Govt open to Telstra Bill changes

The government has indicated for the first time that it is "open to amendments" on the Telstra separation Bill due for debate this Thursday.

The government has indicated for the first time that it is "open to amendments" on the Telstra separation Bill due for debate this Thursday.

"The government will always have an open mind to amendments that it believes will improve the Bill," Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's Office wrote in a statement on Friday evening.

The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009 has offered Telstra a choice to voluntarily opt for structural separation or face an imposed functional separation coupled with tough sanctions, including a ban on acquiring spectrum for 4G wireless services.

The government is "determined to debate and pass the Bill early this year," Conroy's office wrote.

The government hoped to reintroduce the Bill to the Senate this Wednesday; however, it has been pushed back to Thursday due to various health Bills, leaving little chance for it to be passed until Senate resumes on 9 March.

Independents as late as last week were yet to hear from Conroy regarding their concerns over the Bill, with Greens' Senator Scott Ludlam questioning what exactly would be in it. Ludlam, Independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Family First Senator Steve Fielding have all indicated they want to see amendments made to the Bill.

The week's break to 9 March could be seen as giving NBN Co and Telstra a short window to complete negotiations regarding the company's structural separation, though the company's CEO David Thodey said two weeks ago that decision would be "months away". Thodey has also said that any deal with NBN Co must be approved by shareholders.

David Forman, executive director of the Competitive Carriers' Coalition (CCC), said Thodey's requirement to get shareholder approval will not stop the Bill proceeding.

"Public policy is not hostage to David Thodey's opinions on what is agreeable to shareholders. That's David Thodey's problem," Forman told

The CCC, which represents several carriers' interests, had argued its case to crossbenchers, Forman said.

"We have had very constructive conversations with crossbench senators on all aspects of the Bill. I'm not sure whether that will translate into amendments, but I have very good reason to believe that these are taken seriously and confident that they will be discussing those changes with the government," said Forman.

Broadly speaking, CCC has argued for an open process to determine whether Telstra's proposed form of structural separation to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is adequate — if it proposes one prior to the government passing the Bill. It also wants to ensure that Telstra cannot use contract law to overcome pricing determinations made by the ACCC.