Oct 21, 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

21 October 2009

Mr SIDEBOTTOM (2:16 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 outline to the House the response of business and policy analysts with expertise in communication to the government telecommunications regulatory reform?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Braddon for his question. I know that he appreciates the importance of broadband and the government’s plan for the National Broadband Network, which is the largest single infrastructure project in Australia’s history. The government announced historic reforms to modernise telecommunications regulations in the interests of all Australians. The communications sector and, indeed, the business community know that these reforms are sound, they know they are long overdue, and that is why these reforms were welcomed. They know that the nation requires a quantum leap in both infrastructure and competitive arrangements so that all Australians have high-speed and affordable broadband. But there are some people who are opposed to this plan. Senator Minchin, of course, is opposed to structural separation. However, Senator Joyce, the voice of rationality and reason over there in the Senate, unlike the alternative Deputy Prime Minister of the nation who sits across here unbelievably, is actually supportive of the project and supportive of the reforms that the government has advanced.

The coalition may have different views, but the one thing that it appears they can agree on is that they should delay the legislation. Sound familiar—delay the legislation; don’t act for 12 years and sit on your hands. When the government proposes reform and action, whether it is on telecommunications regulatory reform, the CPRS or any of the major questions confronting the nation, the coalition vote for delay. They say that the legislation should be put off at least until after the NBN discussions are completed. But the regulatory reforms that we are advancing are critical, irrespective of the NBN. The fact is that the existing regime has failed to deliver the right competitive outcomes for Australian consumers and businesses.

Those opposite have been talking up the knowledge on communications in particular of Paul Fletcher, the Liberal candidate for Bradfield. Perhaps they should actually listen to what Paul Fletcher has to say on these issues, because he does know a little bit about communications. He says:

The core problem in the Australian broadband market is the flawed market structure, with Telstra hugely dominant.

In his recent book Wired Brown Land he gives his assessment of the value of the structural separation of Telstra. He responds to arguments—the same arguments that are being put by people such as Senator Minchin. When Paul Fletcher enters this place Senator Minchin will be his shadow minister for communications. This is what Paul Fletcher says about the arguments against structural separation:

In fact, as an argument, it was a dud. It was the old and comprehensively discredited claim that what is good for Telstra is good for Australia. What is good for Australia is a more efficient, competitive and fairly priced broadband market.

That is what Mr Fletcher had to say about these issues. I say to those opposite that those keen to hold back these vital and historic reforms have to explain how delay will benefit consumers and our small businesses because these reforms are absolutely critical—they are fundamental. We have made it clear that it is our intention to address the problems with action and the time for action is right now.