Fed Govt to push ahead with Telstra separation - Conroy

The Federal Government is to press ahead with its Telstra separation bill despite attempts by the opposition to delay the passage of the bill, according to communications minister Stephen Conroy.

In a door stop media conference, Conroy said the government would consider amendments to its legislation which were “constructive”.

“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,” he said.

Conroy claimed the Opposition's decision to block and defer the Telstra legislation was a blow for Australian consumers which would result in continued high prices, slow speeds, less choice, and less innovation in the telecommunications market.

“Those in the Opposition that are signalling they intend to block and defer this legislation should hang their head in shame,” he said. “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.”

However, Conroy said that if the legislation was passed in November, cheaper prices would not immediately flow.

“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,” he said.

The comments follow Opposition communications minister Nick Minchin's announcement that the Coalition would seek to defer consideration of the Rudd Government’s "radical" telecommunications legislation until the completion of the National Broadband Network implementation study - due early next year.

According to Minchin, there was nothing in the Government’s legislation that urgently required it to be debated and rushed through the Parliament by the end of this year.

“This legislation is predominantly about the Government trying to force Telstra and its 1.4 million shareholders to prop up Labor’s $43 billion NBN project," Minchin said in a statement. “It includes the outrageous provision to preclude Telstra from participating in future auctions for spectrum for higher capacity mobile broadband services, if it does not break itself up and divest its cable network and Foxtel interests.”

Minchin claimed the government's key objective with its separation legislation was to force Telstra to migrate all its fixed line customers onto the NBN and remove competition against a new Government-owned monopoly.

“The Coalition is not opposed to sensible telecommunications reforms and enhanced consumer safeguards, however, this legislation in its current form also affords new and almost unfettered powers to the regulator, which need to be carefully considered," he said.

Minchin said that with the NBN implementation study not expected to be completed until next February, it made "perfect sense" to defer consideration of this legislation until that time.

"The Government should use the coming months to engage in proper and undistorted commercial negotiations with Telstra about the NBN and the company’s structure," he said. "If debate proceeds the Coalition will propose detailed amendments to address the areas of concern after detailed consideration of the findings of the Senate inquiry into this Bill, but we remain fundamentally opposed to what amounts to a blatant attack on the shareholders of a publicly listed Australian company."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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