Senate debates

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010

In Committee

4:12 pm

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

That was not part of the deal, I reassure you, Senator Ronaldson. So that is where it is at in relation to the process issues. As to the issue of the structural separation of Telstra, I think the government does have a difficult task. Some coalition senators, in their heart of hearts, will acknowledge that the way that Telstra was privatised and structured—with one of the highest levels of vertical integration anywhere in the world for a telco—has been bad for consumers and bad for the development of telecommunications in this country. I think the government has had an invidious task of trying to unscramble the egg.

I should also say that Telstra was quite upset with some of the amendments I have proposed—screaming blue murder, in a sense, saying, ‘This will be the end of us if there are strong competition principles.’ I would like to remind Telstra that I do not think that there are any Telstra representatives or members for Telstra in this chamber or in the other chamber. The parliament has a job to do in the interests of all Australians. I understand the difficulties involved. I understand that David Thodey, as the chief executive officer of Telstra, has had a rocky time lately. We saw what the chair of the Future Fund did last week, as he is entitled to do. I think it indicates that there is an opportunity here to structurally separate Telstra. It has not been smooth sailing for the Telstra board. David Thodey, to his credit, has been much more engaging than the previous CEO of Telstra. That has been a good thing for public policy in this country.

I think the imperative is to structurally separate. The issue of the NBN legislation is a separate issue. Whilst the two are interlinked, what will happen next year in terms of the whole NBN Co. legislation is a separate issue. I have been upfront with the government and they know that I will reserve my position on that legislation in terms of the consumer safeguards and ensuring the greatest degree of transparency and competition in the marketplace so that consumers can get the best benefit and also ensuring a continual level of transparency and scrutiny for the project through some of the mechanisms described.

I indicate that I support Senator Ludlam’s amendment. I am hoping that my amendments will be provided shortly. My office has prepared explanatory notes—not explanatory memoranda—in relation to those amendments to assist my colleagues. Given the time available and given the process, I thought that was the right thing to do. Again, I thank Evelyn Ek for that. I hope she will still be working for me after this week from hell for my office. I am looking forward to further stages of the committee’s deliberations on this bill.


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