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Thursday, 11 March 2004
Page: 21397

Senator HARRIS (2:59 PM) —My question is to Senator Kemp, representing the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Minister, Telstra charges Internet service providers on a volume based discount structure. Under one of the highest levels of discount, the cost to an ISP purchasing the same 256 kbit service is approximately $40 per month, excluding GST. ISPs have no choice but to purchase from Telstra Wholesale. ISPs offering ADSL are, at a minimum, forced to purchase a tail, which is a twisted copper pair, to provide the service to the subscriber. Most ISPs also purchase the asynchronous transfer mode and link that to the relevant virtual circuit. Why are Telstra's retail customers being charged $29.95 while Telstra Wholesale ISP providers are charged $40 for the same bandwidth?

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Harris, that was a very long question; I would ask Senator Kemp to give a shorter answer.

Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) —Thank you to Senator Harris for that most interesting question. I really appreciated the very short notice he gave me for it. I congratulate Senator Harris on his continuing interest in these matters. The point I would like to make is this: any concerns about anticompetitive behaviour by Telstra, or any other company, are really matters for the ACCC to address. As you would be well aware, Senator Harris, part 11B of the Trade Practices Act provides the ACCC with very strong powers to investigate and address alleged examples of anticompetitive behaviour in the telecommunications industry. I note the concerns of the people who have drawn this particular issue to the senator's attention, and he may care to draw this matter to the attention of the ACCC. It is the best place to deal with these matters.

Senator HARRIS —Wait, there is more! Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, Telstra's retailing arm is selling at least 25 per cent below the wholesale cost, claiming this is possible due to internal efficiencies. Why aren't those efficiencies passed on to the wholesalers? Will your government commit to ensuring that Telstra has greater levels of wholesale resale transparency in order to stimulate competition?

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) —The senator would agree that over the years of this government the services of telecommunications have vastly improved, both to rural and urban areas. Part of it is due to the competitive elements that this government has brought into this area. I have already mentioned to the senator that there is a method by which these particular issues can be investigated. That is the best way to pursue them. Mr President, it was a bit hard to hear the entire question because of the noise on the other side of the chamber. However, I will look closely to see whether there are any other matters that we can particularly address, and I will make sure Senator Harris is appropriately informed.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.