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Thursday, 20 May 1993
Page: 915

Senator COLLINS (Minister for Transport and Communications) (11.11 a.m.) —I thank Senator Chapman for his indication of Opposition support for the Telecommunications Amendment Bill. I want to make one point in response to Senator Chapman's concern about lack of competition. Just in recent days, it has become very fashionable to portray the Department of Transport and Communications as a department of scorched earth economic rationalist zealots that want to let her rip. That is in fact the view on everything by the Opposition. It wants an open skies aviation policy which I have described—

Senator MacGibbon —Don't tell lies.

Senator COLLINS —It is in the Fightback document—as outrageous. In other words, to hell with the interests of our own carriers, let us give away these extraordinarily valuable rights to the carriers from everywhere else and not protect the rights of our own Australian carriers. This scorched earth stuff is Opposition policy. The Opposition has the same policy with regard to telecommunications: let her rip. The problem about letting her rip in telecommunications, as far as I am concerned, is that the real result would be not more competition but less. The policy of the Government, effectively supported by the Department of Transport and Communications, is not scorched earth, the devil take the hindmost and the market rules—and properly so. To establish a mobile phone network takes an enormous amount of capital. We have to expend a very large amount of money—like pay television—before we get a dollar back.

  In my view—and I do not apologise for saying this—the competition which this Government with its sound policies is introducing into telecommunications has to be carefully managed. It is not a case of let her rip. We could get into the situation in which, if open slather were allowed in telecommunications rather than the careful approach that we are taking, the financial viability of the operators that are now effectively providing competition to Telecom could be undermined to such an extent that the final result could be less consumer benefit, not more.

  One of the things that the telecommunications and broadcasting industry was telling me for most of last year—and at the last ATUG conference that I went to this was said to me again and again during the evening—was, `We support fully the Government's changes in telecommunications. We support the establishment of the Spectrum Management Agency to handle the management of spectrum'. This all happened last year at the Australian Broadcasting Authority. Of course, those two agencies will manage all future tender processes for radio spectrum sales and broadcasting licences. Members of the industry also said, `We support the competition which has now been effectively provided to Telecom by Optus, and now by Vodafone in the mobile market. We support all of that'.

  It has been a very commendable record of public policy, but it is enough now. I have said publicly several times that I agree with that view. What the industry was telling me for six months last year was, `Look, we now need a period of consolidation in the communications side of this portfolio. We need a period in which industry can adjust to all these massive changes'. During this period the broadcasting industry can get used to dealing with the new ABA and the new broadcasting Act; all of these other agencies can find their feet, and Optus and Telecom and, eventually, Vodaphone can effectively work out their roles. Of course, that is currently happening and, I am pleased to say, getting a lot of public attention in respect of Optus and Telecom balloting for phone services.

  I simply want to assert that it is managed change, not the `let her rip' approach that the Opposition has consistently advocated for a long time, that is the policy of the Government, and it is being effectively delivered by the Department of Transport and Communications. With those few comments, I thank the Opposition for its support of this legislation. I commend the Bill to the Senate.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.

  Bill read a second time.

  The Bill.