Thursday, 22 October 2009
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009
Last night before the debate was interrupted, I was talking about payphones on an island in my electorate and Telstra’s response. The new universal service arrangements under the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009 will also include reliability and repair responsibilities that will ensure that Telstra cannot choose which aspects of the telephone or payphone services it intends to maintain. These measures are consumer focused, as they should be. They will strengthen consumer protection and they will also assist in stopping the freefall of the service quality which so many of the consumers and constituents in my electorate have experienced over the past years.
But this is clearly not the only area in which Telstra is letting consumers down in my home state of Tasmania. I moved a private member’s motion about four weeks ago after hearing from many of my constituents about the $2.20 administration fee that Telstra is charging customers to pay their telephone bill in cash at Australia Post or a Telstra shop. My constituents in my electorate are completely outraged by this move by Telstra. It is certainly not conducive to improving quality service and customer satisfaction. In fact, I have now had people contact my office to say that the $2.20 fee is actually included in the total amount you have to pay. So, if you are paying by other means, you have to deduct this from the total amount given on your bill. Clearly, we are not getting the service that we deserve in Tasmania. I believe the structural separation is really important, as are the consumer protections that are part of this bill.
The structural separation is really important, as I have been saying, regardless of the National Broadband Network to ensure that consumers in my state of Tasmania get improved service quality from what is currently a near monopoly provider. But I do want to talk a bit about the National Broadband Network. I was very pleased when the Prime Minister came to Cambridge in my electorate to lay the first fibre-optic cable of the NBN. In Tasmania, this rollout has already begun in Smithton, Scottsdale and Midway Point, and it is the intention that around 200,000 premises will be connected in Tasmania by the end of 2014 along with all our hospitals and our schools. The Premier and Prime Minister announced just yesterday stage 2 of the rollout, which will be going to places like St Helens, Triabunna, Deloraine, Sorell and George Town. For me, I am really thrilled that a suburb in my electorate, Kingston Beach, is receiving broadband in stage 2, and I know that my constituents in that area will be really thrilled. Also, another suburb of Hobart, South Hobart, which is only three minutes from the city centre, currently does not have reliable access to a broadband service, so I am sure it will be much appreciated there.
The investment of the NBN is a very important step forward in expanding Australia’s telecommunication needs and will obviously be a crucial part of telecommunications in this country going forward. The delivery of high-speed broadband will open up a new window of opportunity and will be a technological advancement that will afford opportunities particularly in the areas of education, health and the delivery of government services. Under this Rudd government initiative every person and business in Australia will have access to affordable fast broadband. This investment will support and stimulate jobs in the short term and the long-term benefits are obviously there for all of us to see.
Tasmania at the moment has got about 39 per cent of broadband for households, and that is much lower than the national average of 52 per cent. That clearly shows that the current system and regulations are not working in Tasmania. The biggest barriers to people wanting to connect to broadband are that in many places they cannot get it connected. People who contact providers are often told that the service is not available in their area. I find that very difficult, particularly when these people live 10 minutes from the city of Hobart. Tasmania’s schools, homes and workplaces will be connected with fibre to the premises delivering speeds of up to 100 megabits per second and, as I said, we will be delivering it to all of our hospitals in Tasmania and 90 per cent of our schools. Rural and remote areas will also receive the benefits of the next generation wireless and satellite technologies. It means that everybody in Tasmania, no matter where they live, will have access to faster broadband. As I said, 200,000 will have fibre to the premises. It is wonderful to see this outcome. As a Tasmanian, I am really pleased that this is occurring.
The telecommunications regulatory reform package represents one of the most significant reforms to the telecommunications regime since open competition was introduced in 1997. Our Premier was asked at the National Press Club yesterday about his thoughts on Telstra’s separation. He said:
I applaud the leadership that Senator Conroy and Prime Minister Rudd have shown in taking the decision to embrace structural reform in telecommunications.
It will allow for a more competitive telecommunications market—one that is inherently more responsive to the needs of consumers in all states big and small.
That is a very welcome development, which supports the action we have been taking over the last ten years to make sure Tasmania was not forever a prisoner of a Telstra monopoly.
I conclude by commending the bill to the House. I am sure it will be a benefit to all Australians but particularly to those people I represent in Tasmania.