Labor: ACMA new regulator in name only

ALP MP Stephen Smith told the federal House of Representatives last night that his party would support legislation merging the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) and the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), although the government had yet to address several key concerns.According to Smith, "Labor supports this legislation as a necessary first step in addressing the increasing regulatory problems posed by the emergence of convergence technologies".

ALP MP Stephen Smith told the federal House of Representatives last night that his party would support legislation merging the Australian Communications Authority (ACA) and the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA), although the government had yet to address several key concerns.

According to Smith, "Labor supports this legislation as a necessary first step in addressing the increasing regulatory problems posed by the emergence of convergence technologies". The Bill passed the House of Representatives on Thursday with Labor's support. However, Smith also said that the package of legislation represents only a modest improvement on the status quo, and that the primary inadequacy of the bill related to the purely administrative nature of the merger.

"The bill makes only nominal changes to the existing regulatory frameworks for telecommunications and media. The problem with this is that ... in many cases it is the substance of the underlying legislation itself that is causing inefficiency and regulatory uncertainty. In order to effectively deal with convergence, we should be moving towards a situation in which, all things being equal, regulation is technology neutral. This will require legislative, not simply administrative, reform," said Smith.

Smith claimed that the majority of submissions in response to discussion papers issued by the government called for a comprehensive review of the underlying regime. Furthermore, he pointed out, the new Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) will be allowed to organise itself into divisions along the lines of the existing authorities, as well as retaining their current respective offices. This would lead to a situation whereby "the new authority will be a merged regulator in name only and will in fact continue to operate as two distinct regulators".

Other concerns revolve around the fact that the government does not expect any cost savings to be generated by merging the two authorities' secondary departments such as IT support and HR. Smith said that this was a disappointing result for carriers as they bear the cost of the new authority's telecommunications functions through carrier licence fees.

Smith concluded his statement by questioning the timing of the merger, asking "Why doesn't the government investigate whether the powers it is providing to the new regulator are appropriate to enable it to achieve its aims in the context of a fully privatised Telstra?"

However the late night session of parliament wasn't all serious business, with Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey taking the opportunity as the government's spokesperson on the issue to talk about future challenges for the parliament in the area of broadcasting. Tuckey said: "I for one have been quite saddened by the loss of individualisation of electronic media that existed when I first became the member for O'Connor".

Tuckey then went on to lament the loss of "...local services which did not give us Neighbours and all that soap opera stuff. What is the latest -- 'Dissatisfied Wives'? I thought they might cover the local football match or the local cricket match."

The ALP's Lindsay Tanner was quick to jump in on the controversial debate, correcting Tuckey's mis-naming of Channel Seven's new flagship import and saying that it was "a good show".

However Tuckey quickly fired back that he was not personally into the show as "when I want trouble I can create it for myself". He then went on to espouse the virtues of a potential TV station that would cover small town weddings, although pointing out that people would "still of course have the opportunity to watch 'Dissatisfied Wives' or The X Factor or, if you really want to get down to the lowest of things, Big Brother or something like that".

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