The legislation that would see the structural separation of Telstra and pave the way for the National Broadband Network (NBN) is likely to pass the Senate this week, after the government gained the support of two key independent senators.
After Independent Senator Nick Xenophon secured the release of a NBN business case summary from Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday, he indicated that he plans to support the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010, which is expected to clear the Senate after a final debate on the Bill. This morning the Senate is debating extending the sitting time to allow for debate of the Bill.
In a statement released last night, Xenophon said that after the release of the business case, a briefing with NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley and the establishment of a lower house parliamentary NBN oversight committee, he felt more confident to vote in favour of the legislation today.
"With all this information I believe I will be in a position to make an informed vote," he said.
Xenophon said he would be moving a number of amendments to the Bill, however.
"The first will ensure that Telstra would not be able to offer less favourable deals to any provider than it provides to itself. We must ensure a level playing field," he said. "The second amendment will ensure that the [Australian Competition and Consumer Commission] will have as a principal consideration the interests of consumers throughout the process that will structurally separate Telstra."
In a statement last night, outgoing Family First Senator Steve Fielding also indicated said he would vote in favour of the Bill and expressed his support for the NBN project.
"Super fast broadband is a vital building block for any advanced economy and if we are to be at the forefront of the global community we need to have the speed and infrastructure to support this," he said.
"Just like Apple did with the iPhone, I have no doubt the NBN will spurn a whole new industry from companies that are keen to take advantage of this technology," he added, indicating that he did not support the Coalition's calls for a cost-benefit analysis of the $35.7 billion project.
"Stalling this legislation so the Productivity Commission can do a cost-benefit analysis is just a smokescreen by the Coalition to hide the fact that they are plain and simple against building an NBN," he said.
In the Lower House this morning, Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese introduced the National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 and the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures-Access Arrangements) Bill 2010 into parliament. These two pieces of legislation establish the framework for competition on the NBN and future ownership arrangements for the network.
"The Bills establish the governance, ownership and operating arrangements for NBN Co Limited, as well as rules for the supply of NBN Co Limited's wholesale-only telecommunications service," Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said in a statement.
"These rules include affording retail telecommunications providers access to the NBN on terms that are subject to strict non-discrimination and transparency obligations."
Conroy said that the legislation takes into account public feedback as well as recommendations made by the McKinsey implementation study and the Senate Select Committee on the NBN.
"The[se] Bills deliver on the government's commitment that NBN Co will operate on a wholesale-only, open and equivalent access basis, delivering long term benefits for Australian consumers," he said.
Debate on the legislation was adjourned until the next sitting day, scheduled for 8 February 2011.