The massive swing to the Liberal Nationals Coalition in Victoria coupled with a potential swing in NSW and Queensland could have ramifications for the National Broadband network as the Liberal State Government’s move to make it more difficult for Julia Gillard Federal Government, to secure home-state backing for her national broadband reform which was passed in the Senate on Friday.
Victorian Nationals leader Peter Ryan, who would be deputy premier in a Victorian Baillieu government, has already refused to support an “opt-out” approach to the NBN, as favoured by the Brumby administration and the federal government.
On Friday the National Broadband Network Bill was passed by the Senate on Friday and returns to the House of Representatives today.
The Government says that, having secured the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010, the next step will be negotiations between Telstra and NBN Co.
Telstra has said it plans to acquire companies and technology using the $11 billion compensation it will get for giving up control of its copper-wire network which connects the nation’s homes. Telstra will retain its retail network.
David Thodey, Telstra’s CEO, said the $11 billion payment will help fund investments in wireless, entertainment and cloud-computing.
Labor’s legislation passed through the Senate with the support of all seven crossbench senators: five Australian Greens, Family First Senator Steve Fielding and independent Nick Xenophon. The final vote was 30-28.
The bill now returns to the lower house where it’s expected to be passed, with the upper house’s amendments, today.
One of the amendments secured by Xenophon will require the Communications Minister to publish on the department’s Web site a notice containing the details of Telstra’s structural separation which will be open to submissions for a 14-day period.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will also advise the Government within 28 days of the details of the structural separation being made public.
Opposition spokesman Malcolm Turnbull rejected arguments that the Coalition had been deliberately delaying the inevitable by trying to drag out debate on the bill. “I was bemused to see Senator (Bob) Brown and Senator Conroy accuse the Opposition of wasting time in the Senate,” he said.
“It is hardly unreasonable of the senators to want time to consider (the proposed amendments). And the Opposition, very capably led in this debate by Senator (Simon) Birmingham, did consider them carefully and in good faith, supporting some and opposing others.”
Comms and Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy said the legislation paves the way for a more efficient rollout of the NBN. “Telstra and NBN Co can get on with finalising definitive agreements which allow NBN Co to access Telstra’s infrastructure and migrate its customers onto the NBN,” he said.
“The delivery of the Government’s reforms, in parallel with the rollout of the NBN across Australia, will finally deliver the affordable broadband services Australians need now and importantly into the future.”
Telecoms guru Paul Budde applauded Conroy for steadfastly pushing ahead with the necessary reforms.
“Full marks to the Minister – he has been the key driver of the process,” said Budde. “Senator Conroy has been on a mission and it is absolutely remarkable that, despite the many hurdles, Australia will now be the first country in the world to start building national digital economy infrastructure for the next generation.”
Budde says his research shows that 70 percent of Australian consumers and medium-sized businesses are NBN-ready. “They understand what the NBN can do and they want it,” said Budde.
Optus has also backed the reform of the industry. “This reform will address many of the issues which have adversely impacted competition in the Australian telecommunications industry over the last 20 years,” said CEO Paul O’Sullivan. “With the bill’s passage through the House of Representatives on Monday we will finally have the regulatory framework for true competition and a level playing field in the fixed line market.”