Thursday, 22 October 2009
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009
We hear interjections from members of the National Party and they say, ‘Well, we sold it off.’ If they are saying that they sold it off as some sort of cry that that was a solution, then that is far from the case. That certainly was not a solution. In fact, if anything, it entrenched deeper and deeper the problems that existed in this country about a fair, open and competitive marketplace. Given that what was sold off is not only the largest carrier in the country but enjoys an incredible monopoly, it has to be heavily regulated to control its activities and its anticompetitive behaviour. It has also meant that consumers in Australia endure some of the lowest standards in the world in the OECD and developed countries, in terms of broadband provision and in terms of telephony services, and some of the highest costs around the globe. I will have a bit to say about the National Party and the Liberal Party and some of their past behaviour in this area—as well as some of their current behaviour, which is par for the course when it comes to the LNP.
The reality for Telstra is that it is not only a vertically integrated organisation but also a horizontally integrated organisation. It owns all of the fixed copper lines—the network that spans right across the country and literally feeds to every home, business and person who uses telecommunications services—as well as having the largest hybrid fibre/coaxial-cable and mobile networks. On top of that it also has a 50 per cent stake in Australia’s largest subscription provider, Foxtel. It is not unusual in other areas—be it media, television or other areas—for there to be rules around one player owning too much of a particular sector. They are there for a good reason: it is about competition. Consumers inherently understand that, if one big player owns the lot, there is no competition. We see this in the debate around fuel and in the debate around grocery and food prices. We see this debate in many areas, and the debate is no different in telecommunications. The government is being forced to intervene—to act—although Telstra does have options where it can deal with some of these issues. But, to date at least, it is choosing not to do that.
I heard earlier from one of the opposition speakers about the complaint that it will take eight years and that that is somehow too long. I do not know whether eight years is too long, too short or just right, but I do not think the fact that it will take eight years to complete the National Broadband Network rollout is as important as it is that we actually start today—that we have a start date. It is important that we begin the process because for every day that it is delayed there is no rollout. The reality is that these guys sitting in opposition—and we are going to hear from the member for Maranoa shortly about his complaints and opposition to these bills and all the reforms in the National Broadband Network rollout—had the opportunity, the time and the resources to actually do something. For 12 years they sat on the government benches and did very little or nothing. They complain now that they might have changed some of the policies they had in place and that, if they had just been allowed one more term by the electorate, they would have finally done something. Well, isn’t it always the case? ‘Just give me one more term.’ So they would have had 15 years to maybe finally do something.
The reality is that we are not going to take 15 years; we are going to act right now. As we heard from the member for New England, it takes courage for a minister to step into this debate and make it happen. It takes courage on a whole range of fronts, but it must be done. I think the community really do understand this. They actually have a grasp of it. And why is that? Why do the community understand this? Because for the past decade at least they have realised that they have been getting a lower standard of service, they have realised that they have been paying too much and they have understood that Telstra, as the largest player on the block, has not delivered for them. And nowhere did they understand this better than in the bush. I see the member for Maranoa scoffing and laughing but—