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Communications making Australian stronger



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Λ M e d i a

R e l e a s e

SENATOR THE HON RICHARD ALSTON

Minister for Communications, the Information Economy and the Arts Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate

COMMUNICATIONS: MAKING AUSTRALIA STRONGER

A re-elected Coalition Government will make high speed internet access available to all Australians - ensuring, for the first time, equality of service for all Australians regardless of where they live.

Australians living in regional and rural areas have for too long been denied access to the latest telecommunications services. The Liberal and National Parties will end this discrimination.

The Coalition Government will introduce legislation to require, by law, that all Australians have access on demand to a high speed 64 kilobit per second telecommunications service. Using this service will dramatically reduce the time needed to access and download information from the internet.

The Coalition has already forced Telstra to make a 64 kilobit per second service available on demand to 96% of Australians. We will now ensure that the remaining 4% have access to equivalent services, using satellite downlink technology.

This requirement will be enshrined in law under the Universal Service Obligation.

The Coalition is determined to ensure that all Australians have access to a world class telecommunications service.

Labor failed for 13 years to improve phone services in regional and rural Australia. Now Labor has policies which will force phone prices to rise, which continue to discriminate between parts of this great nation, and which takes $181 million of Government funding from regional telecommunications.

Labor is trying to con Australians that the phone system can be fixed by waving a magic wand.

The Coalition knows that Australia’s phone system can be fixed by requiring phone companies, by law, to upgrade services.

The Coalition has, in just two years, already given Australians a better phone service - by giving Australians financial compensation if their phone service is inadequate, by fixing the mess left by Labor’s analogue mobile phone phase-out debacle, and by allowing new phone companies to slash STD rates by up to 60 per cent and international rates by up to 75 per cent - and as already announced, the Coalition will require Telstra to absorb the GST on local calls, to ensure that they will stay at 25 cents and 40 cents from public payphones.

The Coalition knows that more has to be done - and the Coalition will do it.

The Coalition will provide: untimed local calls to all Australians; internet access for a local call to all Australians; improved and expanded mobile phone coverage; and a special law to force Telstra to meet guaranteed consumer safeguards.

A re-elected Coalition Government will also ensure that all Australians have access to world class broadcasting with high levels of Australian content.

To achieve this, the Liberal and National Parties will spend $120 million over five years to establish the Television Fund, which will extend SBS-TV coverage to communities of more than 10,000 people - delivering the service to an additional 1.3 million Australians.

The Television Fund, established from the proceeds of the next 16% sale of Telstra, will also eradicate between 200 and 250 television reception “black spots” around Australia - providing or improving television services to many tens of thousands of Australians.-

In addition, the Coalition will guide the smooth transition to digital television and radio broadcasting in city, regional and rural Australia - for both national and commercial broadcasters. The Coalition Government has already provided initial

funds for both national broadcasters’s transition, and will address future digital funding requirements as they arise.

The Coalition will also direct the Australian Broadcasting Authority to decide whether viewers would be better served by a uniform code of practice across the free-to-air industry - ensuring that commercial broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS have the same content guidelines.

The Coalition guarantees funding for the ABC and SBS for the current triennium, and will ensure appropriate future funding for the two national broadcasters having regard to their responsibilities.

Community broadcasters will benefit from an increase in the current sponsorship limit from four minutes per hour to five minutes per hour.

Labor left Australia’s broadcasting laws in a mess. The Coalition is cleaning up Labor’s mess - by ensuring that rules requiring high levels of Australian content are enforceable, that the most popular sporting events cannot be “hoarded” by commercial TV stations, and by making sure that programming standards meet community standards.

A re-elected Coalition Government will keep Australia Post in 100% government ownership, will freeze the price of a standard letter at 45 cents including GST until at least 2003, and will keep Australia Post’s Universal Service Obligation to deliver a standard letter anywhere in Australia at a uniform rate.

As announced before the election, the Coalition will introduce sensible and balanced reforms to postal services to lower the cost of mail services for businesses and households.

Australia Post itself has guaranteed that no regional or rural Post Office or mail centre will close as a result of these improvements, and that subsidies to smaller licenced post offices will continue.

Labor ignored the postal needs of regional Australia during 13 long years. Labor reduced the number of Australia Post retail outlets by 277 in its final six years. In the first two years of the Coalition Government, the number of retail outlets rose by 151.

Despite its appalling record of neglect, Labor is trying to scare regional Australians about the future of their mail services.

The Coalition rejects Labor’s scare tactics. The Coalition will get on with the job of improving our postal services for all Australians.

Through our policies in telecommunications, broadcasting and postal services, a re­ elected Coalition Government will continue the task of building a stronger Australia.

Media Contact: Terry O’Connor, Minister’s office 0419 636 879 _ _ 23 September 1998