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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26344

Senator EGGLESTON (3:10 PM) —I am sure the ALP will continue to watch Senator Coonan's performance, because Senator Coonan will be administering the very effective and successful telecommunications policies of the Howard government. As we said the other day, those policies have not changed. It is a straight line from Richard Alston through Daryl Williams to Helen Coonan. Our policies remain the same. They have been very successful policies in the whole broad area of communications. To suggest that Helen Coonan is doing anything other than administering the well-established policies of the Howard government is just utter nonsense. As Senator Campbell has said, Senator Coonan has been in this portfolio for 26 days. It is a very complex and broad portfolio. I think she is doing a good job in presenting the issues which are important in the portfolio.

Let us just look at the record of the Howard government. As I have said before, we believe in competition in telecommunications. The ALP does not. Early in the period of the government, competition was introduced into telecommunications, which means that we now have over 100 telcos in this country providing a wide variety of services to the Australian people. As a result, we have seen dramatic drops in the prices of telecommunications and improved services in regional Australia. If we go back to the dead days of the ALP, when there was just one single telecommunications company—

Senator Mackay —What is the market share of Telstra? It hasn't changed.

Senator EGGLESTON —things were very different, as Senator Mackay well knows. Under the telecommunications policies of the ALP, for example, there were no customer service guarantees and there was no universal service obligation. We have introduced regulations into the whole telecommunications industry which require that a basic telephone service to the community should include certain specific kinds of service. That did not exist under the ALP. We have introduced customer service guarantees, which set very strict time lines and very heavy penalties if repairs and installations are not carried out within defined limits.

If we look at other areas of the telecommunications portfolio, we introduced a regime for the introduction of digital television. That is something that I suspect the ALP never even considered doing during their term of office, even though it was obvious that telecommunications was proceeding into an era of digitalisation. We have now set up the Australian television industry to go digital on 1 January 2008. We have introduced digital radio. In the area of cross-media ownership, the Howard government have been very progressive and have sought to relax the cross-media ownership regulations so that the Australian people have access to a wider variety of ownership of media, which will produce a better quality of product and a better service to the public. The Howard government's record in telecommunications has been very good.

When it comes to the question of antisiphoning—which is relevant at the moment because we have the Olympics coming on—the government has revised the antisiphoning provisions to ensure that free-to-air television stations do not warehouse programs and that the public can have access to them. This government, as I have said, has a very good record in telecommunications policy. Senator Coonan, as the minister of the day, is administering that policy and doing it very effectively and very well.