I anticipated it to be, which is essentially 'trust me, I'm a politician', saying that the industry should take comfort in the fact that under section 141A of the principal act the minister has the ability to exempt a specified network from section 141. One would hope that some of these small networks would, in fact, be exempted. But, who is to say? They certainly will make an argument that they should be. It is far better for parliament to deal with it and put the matter beyond doubt, creating greater certainty and greater security for the industry that we are seeking here to protect.

I should note—and this is made very clear in the dissenting report attached to the committee's report—that these competitive greenfield operators whose businesses we are seeking to preserve would continue to be subject to the other access requirements which apply under the telecommunications-specific provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act—that is to say, other retail service providers, as the dissenting report notes, wishing to serve residents of a development would have the legal right to obtain access over that network. So, seeking the statutory exemption under this amendment is not locking the door on these small independent networks to access from other retail service providers. The minister and his two colleagues on the government benches who have spoken tonight have failed to address the concerns raised by industry. I would ask them, very sincerely, to set aside their natural animosity towards the opposition and their natural desire to get on the political soapbox and talk about the joys and wonders of the NBN and all the blessings that its construction will deliver to what they trust will be a grateful nation and, instead, to think about the men and women with real businesses—with real employees and with real customers who are paying real tax to support all of us here in Canberra—who came in good faith to this committee and said, 'We have a problem with this bill; it is going to put us out of business.' We in the coalition, again in good faith, put together some amendments which we believed were solutions to those problems. As the disseĀ­nting report notes, we ran them by the representatives of these companies and they were certainly supportive of them. If the government do not like these amendments—and they clearly do not—what we need to hear is the government's solution.

What we need to hear is not the honourable member who spoke earlier trying to pick holes in the drafting—perhaps going back to her old profession as a solicitor—but an answer that deals with the mischief, the problem, the issue that these people have brought to the committee. They came with a problem. We have sought to address it. What is the government's position? Do they say that there is no problem and that those people are all suffering from some kind of collective delusion? Or do the government say they have another solution, another answer to their problem? If they have another answer, let us hear it. The people of Australia and this industry are sitting, with bated breath, waiting to hear what the government's alternative solution is. Or are these people, all of the people who submitted to our committee, deluded? Do they not understand their own businesses? Do the government believe that it would be better if the bureaucrats from the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy were running their businesses for them? Do the government seriously believe these private sector firms, many of whom have been in business for a very long time and serve thousands of Australians with substantial broadband networks—and let's face it; they have much bigger fibre networks than NBN, which at this stage has more employees than it has customers—do not know their business? In short, if you do not like the amendment, what is your answer to the problems these people have raised?