Telco reforms not on first week agenda

With the new parliament set to convene next week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday that over 30 Bills will be introduced; however, the long-awaited telco reform Bills will not be one of them.

With the new parliament set to convene next week, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced yesterday that over 30 Bills will be introduced; however, the long-awaited telco reform Bills will not be one of them.

(Australian Parliament House image by Andrea Schaffer, CC2.0)

"These Bills cover a wide variety of areas, and of course we will be releasing the full list of legislation to be introduced in the first week," Gillard said yesterday.

The Bills encompass policy areas including the establishment of a national preventative health agency, strengthening the Australian Crime Commission and improving access to services and representation for university students.

Noticeably absent from the list was the Telecommunications Legislations Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009. The legislation offered Telstra the option of volunteering to structurally separate or it would have functional separation imposed on it, coupled with tough sanctions and a possible ban on acquiring spectrum for 4G wireless services. The Bill also seeks to strengthen the powers of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to act on misbehaviour in the telco industry.

According to Stephen Conroy and the Office of Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, the Bill won't be heard in parliament's first week due to its amendments.

"The first sitting week has been reserved for the re-introduction of Bills without amendment," Conroy's office told ZDNet Australia in a statement. "The Competition and Consumer Safeguards Bill does not fall into this category as the Bill will include amendments, many of which were publicly released on 23 June 2010. The Bill will be reintroduced as soon as possible following the first sitting week."

The Bill was pushed back a number of times during the last parliament, due to delays from the Opposition, according to Conroy, and it ultimately failed to pass prior to the calling of the 2010 Federal Election.

Some have questioned the need for the reforms following the government's $11 billion non-binding Heads of Agreement with Telstra that will see the telco giant shut down its copper networks, open its ducts to NBN Co and transfer its customers onto the National Broadband Network. However, fellow telcos Optus, iiNet and Internode are all still keen to see the legislation pass to ensure competition is strong in the sector.

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