Feb 8, 2012

Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011, Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011 & Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill 2011: Second Reading – Cognate debate

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (18:09):  I am keen to outline just how hopeless and pathetic these amendments are and why the government will be rejecting them. The government certainly does not support these amendments. The proposed amendments would prevent payment of TUSMA administrative costs unless those costs are offset by reductions in the administrative costs to ACMA. The proposed amendments will not work in practice.

TUSMA’s functions will not be the same as ACMA’s current functions and the government has established TUSMA to do different things. Clause 11 of the bill sets out the policy objectives for TUSMA, and TUSMA’s role is to administer contracts or grants relating to those objectives. Contracts or grants will cover the provision of the standard telephone service and payphones under the universal service obligation, emergency call services, the National Relay Service and programs to support continuity of carriage services during the transition to the National Broadband Network. The only current function of ACMA that will be transferred to TUSMA will be responsibility for administering the contracts for the National Relay Service.

ACMA is responsible for collecting industry levies and assessing the levy amount and for enforcing compliance with the USO. Under the proposed new arrangements it will keep this responsibility. Furthermore, TUSMA’s functions may change or increase over time. For example, the current review of the National Relay Service may propose that TUSMA provide new services to assist people with disabilities. Under the proposed amendments this would mean TUSMA could not be funded to administer these functions without cuts being made to ACMA’s funding. Linking TUSMA’s administrative costs to the administrative costs of ACMA is inappropriate and it fails to acknowledge the important differences between the two agencies. Decisions about the administrative costs of government agencies are made in the budget context and it is simply not appropriate to specify them in legislation.

The member for Cowper also proposes amendments that will require an independent STS review into the quality of standard telephone services delivered over the National Broadband Network. The amendments require the review to be conducted before the minister can make a determination for the removal of USO regulation in relation to standard telephone services under proposed section 8J of the consumer protection act. The government does not support these amendments.

First, NBN Co. has been established to provide access to a ubiquitous, high-speed and affordable broadband network. It will offer a substantial improvement on the broadband services currently available across Australia. NBN Co.’s network will support high-quality voice services. NBN Co. is making available a dedicated phone port that will enable service providers to offer equal or better quality over the NBN fibre network to that offered over copper. In those areas where NBN Co.’s fibre network is not available, Telstra will be required under an agreement with TUSMA to continue to provide voice services over the copper network.

Second, the bill already includes processes so the minister can get advice on the quality and reliability of voice services. Before making a decision to remove USO regulation from the standard telephone service the minister must consider Telstra’s record of regulatory compliance in relation to the USO and the customer service guarantee requirements. These requirements already deal with quality and reliability of voice services. The minister will need to seek advice from ACMA and TUSMA and consider any other relevant matters before making the decision to remove USO regulation from Telstra.

Third, the NBN is already subject to extensive scrutiny, transparency and parliamentary oversight. In particular, the terms of reference of the Joint Committee on the NBN already include the ability for the committee to consider ‘network rollout performance including service levels and faults’. This easily accommodates the possibility that the committee might inquire into the quality of voice services on the NBN.

Fourthly, there are other existing arrangements that operate as consumer safeguards in relation to voice services such as the customer service guarantee and ACMA’s reporting obligations under the Telecommunications Act in relation to all significant matters relating to the performance of carriers and carriage service providers with particular reference to consumer satisfaction, consumer benefits and quality of service.

Lastly, the drafting of the amendments is deficient and they do not even do what they purport to do. In particular, the matters to be considered by the independent reviewer in certifying the quality of voice services are complex, vague and not easily measurable in an objective manner. Accordingly, the amendments should be rejected by the House. I am surprised that the member for Cowper is pursuing them.

Question negatived.

Bill agreed to.