Senate debates

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010

In Committee

9:10 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move opposition amendments (20), (21), (23), (30) and (44) of sheet 7004 together:

(20)  Schedule 1, item 30, page 13 (lines 17 and 18), omit “the associated provisions”, substitute “subsection 577BC(2)”.

(21)  Schedule 1, item 30, page 13 (line 24), omit “the associated provisions”, substitute “subsection 577BC(2)”.

(23)  Schedule 1, item 30, page 14 (lines 3 to 5), omit the definition of associated provision.

(30)  Schedule 1, item 30, page 18 (line 17) to page 25 (line 5), section 577BA TO BE OPPOSED.

(44)  Schedule 1, item 33, page 75 (line 34) to page 76 (line 5), item TO BE OPPOSED.

As we see it, this is probably one of the most important parts of the amendments to be proposed to this legislation. I have referred to it already with regard to Senator Xenophon’s previous amendments. These relate very much to ensuring that we maintain the normal operation of the Competition and Consumer Act and that the ACCC—the protectors of competition, fair trade and fair practice in this country—get a decent opportunity to have proper oversight of the deal between NBN Co. and Telstra. We want to make sure that this arrangement does protect the interests of consumers, does promote competition, is a fair and good one, and is one that is in the national interest. As we have flagged before, we are not against structural separation—we are not against this proceeding—but we want to make sure that it proceeds in a proper way. We want to make sure that it is a good arrangement for everyone concerned—consumers and the nation—and that it is one that will promote proper competition into the future and not at all inhibit proper competition.

Unfortunately, the government, through the way they have structured this legislation, seek to have extraordinary powers to dictate the terms on which the ACCC will consider the proposed deal between NBN Co. and Telstra. By dictating it, we will give the government quite unfettered powers. And regrettably, as a result of the division just had in this place, where we saw all of the crossbenchers side with the government, those unfettered powers have all been put in the hands of the minister to make rules that will limit the extent of consideration by the ACCC of the effectiveness and fairness of this deal. We do not think that is the right thing. We do not believe the minister should have those unfettered powers. It is regrettable in the extreme that the crossbenchers, who so often talk about and champion the power of the parliament and talk about the need for government accountability to the parliament, decided on this occasion to not make the government accountable to the parliament.

Here they get a second chance in a sense, not through disallowable instruments but through reinstating the normal operative provisions of the Competition and Consumer Act—the former Trade Practices Act—and the ACCC. In doing that, we can ensure that consumers are looked after, that the telco industry is looked after and that, most importantly, competition is promoted in a fair and transparent way. There should be nothing for the government to fear from this. There should be nothing for NBN Co. to fear from this. Parties of all persuasions have for many years, since the Trade Practices Act was first passed around the year of my birth—

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