Thursday, 22 October 2009
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009
I have come to this debate today on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009 with an open mind. I must say from the outset that the government has failed to convince me at this stage as to the merits of this legislation. It may shock the Parliamentary Secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction, who is at the table, but there are a few basic principles that I try to apply when considering any legislation before the House. To begin with, I tend to accept the premise that the government has been elected to govern. I respect that view of the people of Australia in 2007 and I do not try to be deliberately obstructionist in that regard. Where the government has a clear mandate for action in relation to specific policy positions that were presented to the broader electorate, I tend to take the view that it has a right to pursue that agenda. It may not be a fashionable view among all on this side of the House, but it is a view that I tend to support. That is not to say though that the opposition should vacate the field. It most certainly must hold the government to account, and that is what I think the opposition are trying to do in this regard.
This brings me to a couple of other principles that I try to apply in my consideration of any legislation. I believe the legislation must be in the best interests of the people of regional Australia before I will support it and certainly it needs to be in the best interests of the people of Gippsland, who have sent me to this place to get the best possible outcomes on their behalf. It is in this regard that I do have some serious doubts about the legislation before the House and its capacity to deliver benefits to the people of regional Australia, who choose, obviously, to live outside our main cities.
I have followed this debate with interest. I would like to pick up on the commentary of the member for New England earlier this morning. I must admit that I do not always agree with the member for New England, but there were parts of his contribution which I thoroughly supported. The member did indicate that the National Broadband Network is critical infrastructure that has the potential to deliver enormous benefits, particularly to regional areas, throughout the rest of this century. He made the point quite well that where you live will become less relevant in terms of your capacity to do business or access health and education services in the future. It is a point that has been made by others on both sides of the House, including by the Leader of the Nationals, who spoke quite strongly on this issue earlier this week.
The word ‘potential’ is where it tends to get bogged down and where my reservations arise with the legislation before the House. I am not confident that the government has the commitment to deliver for regional communities. When it comes to telecommunications infrastructure, Gippslanders have no reason whatsoever to trust this government to act in the interests of regional Australians or Gippslanders in particular. The evidence has been all to the contrary. We all remember the $2.4 billion Future Fund, which was meant to be kept in perpetuity to invest in improved services in regional areas. The Rudd government has stolen that money from regional communities. It has been absorbed into other programs and it is gone. It will never be seen again in terms of its intended purpose to assist regional communities.
Over the years of the previous government there were some improvements to telecommunications services in regional areas. If you believe those opposite, the previous government did nothing anywhere for anyone or anything. That is a juvenile attempt, I believe, to dismiss the legacy of the previous government. It simply does not wash with the Australian public. No government—not even some of the appalling state governments we have at the moment—deliberately sets out to do nothing.