Labor has reintroduced its controversial telecommunications industry overhaul legislation into parliament, backed by heavy-hitting statements about the bill’s necessity by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Telstra itself.
The bill provides for the long-awaited structural separation of Telstra’s retail arm from the rest of the company, but has been amended to reflect the agreement between Telstra and NBN Co on how the telco will transition its customers onto the National Broadband Network as the fibre is rolled out around Australia.
In addition, the legislation, according to Labor, will strengthen the regulatory access regime to provide more certainty to telcos, streamline the anti-competitive conduct regime, and strengthen consumer safeguards such as the Universal Service Obligation and the Customer Services Guarantee.
As Conroy was locked in a Senate Estimates Committee debating the NBN, Gillard told the ABC’s Lateline program last night that it would be a question for Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull as to whether they supported the bill.
Gillard said Labor would discuss the legislation with the Greens and independents after it was tabled. It is likely the minor parties’ support will be needed to get the legislation through Parliament, with the Coalition previously having stonewalled Labor on the issue, and being broadly against the NBN as a whole. However, Turnbull last week appeared to weaken the Coalition’s stance on structural separation.
“I think it’s very, very well known that the independents and the Greens have been strong supporters of the National Broadband Network,” the Prime Minister said.
In a statement to the Australian Stock Exchange today, Telstra chief executive David Thodey said on balance his company supported the “prompt passage” of the legislation. “We believe the interests of Telstra shareholders would be best served by the Bill being passed this year so that a definitive agreement on our involvement with the NBN can be reached quickly,” the CEO said.
“Telstra is confident the Bill now provides the mechanisms needed to secure agreements with the Government and NBN Co regarding Telstra’s participation in the NBN and provides much greater certainty on access to fourth generation wireless spectrum.
However, Thodey also noted that Telstra had “consistently made it clear” that its shareholders would have the final approval on its deal with NBN Co.