The Federal Government has marched forward with its telecommunications industry reform agenda this morning, following the re-reading of legislation paving the way for the structural separation of Telstra in the House of Representatives.
As flagged by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in a Senate Estimates hearing last night, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009 was the first cab off the ranks in parliament this morning, being read for a second time by Anthony Albanese, acting on behalf of Senator Conroy.
"The government is committed to addressing the mistakes of the past and establishing a telecommunications regulatory framework in the interests of all Australians," he said.
The legislation was originally designed to strengthen the powers of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission in the telecommunications industry, as well as provide a clear path for structural separation for Telstra's wholesale and retail arms. The Bill entered before parliament today has had a number of amendments made to account for the $11 billion heads of agreement deal between Telstra and the National Broadband Network Company (NBN Co) that would see the telco close down its copper networks voluntarily and move its customers onto the NBN.
"The Bill provides for Telstra's structural separation undertaking to include a migration plan [and] now provides more legislative certainty for Telstra in the transition to a retail company," Albanese said.
"The Bill sets out a clear process for Telstra to seek approval from its shareholders on a proposal to migrate its customer services to the NBN with a high degree of certainty about the regulatory outcome.
"The measures will ensure that Telstra can meet the requirements set out in its structural separation undertaking, migration plan and other agreements," he said.
The original legislation passed the House of Representatives prior to the election but was pushed back a number of times in the Senate during the last parliament, due to delays from the Opposition. The Bill ultimately failed to pass prior to the calling of the 2010 Federal Election.
Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has recently indicated that he would support the structural separation of Telstra if it was required but has not stated how the Opposition will vote on the legislation. On Lateline last night Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged the Opposition to support the reforms.
"We will be pursuing it and it becomes a question, really, for Mr Abbott and for Mr Turnbull as to whether they will stand in the way of this key microeconomic reform, which of course will be better for businesses, better for customers and enable the further development of the National Broadband Network," Gillard said.
In a press conference held this morning, Conroy called for the Opposition to "come clean" on its position on the legislation, given Turnbull's recent comments in support for structural separation.
Following the reading of the legislation, debate on the Bill was adjourned.