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Tuesday, 3 April 1984
Page: 1144


Senator PETER BAUME(9.48) —I did not rise to speak on clauses 13 to 16 because the amendments the Opposition wishes to move to clause 17 are not unrelated to those clauses. Under clause 13, Aussat Pty Ltd will be permitted to offer private but not public switched television and data services. This is designed to create considerable competition with Telecom Australia for the growing company and business organisation traffic. It is generally felt that Telecom has been slow to provide this service for industry. It was not our decision to oppose that provision. Although some representations were made and we had to consider whether that was the best arrangement, we did not oppose it.

However, we now come to clause 17 which involves restrictions on third party use. It is generally considered that the restrictions on third party use contained in clause 17 are more restrictive of Aussat than the public switched exclusion that I just mentioned, in that the restriction on such use will be inserted by legislation and regulation whereas with Telecom, management itself can determine its own rules in relation to these matters. Thus Aussat will be limited by legislative limitation whereas Telecom has the advantage in that it has no such detailed limitation upon it. Telecom, Australia Post, the Overseas Telecommunications Commission and others determined by the Minister are exempted from this restriction on third party use. Telecom is already exempt from ministerial regulation for the public switched network and it is allowing an increasing amount of such traffic.

We think that clause 17 will severely limit the ability of Aussat to offer worthwhile communications services for the business sector in competition with Telecom. It is thought that those affected could include television networks, regional television stations, Qantas Airways Ltd, computerised booking services, the wire services of Australia, Australian Associated Press, and electronic mail and data services. The private sector has been very concerned about the restriction in this provision. In fact, it thinks the restriction is far more important than anything contained in clause 13 to which I referred earlier. We would like to see Aussat able to operate in this area on the same basis as Telecom. We do not think that that is unreasonable; yet Aussat has been put on a different, more restrictive basis than Telecom. It is for that reason that we propose amendments (3) and (4) to clause 17. I seek leave to move both amendments together.

Leave granted.


Senator Peter BAUME —I thank the Committee. I move:

(3) Page 5, clause 17, sub-clause (1), lines 18 and 19, leave out 'Aussat or an eligible person', insert 'Aussat, an eligible person or an authorised user to the extent (if any) permitted by agreement entered into between Aussat and that authorised user'.

(4) Page 5, clause 17, sub-clause (3), lines 27 to 32, leave out the sub-clause , insert the following sub-clause:

'(3) In this section-

''eligible person'' means-

(a) the Commission;

(b) the Australian Postal Commission; or

''authorised user'' means a person provided for in sub-section 16 (2) to the extent (if any) authorised by agreement between Aussat and that authorised user to conduct such a business.'.

The intention of these amendments is to place Aussat Pty Ltd on the same basis as Telecom Australia in the very limited area of private data and switched traffic which is about 4 per cent of Telecom's business. This is not attempting in any way to interfere with the public switched network of Telecom; that is to say, it is not attempting to interfere with the public telephone system. We are talking about a degree of competition in a specialised area which represents about 4 per cent of the traffic. The growth in competition will be such that in any one year competition in this very limited area will not be very significant to Telecom. We are not sure that it would be very significant to Aussat, but we think it should have the capacity to compete equally with Telecom.

As yet we have not heard what the Government's intention or what its definition is with regard to regulations for third party traffic as between Telecom and Aussat. We do know that it is intended that there will be some severe restrictions. Many people in the business community are anxious to learn the Government's intentions in this regard. We believe that in the interests of equal competition the amendments we have moved are appropriate. I therefore commend them to the Committee.