The Greens party helps hold the balance of power in the Senate and WA Senator, Scott Ludlam, is its technology spokesperson. ARN spoke to Senator Ludlam about his opposition to ISP filtering, his support for a speedy Telstra separation and his ‘pass’ mark for Minister Conroy.
During the October 19 Senate Standing Legislation Committee: Environment, Communications & the Arts hearing, Minister Conroy announced the Enex Testlabs report on the ISP filtering trials would be released in full alongside a Government-authored discussion paper.
Will the Greens support a compulsory ISP filter of any sort being placed on Australians? Senator Scott Ludlum (SL): We’re going to need to wait and see what the Government actually comes up with, but I can’t see a scenario where we could actually support it. But the Government has not released its trial results yet. They’ve been sitting on those for a while. The Government has promised to take an evidence-based approach, whatever that means in this context. So I’m extremely sceptical that it can be made to work so that it would have any positive impact on the issue the Government says it’s trying to solve.
Do you support the separation of Telstra as described by the Government’s legislation?
SL: Well the hearing is only just occurring now and what we said at the outset was that we were in principal, supportive of the proposal. But until we know which way Telstra will jump, it’s actually really difficult to evaluate. We will reserve our position until we’ve seen everything that has been put on the table. The main contention is whether to delay the debate or not and we’re not in favour of that. We’d like it attempted this year.
Some analysts claim the Senate hearing is largely a power play between the Government and Telstra, and that they want a behind-the-scenes deal to take place. Would you agree with this?
SL: That’s the way the legislation is structured. The way it’s structured is ‘either you come to an agreement on structural separation or else we will throw the book at you and force you to divest assets’ and so on. I think it’s the proper way of going about it in that it avoids the threat of legal action from Telstra down the track.
Should more be done to protect Telstra shareholders from a sudden and dramatic fall?
SL: I think that if that threat was there, we’d have seen the fall already. This legislation has been on the table, the market has been looking at it for a couple of weeks and we haven’t seen Telstra shares go off a cliff. I think that’s in recognition that if the board is careful, there are pathways through here that would sustain value for Telstra shareholders. I don’t believe it’s the Government’s intention, and it’s certainly not The Green’s, to destroy the value of Telstra. They will be a very significant player in the NBN [National Broadband Network] and in a way, this is enabling a market for Telstra that doesn’t currently exist, of extending these services right across the country and really putting a rocket underneath it.
Are you worried about the Treasury Department’s lack of a cost-benefit analysis for the NBN?
SL: Yes and no. I think the Minister’s attitude has been a bit remarkable in that any time he has been asked for a cost-benefit analysis, he’s just kind of laughed it off. The Government does in the short-term need to do its homework on modelling what the costs of the network are going to be and what the business case is. I think that’s more important than a cost-benefit analysis. It’s kind of pretending you can put a monetary value on something that you can barely imagine. In a way, that’s worse than not having a cost-benefit analysis because you have this imaginary number. That kind of economics is worse than useless.
There has been talk of the greater good the NBN would bring to the national economy, but would a major investor put funds in to help the economy overall?
SL: I agree that’s just not the way they think. They’ll need to put large funds into the Government pitch for 49 per cent of potentially a $43 billion investment. We won’t see that unless the rate of return over whatever timeframe is at least a utility rate of return. We’re all in the dark at the moment until we’ve seen the Government’s figures.