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Labor back down from communications fund raid.



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Tue, 17th June 2008

LABOR BACK DOWN FROM COMMUNICATIONS FUND RAID

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

The Rudd Labor Government has quietly retreated from its reckless and shameless plan to raid the $2 billion Communications Fund, with the withdrawal of legislation today designed to pave its way.

In the Senate today the Government had its Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Communications Fund) Bill 2008 discharged from the Notice Paper. This was the device Labor planned to use to unlock the fund to allow for its raid.

It is unclear what Labor plans to now do in relation to the Communications Fund, but I am hopeful it has finally accepted its raid was unnecessary and will leave the fund intact to fulfill the purpose for which it was established.

It is not clear whether the people of rural, regional and remote Australia can take comfort from this decision because the Rudd Labor Government has accepted the thoughtful arguments of the Opposition; or whether some other motive will emerge from the fog and confusion that is Labor's broadband 'policy'.

The Coalition has expressed its strong opposition to Labor's plan to raid the $2 billion fund, plus its interest, which was established by the former government to address the telecommunications needs of rural, regional and remote Australia in perpetuity.

Instead, Labor wants to use the money to help fund its vague, metro-centric national broadband network proposal, but is yet to even clarify on what the money will buy.

The Rudd Labor Government is rolling in money, has a massive surplus it inherited from the previous government, has no valid reason to justify the fund's dismantling. The fund's balance is preserved, not to fall below $2 billion, an interest is used to fund recommendations from regular telecommunications reviews of regional Australia.

At a time when the telecommunications sector and consumers are looking for clarity and answers about Labor's shambolic National Broadband Network tender process, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is on an extended overseas trip. It would appear he is desperately scratching around the world looking for a way to turn Labor's broadband sound bites into something resembling sound public policy.