Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009

Second Reading

11:25 am

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

In relation to the second reading debate on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009, pursuant to a contingent notice standing in my name, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving that further consideration of the bill be made an order of the day for five sitting days after the government response to the National Broadband Network Implementation Study is laid on the table.

In speaking to that motion I note that the government has had significant notice of this matter. In seeking the suspension of standing orders we are asking that the Senate be allowed to consider the urgency of this bill before the second reading debate commences. In our view this will allow full and detailed debate about the urgency of this bill and more detailed consideration of the government’s claims that this bill should be considered before its response to the NBN implementation study.

It is the coalition’s view that this bill is entirely related to the NBN. The NBN is mentioned some 150 times in the explanatory memorandum and in the second reading speech. Therefore, we do not believe that this bill should be considered in advance of the NBN implementation study. The Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, whom we make welcome in the chamber, has, frankly, used the guise of the NBN study to avoid providing the Senate with any detail whatsoever about his proposed broadband network. According to the minister, the implementation study will determine how much consumers will pay for services, which areas will be covered by fibre, the share structure of the company that operates the NBN, the total taxpayer contribution, when the rollout will commence and how long it is going to take. He refuses to provide any detail on these aspects in advance of the implementation study, but he now expects the Senate to support a bill—a quite radical and far-reaching bill—that is intrinsically connected to the NBN and, frankly, would not be here in the absence of the NBN and the conclusions of the implementation study, which is costing taxpayers some $25 million. We were told that that study would be delivered to us last month. The implementation study in and of itself will no doubt make recommendations about other legislative amendments to support the rollout of this NBN.

As we have said consistently throughout this debate, the bill is intrinsically linked to the NBN. It is, frankly, about blackmailing Telstra to cooperate with the NBN. As we know, the only way the NBN will ever be viable is through this avenue. It is evident throughout the explanatory memorandum and the second reading speech and is consistent with everything that the minister has been saying since this bill was introduced. It has only been since the minister realised that the Senate’s return to order for the production of documents could have an impact on his plans to force Telstra’s breakup that he has all of a sudden changed his tune and tried to claim that this bill has absolutely nothing to do with the NBN, which only he would believe. He should have thought of that before he crafted a bill which is based on a discussion paper about the NBN and before he framed the entire debate about this bill in the context of the NBN.

As David Forman, no great friend of the coalition but CEO of the Competitive Carriers’ Coalition, told the Senate inquiry into the legislation:

If you suggested to me that the NBN was likely to succeed in the absence of this legislation, I would suggest that that is a pretty big bet.

Those are very accurate words.

Labor’s attack on Telstra is a form of legislative blackmail that we believe can only be seen as an admission that its new NBN policy cannot be implemented without effectively renationalising Telstra’s fixed line network. Labor cannot afford to have its NBN compete with Telstra. It wants its NBN to be a majority government owned monopoly and this legislation is aimed at forcing Telstra to participate, even though it has indicated it is in good-faith negotiations with the government. I would urge the Senate to support the suspension so that a thorough debate about the urgency of this bill can occur before we commence the second reading debate. Nothing in this bill is urgent. The consumer measures do not commence until 1 July 2010, so this bill can be dealt with in the next session of the parliament. The appropriate time for the Senate to consider these matters is when we have some more certainty about the NBN rollout and after the government has tabled its response to the $25 million NBN implementation study. Until that study is completed and the government response is tabled, we in the Senate should not be asked to consider the structure of the telecommunications sector going forward, which is what this bill is all about when the government states that the structure will be altered by the decisions relating to the NBN. So I do urge the Senate to support this suspension so a full debate can proceed about the timing for the consideration of this bill.

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