This afternoon Communications Minister Stephen Conroy described his opposite, Senator Nick Minchin, as a Luddite as he took questions from reporters on the Opposition's attempt to block the government's wide-ranging telecommunications industry reform legislation, which includes provisions to force the break-up of Telstra.
Q&A This afternoon Communications Minister Stephen Conroy took questions from reporters on the Opposition's attempt to block the government's wide-ranging telecommunications industry reform legislation, which includes provisions to force the break-up of Telstra.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy (Credit: Federal Government)
The coalition is attempting through amendments to defer consideration of the legislation until the completion of an implementation study into the NBN project, which is expected to be completed by February 2010. The complete transcript of Conroy's doorstop interview with reporters at Canberra's Parliament House is below, starting with an opening statement from the minister himself.
Conroy:The Opposition's decision to block and
defer the Telstra legislation is a real blow for Australian
consumers, because a decision to delay debating this Bill is a
delay that allows Australians to be paying higher prices, getting
slower speeds, getting less choice and getting less innovation in
the telecommunications market. And those in the Opposition that are
signalling they intend to block and defer this legislation should
hang their head in shame.
They had 11 and a half years to devise a broadband plan. They
had 18 failed broadband plans during their 11 and a half years.
And after two years of Opposition, they're no further advanced.
What Australians want to see is cheaper prices for broadband,
faster speeds for broadband, more choice, and importantly, more
More innovation so that small businesses can put themselves on
the world market. So that our kids can get a world class education
with the best possible infrastructure. And Nick Minchin and the Opposition deserve the strongest
condemnation for, once again, showing no leadership in the
telecommunications and broadband sector.
Do you still intend to pass the Bill
Conroy: Absolutely. We intend to press ahead. We've
tabled the Bill in the last Parliament, the Senate committee has
heard it and reporting. There is no reason whatsoever to delay. What we need is certainty for Telstra investors, the market in
general so that we can get on with delivering a world class
broadband network to all Australians.
Will you consider amendments the Opposition put
Amendments that are constructive that move
towards delivering the network are something we have an open mind
to, but amendments that are about rejecting what is the strategy,
the legislative underpinning in this Bill — that take away the
powers to increase the ACCC's powers, that take away the fines and
penalties that we are introducing for Telstra, that take away the
capacity to save telephone boxes all around the country (like this
legislation does) — are not acceptable.
Will you reach out to the Nationals to split them off
from the Libs?
I can't speak for Barnaby Joyce and the National
Party. I saw the announcement that it was a joint Coalition
position. But I've also seen commentary in the morning's papers
that perhaps not everyone in the National Party agrees with the
Luddite position being adopted by Nick Minchin. I mean, this is a Bill that strengthens the universal service
obligation. It strengthens the protections for consumers. It gives
more power to the consumer watchdog, the ACCC.
That's what the majority of this Bill is about. I know there's been a majority of focus around the Telstra and
the structural separation, voluntary separation argument. But this Bill is a substantive piece of consumer legislation
that dramatically strengthens consumer protections; and we won't be
backing down on that. And Nick Minchin is being exposed for being a complete
Why do you need to get it through in the next month
when a lot of the safeguards start in July next year?
Well, we need not to have the Opposition
continue as they have done with CPRS show a complete lack of
leadership. Why aren't they able to stand up and say they support stronger
consumer protections? Why don't they want cheaper prices for
broadband? Why don't they want faster speeds with broadband? Every day of delay leads to consumers being worse off. There are powers here that are critically important for the ACCC
to be able to regulate this market, irrespective of the
implementation study being done around the NBN.
So when this goes through in, say, November, we can
see cheaper prices immediately?
No, this is a Bill that is about delivering the
structure in the industry. It is a Bill about reforming the
industry. And that will take some time to fully implement. NBN will start to come on stream, as you've seen from the
announcement from David Bartlett and the Prime Minister today,
there are six or seven new towns in Tasmania now being targeted as
the second stage of the Tasmanian NBN roll out. This is a roll-out that is happening on the ground today in
Tasmania. We have now announced six or seven more towns to be fibred up so
that they can begin this education revolution, this environmental
...blocking this legislation is going to be
a blow to consumers. Are you saying that without this legislation
and without structural change in the industry, this is going to
compromise your broadband plans?
Not at all. What we're saying is the structure
of the industry has patently not delivered for consumers today. What you look at — and we've been through a 15-month study on
this, we've had over 200 submissions. And each and every one of
those said the same thing: the current regulatory framework is
We are seeing, according to all the world's standards, some of
the slowest broadband, and some of the most expensive broadband,
particularly for small business, that we have anywhere in the
world. So the structure of the industry (where we've had
infrastructure competition) has clearly failed to deliver. We need
to make this structural change so that we can start seeing lower
prices created by more competition.
Why is it wrong to wait for the implementation study
to come out early next year, I mean —
Well as I said, this Bill is largely — I
appreciate the focus has been around some aspects to do with
Telstra. But this Bill is largely about consumer protection. [Waiting for] The implementation study is a furphy, it's a fig
leaf that the Opposition are seeking to use to cover their lack of
They are a rabble, and Nick Minchin and Malcolm Turnbull should
get their act together and make a decision. Do you think they're
going to support this or they're not going to support these
consumer protections and improvements in legislation in the
Either they're in favour of more powers for the ACCC to regulate
this sector — this is a sector that has had one, more than, in 12
years, more than 150 access regime disputes. Contrast that with all
of the other utility sectors (airports, gas, water) there's been
In 12 years, in all of the other sectors combined, three access
disputes before the ACCC. Telecommunications — more than 150. This is a system that is broken today, and this is legislation
that begins to change the framework of the regulation in this
sector to improve it for consumers.
Would you be willing to transform the deadline for the
implementation study so that you can get that earlier
No, look the implementation study is a complex
development of a business plan, of architecture of the network. For
those who — and I've been lucky enough to spend some time with Mike
Quigley recently, a man who's got extraordinary experience in his
field. He would say to you that this is a very, very challenging
time frame even today to deliver the architecture, the framework,
the physical design of the network by February.
He would say that it is a very complex thing that he is
developing. So just to suit the Opposition who have no plan and no
alternative, are divided and a rabble and rushed, the NBN would
not be a satisfactory outcome, it could lead to a worse outcome for the
NBN simply to accommodate a rabble.
If it's all so complex, though, why don't we wait for
the implementation study to come through, given that the consumer
safeguards don't start until July?
Well as I said, we are being open and
transparent. We have put this Bill forward. We have gone through
the Senate Committee process. And simply because the Liberals are
split and divided, and can't make a decision, they're saying,
no. We'll put it off into the never never. They're not promising to pass it next year. They're not
promising to support it next year. And let's be clear. They have no
plan themselves, and they are simply trying to get away from the
fact that they are divided yet again. This is a rabble, this leadership.
Senator, who's going to take responsibility for
providing phone services to 10 per cent of households who don't get
access to the fibre optic cables?
Let's be clear. It's unfortunate that Senator
Minchin is struggling to understand the difference between a
broadband service and a phone line. No one has suggested that the
copper lines in the 10 per cent are suddenly going to vanish or
that they're going to be cut off or that they're going to be pulled
out, which is exactly what Nick Minchin's suggesting.
There's nothing in this legislation whatsoever that suggests
that, except we are strengthening the universal service obligation.
So the universal service obligation is what pays, via a levy today
paid to Telstra to provide that service. And nothing is
changing. And for Nick Minchin to not understand the difference between
delivering a broadband network over wireless and satellite and a
copper-based phone service is just embarrassing.
But [indistinct] service obligation be borne by
Telstra or the NBN?
Well the NBN don't provide phone services, the
NBN provide ... they move bits, to put it in really technical jargon.
They move bits from point A to point B. So they're not providing a
phone service. Telstra currently have the universal service
obligation on them, and we're not proposing to change that.
If they roll into the broadband network, then
someone's got to pay for —
That's what I said, there is an existing levy
on all of the players in the market that is given to Telstra to
Telstra also puts in a lot of money themselves though.
Much more than that obligation.
Yes, but the 10 per cent obligation is all that
will be remaining if negotiations turn out in one particular
form. No one is proposing repealing the levy. No one is proposing
digging up phone lines and pulling them out. Only Nick Minchin. This is just an embarrassing demonstration that Senator Minchin doesn't understand the technologies involved in delivering
This transcript was provided by the office of Minister Stephen Conroy.