by Trevor Clarke

Conroy lashes out at Telstra bill delay

Feb 26, 2010

Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, has hit out at the Opposition’s successful attempt to block debate on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment Bill (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) 2009 in the Senate.

Conroy called the Opposition’s actions in the Senate where it delayed the Bill that could decide Telstra’s fate, “filibustering”; a term used to describe the use of long speeches in parliament to force the delay of debate on a topic.

“Today, the Shadow Communications Spokesman has been crying crocodile tears about the draft NBN Co bills,” Conroy said in a statement.

“But when it comes to allowing debate of legislation that will deliver competition benefits and a more effective market structure right now, the Liberals and Nationals have chosen to obstruct the debate.”

The Bill has already been delayed several times and Conroy’s stated wish of having it passed by the end of 2009 is long gone.

The push to split Telstra’s wholesale and retail arms was made to wait in November last year after a lengthy debate over the emissions trading scheme (ETS) emerged.

Then other big ticket items in the Senate forced the Bill off the agenda in the first sitting starting on February 2. A spokesperson for Conroy at the time said the senator planned to have the Bill heard “this year”.

“After doing nothing for eleven and a half years the Opposition are wilfully and deliberately blocking measures designed to fix problems with the existing telecommunications regulatory framework,” Conroy said of the latest delay.

“The past week has seen an unprecedented coming together of key stakeholders in the telecommunications sector, representing both industry and consumer interests, requesting the Senate to debate and pass this legislation.

“The Opposition has shown their contempt for enhanced competition and consumer protection.”

Telstra (ASX:TLS) chief executive officer, David Thodey, said early in February it could be up to another six months before the company reached a deal with the Federal Government over the Telco’s separation.

“It is a very complex transaction…there must be 15 major areas we have to consider and you have to have them all aligned before you can come to a conclusion,” he said.

“We all have a desire to get this agreed and get one with life… it is a distraction. If it takes another month or six months I will invest the time. I am not going to be driven into a short term decision. You could miss one thing and it could have a massive impact on the business.”

This week the Federal Government also revealed draft legislation for the regulatory framework for the operation of NBN Co.

The release of two bill drafts — National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 and Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures – Access Arrangements) Bill 2010 — came after a public consultation process that received more than 30 submissions.