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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 3763

Senator STERLE (2:58 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. In light of yesterday’s announcement of a head of agreement being reached between Telstra and the NBN Co.—

Senator Brandis interjecting—

Senator Chris Evans interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Brandis and Senator Evans, I need to hear the question.

Senator STERLE —In light of yesterday’s announcement of a head of agreement being reached by Telstra and NBN Co. on the rollout of the National Broadband Network, can the minister inform the Senate of the significant public policy reforms that will support the agreement?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Sterle for his question. The government announced yesterday that it would progress significant public policy reforms. As the NBN is rolled out, Telstra will no longer be a vertically integrated owner of a fixed line network. In light of this transition to a new industry structure, we need a new universal service framework to improve protections of essential communication services. Therefore, a new entity, USO Co., will take responsibility for the delivery of the universal service obligation. From July 2012 USO Co. will assume responsibility for most of Telstra’s universal service obligations: for the delivery of the standard telephone services, payphones and emergency call handling. For the first time, the Commonwealth will provide funding to support the delivery of the USO. This funding will build to $100 million per year by 2014.

This approach has been endorsed by industry. Rosemary Sinclair of the Australian Telecommunications Users Group said establishing USO Co. with explicit funding as an independent organisation is ‘a better approach’. The general manager of iiNet’s regulatory affairs, Steve Dalby, described it as ‘very positive for the industry’. The government will also provide $100 million to assist with retraining and redeployment of Telstra staff that will be affected by this historic transition from the copper age to the fibre future. As ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said: ‘This deal is a major step forward.’ (Time expired)

Senator STERLE —Mr President, I have a supplementary question for the minister. Minister, how will changes to the existing universal service framework protect consumer safeguards into the future?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Under an arrangement announced yesterday, Australians will have the security of knowing that they will continue to have dependable access to a standard telephone service and that control over the removal of payphones and management of emergency call services and the National Relay Service will be the responsibility of an entity formed entirely to deliver these public services. Of course, the government is also committed to strengthening universal service obligations and has introduced legislation to that effect. Once again, by opposing this legislation for the sake of opposing, the opposition are putting politics ahead of consumers in this country—those same consumers they sold down the river through their ill-designed privatisation of a virtual monopolist in rural and regional areas. (Time expired)

Senator STERLE —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, how will the arrangement alter the obligations that currently exist for servicing newly built developments?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —The government also announced that from 1 January next year NBN Co. will be responsible for delivering fibre connections in new developments in the fibre footprints of the NBN, as provider of last resort. Developers will still be able to use other providers if they choose. Developers will only have to meet the cost of trenching and installation of ducts and conduits, as they do now. Caryn Kakas, as Executive Director of the Residential Development Council of Australia, said these reforms:

… recognise that developers are not telecommunications providers and that homeowners in new estates should not be subject to additional costs. The move to ensure developers are not responsible for backhaul is the right one.

Those opposite have had the opportunity to look at this policy. They have had the opportunity to look at this historic reform that has been put in place—a reform that was beyond those opposite, a reform that they were not able to deliver in 11½ years. There were 18 failed broadband plans. Australia’s broadband system was a joke internationally and those opposite seek to take us— (Time expired)

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