Senate debates

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009

Second Reading

11:36 am

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

This is quite clearly a rerun of the debate that we had late last year when we were discussing whether or not the government would hand over the documents that were produced in the course of the original RFP going back nearly two years now. There was a debate and a lot of argy-bargy at the time about whether those bills were relevant to the Telstra debates or not, or whether they were more strictly relevant to the NBN debate when we finally get to that at some stage.

I remind the chamber that at that time the government eventually established a Senate inquiry into these kinds of deadlocks—when the Senate orders production of documents and the executive says, ‘No, you can’t have them; you’ll just have to trust that we’re withholding them in the public interest.’ The government came back with an incredibly unsatisfactory position on that, joining with the opposition. At no stage since then have we seen the original RFP documents that were produced in the course of the government assessing whether or not it would proceed with its original intentions or go with an NBN project 10 times the scale.

At the time, however, the Senate agreed that the Telstra debate could proceed. That debate was originally scheduled for October and now, in early March, the debate still has not gone ahead. The government is negotiating with Telstra behind the scenes, with no checks and balances whatsoever, no role for any other party and no public scrutiny. I and many people in the industry believe that at some point we are going to be presented with a fait accompli. The debate on the Telstra bill may become redundant if it is delayed for too much longer.

Senator Minchin, who moved the procedural motion today which would effectively block any further debate on the Telstra bill until the implementation study is handed over, has a very strong point. The government last year, in many comments during Senate estimates hearings and at other times, answered any questions relating to the NBN, or indeed this debate, with, ‘Wait till you see the implementation study; all the answers will be in there.’ We were informed last year, and again a couple of weeks ago, that the minister alone will decide whether or not that implementation is ever made public. My understanding is that they have received it, they are reading it and they are making their minds up as to whether or not it will be provided to the parliament. Of course they should provide it to the parliament—it should have been provided to the parliament at the same time it was provided to the government—if they are expecting us to assess a public commitment to the NBN of upwards of $20 billion.

We do not support this further attempt to block debate of the Telstra bill. I believe that this is all a delaying tactic. The implementation study should absolutely be tabled. We will be moving an order for the production of documents this afternoon to ensure that the study is tabled in full and that that information is provided to the public and the rest of the industry so that we can get an idea of what we are actually assessing and what we are going to be expected to debate when we get to the NBN bills.

However, I am not persuaded that the implementation study is essential to proceed with the Telstra debate. We have been ready to proceed with this debate since last October. We will not be supporting this motion. We will, however, be looking forward to coalition support for an order for the production of documents so that the implementation study is provided and put in the public domain, where it firmly belongs. But I do not support that should being used as a delaying tactic to continue to put off the debate on Telstra, which I believe we should have had—whatever you believe about the merits of the bill itself—late last year, not in March.


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