Comms, broadcasting body merger on list for Coonan's return

The merger of industry regulators, the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA), will be first on the agenda should Helen Coonan be reassigned to the communications and information technology portfolio, her spokeswoman said today.The founding of a new body called the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be one of the "first cabs off the rank," Coonan's spokeswoman told ZDNet Australia .

The merger of industry regulators, the Australian Broadcasting Authority (ABA) and the Australian Communications Authority (ACA), will be first on the agenda should Helen Coonan be reassigned to the communications and information technology portfolio, her spokeswoman said today.

The founding of a new body called the Australian Communications and Media Authority will be one of the "first cabs off the rank," Coonan's spokeswoman told ZDNet Australia . She added that the initiative has "broad support" from other parties, including agreement from the Labor Party.

"It's about recognising convergence. You can't really separate the industries now, they need a merged regulator. The regulation needs to move with the times," she said.

The spokeswoman said Coonan is "very keen" to retain her portfolio, as "although she was only in for a short time before the election, she put in a lot of ground work meeting people and establishing her position".

"She's not acting like she's just warming the seat for someone else to take over. She had a very big hand in finalising the IT policy document [Connecting an Innovative Australia] and has worked to highlight issues like professional standards," she said.

According to the spokeswoman the Minister has received a great deal of support from industry bodies such as the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA), and telecommunication providers Telstra and Optus.

"The feedback to us is that she [Coonan] is certainly making all the right noises and she has the whole economic underpinning from her time as Minister for Revenue and Assistant Treasurer, making her an obvious choice for Communications Minister to get those tough bills through," she said.

The next six months in office, should the Minister retain her portfolio, would involve meeting with industry stakeholders and affiliates in round table discussions, according to the spokeswoman, to establish the position of the industry.

"Its a priority setting exercise, to give the government advice on what we should be focussing on and creating policy around it," she said.

The spokeswoman said that a broad range of industry bodies and corporations will be invited to contribute to the discussions, to get "the broadest range of opinions possible".

The Minister has already committed AU$50 million to broadband expansion, but the spokeswoman said "there'll be six months of heads-down planning work" before any big commitments are made.

However, she adds "the Minister will be quite heavily pushing for more funds to meet all her proposed initiatives".

Coonan will also be focussing on widening broadband access in rural areas by making the prospect "commercially advantageous" for operators, the spokeswoman said.

She conceded that the sale of Telstra is also a big issue on the agenda. However she said it's a "long standing reform".

"It doesn't mean that if the Bill is passed that it [Telstra] will be sold immediately, its not as imminent as everyone makes it out to be," she said. "We have to respond to Estens [the regional telecommunications inquiry report] first, make sure there's value in it for shareholders and tax payers and get it through the Senate before anything can happen."

The spokeswoman said the remuneration from the sale of the remainder of Telstra is not "earmarked" for any initiative or portfolio, rather it will "go to the treasury for the government to decide where it's needed".

The Prime Minister, John Howard, said yesterday that he will announce the portfolio holders next week.