The Opposition has lashed out at the Federal Government’s new National Broadband Network (NBN) legislation amendments and accused Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, of “stuffing the telecommunications industry around”.
Senator Conroy circulated the 23-pages of amendments to the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures - Access Arrangements) Bill 2011 on Wednesday afternoon. The changes seek to alter “cherry-picking” provisions and allowing NBN Co to sell services directly to utility companies provided they do not resell the services provided.
Senate sitting time was extended to Friday to debate the issues.
The Opposition was none too pleased with the raft of amendments and speculated whether more changes will be added later down the track due to further discussion with crossbenchers.
Liberal Senator, Simon Birmingham, raised concerns over how the number of sudden alterations to the NBN legislation will create uncertainty in the telco industry.
“You’re making policy on the run and you are doing it in a real sense of desperation that puts at risk the future of a competitive, fair communications industry and broadband sector in this country,” Senator Birmingham said. “… In the process you are bound to make all sorts of mistakes and what will happen in the future, either communications companies will pay the price and jobs and innovations lost.”
The South-Australian Senator told Senator Conroy “the telecommunications industry is not your plaything”.
“Just stop stuffing the chamber around, stop stuffing the telecommunications industry around, stop stuffing the Australian telecommunications industry sector and its future around by jumping around everywhere, making a policy on the run,” he said. “It’s just not good enough.”
Senator Birmingham, on behalf of the Coalition, implored Senator Conroy to take up the offer to adjourn debate on the new amendments until the Communications Minister has absolutely finalised the changes.
Crossbencher, Senator Nick Xenophon, sided partially with the Coalition in terms of postponing formal discussions on only the more contentious pieces of the new amendments.
He has indicated he was interested in proposing further changes to the NBN legislation in relation to investigation into possible NBN Co price discrimination. The Federal Government has supported this move.
“I am not ready to deal with some of those amendments because I am in discussion with Government and with key players,” Senator Xenophon, said.
Senate is due to vote on the new amendments today.