Sep 15, 2009

Question without notice – Telecommunications

Question without notice – Telecommunications

Parliament House, Canberra

The Hon Anthony Albanese MP

The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport

Regional Development and Local Government

Leader of the House

Member for Grayndler

15 September 2009

Ms CAMPBELL (2:18 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, representing the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. Will the minister inform the House of the historic reforms to telecommunications regulations announced today?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for her question and, indeed, her appreciation of the importance of broadband. She, like other Tasmanian members, knows that our National Broadband Network is the single largest nation-building investment in Australia’s history. It will first be rolled out in Tasmania. It will drive future growth, productivity and innovation across all sectors of the economy. While the NBN is progressively rolled out around the country, the efficiency of the existing telecommunications regulatory regime remains critical to the delivery of affordable, high-quality services to businesses and to consumers. Minister Conroy has today announced historic reforms to modernise telecommunications regulations in the interests of all Australians. Today the government is delivering fundamental microeconomic reform of telecommunications in the long-term national interest.

The first element of the reform program focuses on the current structure of the telecommunications sector. The government will require the functional separation of Telstra, unless it decides to voluntarily structurally separate. The government has been clear about its desire for Telstra to structurally separate on a voluntary and cooperative basis. Today’s reforms give Telstra the flexibility to choose its future path. The government has commenced constructive discussions with Telstra on how NBN Co. and Telstra could work collaboratively towards the NBN. The government is also introducing measures to address Telstra’s horizontal integration across the copper, cable and mobile platforms. The government will prevent Telstra from acquiring additional spectrum for advanced mobile services unless it structurally separates and divests its HFC cable network and its interest in Foxtel. The legislation provides scope to remove either or both of the cable network and Foxtel requirements if Telstra submits an acceptable undertaking to structurally separate.

The second element of the reform package seeks to streamline and simplify the competition regime to provide more certainty and faster outcomes for telecommunications companies. Since the commencement of the regime in 1997 there have been more than 150 telecommunications access disputes, compared to only three access disputes in other regulated sectors, including aviation and energy. This is unacceptable. The government will reform part XIB and part XIC of the Trade Practices Act to simplify the access regime and to deliver greater regulatory certainty. It will also enable the ACCC to act quickly on anticompetitive conduct.

The third element of the reform package will strengthen consumer safeguards to ensure services standards are maintained at a high level. The final element of the package seeks to remove inefficient and redundant red tape and to address impediments to Australia’s long-term productivity growth. These historic fundamental reforms address longstanding inadequacies of the existing telecommunications regulatory regime. They are within the national interest and they are consistent with our approach to drive future growth, productivity and innovation across all sectors of the economy.