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Billson fights against Labor's $2b 'smash and grab' raid.



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Wed, 12th March 2008 BILLSON FIGHTS AGAINST LABOR'S $2B 'SMASH AND GRAB' RAID

The Hon Bruce Billson MP Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

Tonight in parliament I strongly opposed the Labor Government's planned raid on the $2 billion Communications Fund, which was established by the previous Government to 'future proof' the telecommunications needs of rural, regional and remote Australians.

Labor has moved to amend the telecommunications act so it can access the $2 billion, plus interest earned, to spend on its vague, city-centric, fibre broadband proposal. The government has conceded that: ''The final decision on use of the fund will be made in the context of the Government's overall fiscal strategy.''

The key guiding philosophy behind the establishment of the $2 billion Communications Fund - plus the substantial interest stream it generates (approximately $400 million every three years) - was to help ensure all Australians have access to affordable and reliable telecommunications services regardless of where on this great continent they reside or do business. Future proofing in perpetuity.

The spending of the fund's resources is currently and responsibly tied to the recommendations of regular, independent reviews of the telecommunications needs of rural, regional and remote Australia. The first review is currently in train, under the chairmanship of the highly regarded Dr Bill Glasson AO.

At the same time Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is out promoting the important work of the Regional Telecommunications Review Committee, he is moving to rip the guts out of the very $2 billion Communications Fund which was set up to give life to the committee's recommendations.

Senator Conroy has failed to explain to the people of rural, regional and remote Australia how the Rudd Government plans to implement the review committee's recommendations without the resources of the Communications Fund.

What I find particularly arrogant about all this, is the way the new Government is quick to use the old ''we have a mandate'' line to justify smash and grab raids such as this.

Since when was the ALP the party and voice of rural, regional and remote Australia? The party to be trusted to do the right thing by the bush? The Coalition parties remain the voices of the bush; despite claims of a Labor mandate, I'm sorry, but the numbers don't stack up.

I urge Labor to lay your hands off the Communications Fund; think of the future and instead of turning your back on the bush, act responsibly to ensure the resources are available to address communications needs in rural, regional and remote Australia, in perpetuity.