Thursday, 22 October 2009
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009
We are curious about whether the government will accept in good faith the offer of the opposition to fillet out the regulatory reform measures in the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009 and leave the highly contentious, rash, unjustified and, frankly, unexplained attack on Telstra for a separate debate. As recently as yesterday, BBY telecoms analyst Mark McDonnell told a telecoms world conference in Sydney that the NBN debate had become politically charged and ‘lacking in any measure of financial or commercial rigour.’ He estimated that NBN wholesale costs would be upwards of $113 per month. He went on to say that the NBN’s $43 billion price tag ‘does not appear to have been based on any kind of detailed study’. He further said:
… specifically there is no clarity around the underpinning assumptions or about the kind of network and industry arrangements implied.
The industry arrangements go to the heart of why you are taking a meataxe to Telstra. There has been no justification brought forward in any of the debate in this chamber. There is widespread concern about the government’s motives. In good faith we offered to support the regulatory reform aspects of this bill while we fillet up this extraordinarily dubious and quite remarkable attack on one of Australia’s largest companies. One telecommunications analyst after another, and shareholders—anyone who has got the slightest interest in the structure of telecommunications into the future—know that the Rudd Labor government has not done the legwork. Its NBN is a slogan; it is a sound bite with as much detail as you could fit on the back of an envelope in crayon. There is no sound public policy backing it up. As recently as yesterday someone was saying that they had no idea what the industry arrangements might look like. How on earth can the Rudd Labor government take a meataxe to Telstra when it has no idea what the final outcome looks like. The taxpayers are spending $25 million to sort out your muddle—to sort out the sound bite and try to come up with some sound public policy to support what is nothing more than a political sloganeering exercise by this government.
We again urge and invite you, Minister, to take up our good faith offer to fillet off the regulatory reform aspects of this bill, for which we know there is widespread support within the sector. Some of the regulatory reforms are part of the ongoing remedying of regulatory reforms that has happened over successive governments, this one and previous ones included. Why not fillet that off and put the meat cleaver attack on Telstra to one side and have a serious debate about that once we know what the government is on about and once the government knows what it is on about. That will not be any earlier than February, when there is $25 million of work someone else needs to do to mop up for the laziness and slackness of this Rudd Labor government. That is our invitation. I invite you to take it up.
We will of course be supporting the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009 as it stands, because this is important legislation for the future of the nation. We have already consulted extensively on this. Indeed, telecommunications analysts are supportive of this legislation. They are supportive of structural separation. This is important microeconomic reform to improve outcomes for consumers. Greater competition in the industry is what this is about. This is necessary regulatory reform that the opposition failed to do in 12 years in government. They now want the current government to hold back on reform. This is all about delay. This is what the Australian Information Industry Association chief, Ian Birks, said yesterday:
Obviously, any kind of slowdown in the acceptance of the legislation and the delivery of the NBN has a detrimental effect on how quickly we can achieve the benefits of a digital economy.
It is extraordinary that, over in the Senate, Senator Joyce understands the importance of structural separation, but, in this place, the shadow minister representing the shadow minister does not. This is an important reform. We will not be delayed on it. People have waited long enough for the National Broadband Network. We are taking action and this legislation should be supported. I commend the legislation to the House as it will have great benefits, particularly for the business community and those who live in rural and regional Australia.
That this bill be now read a third time.
Bill read a third time.