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Thursday, 16 March 2000
Page: 14956

Mr McGAURAN (Minister for the Arts and the Centenary of Federation) (10:54 AM) —in reply—I wish to thank all members who contributed to this debate on the Telecommunications (Numbering Charges) Amendment Bill 1999. The members for Hinkler and Moreton are invariably committed to participating in these debates. It does not matter if it is in the House or the Main Committee, they will participate and put their point of view. It is always innovative and, at times, courageous, as the member for Bendigo mentioned, but it is always thoughtful. Both of them again took a very pragmatic approach to the issues of telecommunications. They are not ideologically hamstrung, as is the member for Bendigo, who thinks that maintaining Telstra in public ownership is the solution to the array of problems he raised. He totally confuses the ownership of Telstra with the range of service and the efficiency of its delivery and, consequently, that you can separate the two. You need a regulatory legislative framework for Telstra to provide the types of services and you need funding to provide Internet access, the local call rate for Internet access and the like. That is what we have done under Networking the Nation, which I am afraid the member for Bendigo and his party have opposed completely.

But of all the points—political, unfortunately, though they were—that the member for Bendigo made, he did raise a genuine concern that rural people have about Telstra closing down their radio paging service on 30 June. Some communities and emergency services have expressed concern about the loss of the paging service. I have sought advice from Telstra and they have advised that they will close their radio paging service in view of significant reductions in the size of the paging market as well as developments in mobile phone technology and associated messaging services which they believe have largely overtaken the paging market. They argue that new products and services now on offer through mobile phones provide better services and more features. Of course, the full service and the full provision of services of the network will continue to 30 June.

Telstra further advised me that existing paging customers who want to switch to a Telstra Mobile Net service will receive free connection and two months free access to the memo messaging service. Telstra is negotiating with Link Communications to transfer customers in most parts of the country who wish to retain traditional paging services. The government, I assure the member for Bendigo, are very aware of community concern and we are in close contact with Telstra to monitor developments and make sure efforts are undertaken to ensure community concerns are met.

I again thank members who have contributed to the debate on the Telecommunications (Numbering Charges) Amendment Bill 1999, which makes minor administrative changes to improve the efficiency with which the Australian Communications Authority collects annual number charges.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill reported to the House without amendment.