Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010
Consideration in Detail
My position on both structural separation and the future of ICT generally, and broadband in particular, for regional Australia has not changed. The concept of getting away from dial-up and towards more reliable and affordable services in regional areas, such as the mid-North Coast of New South Wales, is a welcome one. I get the concept of a broadband rollout, as presented by the government. I have consistently said that there is fertile territory for all of us on issues around cost and delivery. They are both areas where members of parliament of all persuasions need to keep executive government honest and accountable, as all members of the Australian community need to keep members of the executive as accountable as possible.
My position on structural separation has not changed since previous attempts at legislative reform. I think that we are making an unfortunate incursion into shareholder rights and that we are doing it in an ugly way. However, I do get why we are doing it and the greater national interest and public interest of doing it. In an ideal world this would have been done at the start: separation would have been resolved early and shareholders would have made decisions accordingly. Unfortunately, it was not and we therefore have to do this to some degree at the expense of shareholders who may have made decisions in good faith without this decision on their radar. But I still get the point of doing it and will endorse the government getting on with it. I note that this is also now the position of David Thodey, and of Telstra generally. He is now endorsing this legislation in general terms.
I also want to put on the record some comments in relation to the proposed amendments. I endorse the comments of the member for New England that the member for Wentworth has done a significant job in the last eight weeks of very subtly but strategically moving the coalition position to a point where we now have a policy contest on cost and delivery. I endorse the comments that were made previously in that regard.
If the shadow minister is going to deal with merits review and procedural fairness together in the same amendment—and I do not see procedural fairness identified in any of the amendments in the list—I will be interested in supporting that one. However, in regard to 4G and spectrum issues, I do not buy the gun-to-the-head argument and I do not think that it is in the national interest that we try and defend Telstra shareholder rights over and above some national interest outcomes that we are trying to achieve through this legislation.
As this suite of legislation goes through over the next four to six months, we are all in a difficult position. Anyone who does give a damn about better ICT and broadband services for regional Australia will want to see action in this area sometime soon, and preferably in the next three years. At the same time, we do not want to slow down the delivery of that in the quest for efficient government. That is the bind that I think we all find ourselves in if we are genuine about trying to achieve the right policy outcome.
In the coming vote on the amendments you will see my support in one instance for the shadow minister. That is because I see such support as delivering a potential efficiency gain on the questions of cost and delivery. However, in other regards you will see me, on what I think are going to be three other divisions, support the government, because in my view the national interest of the concept is the priority in those instances.