Senate debates

Thursday, 24 March 2011

National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010; Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures — Access Arrangements) Bill 2011

In Committee

5:19 pm

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

The Australian Greens will not be supporting this amendment. This situation occurred before Senator Birmingham arrived here. It occurred before I arrived here as well, although I was not too far away. The coalition sold Telstra. The coalition left us with a market structure that we have inherited. The CCS bill that we spent two years mulling over and finally debated at the end of last year, and now this bill, are an attempt to fix that structure, which was landed upon us.

The ALP and the crossbenchers at the time voted against the privatisation of Telstra. Perhaps Senator Birmingham, if you had been here when that occurred, you would have crossed the floor and saved the day; we will never know. But your side left us with the market structure that we have today. It is extraordinary to then come in and get a lecture on setting up a wholesale-only, open-access network that we are hoping will be as free from contamination by retail activities as possible. And to hear that from the side that sold this vertically integrated thing down into the market, where it then did everything it could, what it was legally obliged to do—that is, maximise shareholder returns. The public interest went out the window, not because Telstra’s management were bad people but because they were legally obliged to do what they spent the last couple of years doing.

The Australian Greens are very concerned that this so-called scope-creep that has been discussed—I suspect we will hear a great deal about it over however long this debate spills out—does not occur. We agree with the principle, as it was outlined years ago, that this is to be a wholesale-only, open-access network. I believe the amendments that the coalition have put up are poorly drafted. I am not going to suggest, or anything of the sort, that there is malicious intent. Let us be very careful here about whether the amendments the coalition are going to bring forward into this debate are genuinely designed to improve this bill. I ask Senator Birmingham to answer the question—I know he does not have to—that if the amendments the coalition put forward were to get up, would he vote for this bill? Or is the coalition intending to trash this thing no matter what happens over the next couple of days? I would be genuinely interested to know that.

So we will not be supporting these amendments. I think the questions that Senator Xenophon raised are entirely appropriate and I foreshadow that the Australian Greens will be moving amendments at the appropriate time to make sure that when we are debating a real NBN rather than a hypothetical one we will know how these provisions are being used. I am interested to know, as I suspect everybody in this chamber is, about the degree to which this supposed scope creep actually occurs.

I think we need to make a very important distinction here: NBN Co. is selling a wholesale service, and we are then debating what kinds of entities it is able to sell to. I will have this argument in the case of utilities, carriage service providers and so on—people using these services for their own use—but the service that NBN Co. is selling to the market will be a wholesale service to everyone. I think that is a very important distinction to make. I may rise again if Senator Birmingham cares to address any of the issues that I have raised, but otherwise I will just state that the Australian Greens will not be voting for these amendments.

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