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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 37

Senator CHERRY (11:52 AM) —I move amendment (4) on sheet 4543:

(4)    Clause 11, page 12 (after line 2), after paragraph 1(d), insert:

       (da)    to provide reports to and advise the Minister on policy issues in relation to the communications industry, where ACMA are of the view that current policy is inadequate to meet current or future challenges.

This amendment is again trying to ensure that ACMA looks a little bit more like Ofcom in the UK. The reason is that it has become abundantly clear, over a long period of monitoring of the department, that it is not keeping up with what is happening in industry in terms of emerging issues and emerging policy needs. The Blair government recognised a similar problem in the UK and has given Ofcom a role of providing continuing policy advice to government on how to deal with emerging issues in communications and convergence and what regulatory matters will arise from that.

The government already receives advice from organisations such as the ACCC on competition issues. The ACCC provides regular advice to Senate committees as well as directly to the government on policy matters arising out of the implementation of competition issues. I think it would be reasonable to say to ACMA from day one, ‘Your role is to regulate, but if your regulation results in policy issues being raised then your role extends also to providing advice on that.’ I think that is entirely reasonable. It makes it quite clear that ACMA from day one is going to be working in a dynamic, changing environment, particularly to do with convergence; that policy will need to be constantly tweaked, changed and modified; and that advice to government on the basis of its experience should be publicly on the record and provided in a way that is actually useful.

This starts the process of making sure that this administrative merger becomes a bit more interesting. Rather than taking two very inadequate regulators and putting them together to form a bigger inadequate regulator, we should start looking at what is happening in other countries, particularly the UK and the successes and synergies coming out of the Ofcom merger, and try to apply some of those messages here. It would be disappointing if Australia simply decided to pursue this issue in a way which ignored international developments and continuing developments in industry. I think allowing ACMA to provide advice to the minister on policy issues relevant to the communications industry would be of benefit to the government and to the Australian public.