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Thursday, 21 October 2021
Page: 9792


Mr FLETCHER (BradfieldMinister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts) (09:58): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

The Telstra Corporation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 proposes to amend legislation to maintain regulatory obligations that protect consumers and promote competition in response to Telstra's proposed restructure.

The coalition government's priority is to ensure that all Australians benefit from a competitive telecommunications industry and have access to the internet and telephone services that they need. Telstra plays an important role in the Australian telecommunications market, particularly in the provision of services to regional and rural Australians. The continuity of services and Telstra's obligations are critical to Australian communities and businesses, particularly in the economic recovery from COVID-19.

Telstra has announced its intention to undertake a corporate restructure that will be the most significant change to the company since it passed into private ownership. While Telstra is free to restructure its business as it sees fit, successive parliaments have placed and maintained a range of regulatory obligations on that business, and it is important that these remain effective.

These obligations cover core parts of Telstra's regulatory arrangements, including the universal service obligation and the requirement for Telstra to provide other carriers with access to its infrastructure to promote competition. If Telstra's restructure were to weaken the application of these obligations, that would not be acceptable to the Morrison government. We have a strong commitment to protecting consumers, promoting competition and supporting Telstra's public interest roles in Australia's telecommunications market. Without legislative amendment there is a risk that Telstra's obligations would become less effective or cease to apply to its successor entities following the restructure or future resales. Therefore, there is a compelling need for the legislative amendments set out in this bill. Their effect will be to maintain Telstra-specific obligations and to address related policy issues that arise from Telstra's proposed restructure.

There are two key sets of provisions in the bill:

The first creates a concept in the Telecommunications Act 1997 to re-point Telstra-specific obligations that would otherwise cease to apply to new Telstra entities; and

The second closes a loophole that allows carriers, including Telstra, to avoid facilities access obligations by transferring assets such as towers, into subsidiaries or other related entities. The bill does so by providing that if a group of companies includes a carrier, a company (other than a carrier) that is in the group must provide all carriers with access to the tower infrastructure that it owns. This will apply to all carriers, not just Telstra.

The bill establishes a requirement for Telstra to notify the Australian Communications and Media Authority when Telstra transfers a telecommunications business or asset to another company. This will provide visibility to the government to respond to any future restructure.

The bill also recognises the importance of continuity of service is critical and the bill ensures obligations associated with carrier licences continue between the passage of the bill and the commencement of the restructure.

This legislation will uphold Telstra's current obligations to the Australian community and businesses, by maintaining regulatory equivalency for Telstra's successor entities. In doing so, it will protect consumers, promote competition and support Telstra's public interest roles in Australia's telecommunications market.

I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.