Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2017

With great pleasure, I make a contribution on the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2017, which could be described as an omnibus bill providing what, on the face of it, are a range of administrative and largely sensible amendments to both the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011.

In summary, the amendments to the Broadcasting Services Act change the account-keeping and licence fee administration arrangements for commercial broadcasters; remove the duplicative requirements for licensees, publishers and controllers to notify ACMA, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, of certain changes in control of regulated media assets; and provide a consistent classification arrangement for all television programs, including films. These are all sensible reforms which Labor supports.

I'd like to make a few more comments about the changes to the National Broadband Network Companies Act. The changes in this omnibus bill include a change which allows the NBN Co to dispose of some surplus noncommunications goods. Some technical prohibitions in the existing legislation limit NBN Co's capacity to dispose of such assets. It is an unintended consequence of the original legislation. We should support this provision. I say with tongue in cheek that it might help them to dispose of some 16,000 kilometres of copper wire, which at some point in time is going to be obsolete. We don't object to the provision. We support it.

I do say that if we're looking at the priorities that the government should be focusing on, this bill should have also included provisions that are going to enhance consumer protections and consumer rights in the area of telecommunications. Just last week, with the publication of the ASX-listed companies report, we learned that a staggering 83 per cent of small businesses are lacking confidence in the delivery of the government's second-rate NBN. Fifty-four per cent of small businesses believe that they're going to be left behind as the digital economy develops, with technology infrastructure given by those respondents as the key barrier to starting a new business. We have seen consumer complaints hit a record high level, with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman reporting that NBN complaints in the 2016-17 report surged by a whopping 159 per cent when compared to the previous period. NBN complaints are growing 37 per cent faster than the number of new premises that are being connected to the NBN. So clearly there's an issue here.

The government has come very, very late to a realisation that there is a deep-seated concern within the community about the quality of service, whether that's at the install, whether it's the service that they are getting or whether it's a problem with their internet service provider. There are deep-seated problems within the community, and the government has been nothing short of sluggish in responding. An announcement was made just before Christmas, after significant pressure from Labor and from communications advocacy groups, that we needed more action on the consumer protections framework. The government's announcement—changing the acronym that applies to the universal service obligation and kicking that can down the road—is, quite frankly, no answer to the problem. The house is burning down. We don't need a committee being formed by government to establish whether we need a fire hydrant or a garden hose. We need action on consumer service protections. We are seeing nothing from the government. That's the first comment I want do make. That's about what the government should be including in any national broadband bill before the House.

The second thing I want do focus on is included in the bill. It goes to the requirements on the NBN or potentially other carriers or internet service providers in new developments. The bill amends the Telecommunications Act 1997 to repeal the power of the NBN Co to issue a statement that it's not installing fibre in a new real estate development, and to remove the obligation for the NBN Co to maintain the associated public register of these instruments. This is a sensible reform. We don't believe that it's appropriate for the NBN Co to have this quasi-regulatory power in the existing environment. The explanatory memorandum to the bill explains that the provisions are intended to provide a mechanism by which relevant developers—they are constitutional corporations—can seek to be excused from the default obligation to provide fibre-ready facilities, such as pit and pipe, in areas where the NBN Co would be providing services using fixed wire or satellite technology and where the NBN Co could not be using fixed lines. In such circumstances, it was envisaged that the installation of pit and pipe would be unnecessary, as there would be little likelihood that they would be used by the NBN Co.

The ability for the NBN Co to make such statements failed to recognise that other carriers may wish to come in and provide fixed line infrastructure in such areas. I'm mindful of the fact that Telstra has obligations as a universal service provider to provide voice services in those parts of Australia where the NBN is not rolling out a fixed line technology—that is, in the wireless and satellite footprint. Telstra may well want to use pit and pipe to do this. In addition, other competitive providers could be contracted to service developments in such areas—for example, but not exclusively, a mining community. There are many new developments where this is occurring.

While the issuance by NBN Co of a statement under section 372J would not preclude Telstra or a competitive carrier requiring pit and pipe as a contractual matter, it could lead a developer to believe—and I am going to have something more to say about this—that it had been exempted by virtue of NBN Co's statement. It could lead to confusion on the ground for the developer and the carriers and has the potential for delays, costs and inconvenience in providing services—and I will give some instances of where I believe this problem is coming up. So the amendment here is sensible.

I do want to deal with the issue of NBN Co rollout in new developments, and connectivity in new developments in particular, because it has attracted a high degree of complaint. I've picked it up in my own electorate and I'm sure that there are many other MPs in this House who have picked up similar issues. It comes up a lot in small-scale infill developments. It also comes up a lot in small-scale new commercial developments in existing developed areas.

Despite the Australian government's introduction of the Telecommunications infrastructure in new developments policy, the 2015 policy, there is still much work that needs to be done to ensure that the process of installing new telecommunications infrastructure in new developments is working for all parties. Currently, a large number of local government areas across the country do not have provisions that require the installation of telco infrastructure in new developments—that is, it's not a part of the development application and it's not a part of the occupancy certificate—and that is creating problems. Some jurisdictions do have a provision. In Victoria, there's a standard condition, the 2013 Victorian planning provision amendment VC81, which is entitled 'Telecommunications services and facilities and subdivisions'. This requires the owner of the land to enter into agreements with network service providers for the provision of telecommunication services. I believe that it is a sensible condition and should be provided elsewhere around the country, by either individual councils or entire states taking up this provision. I think it's something that should be seriously considered by the federal government.

I want to give one example—but I could cite several—of a company I'm working with in my own electorate, who go by the name of Rideworx Pty Ltd. They're a small business in my electorate who service and repair bikes. They employ around 13 staff. They're currently in the process of building a new factory in Berkeley. They gave all the requisite advice well in advance. The company have recently been told there's no telecommunications infrastructure available in the street to connect to their new factory. They need a phone line in order to take business and do the regular stuff that a business does. I'm using Rideworx as an example but I could cite three or four other businesses in my electorate who, over the last 18 months, have had similar problems. Rideworx were told that a development application should have been made three months prior to the factory being built by the developer but no such application was made. This leaves the small business in the lurch. They turn up expecting there will be water, electricity and telco into the premises, only to find that telco is not there.

We're onto it; we're attempting to get this one fixed, and today I intend to write to every council in my electorate asking them that they make it a condition of both the development application and the occupancy certificate stage that telecommunication services are available to the premises. The alternative is that the new occupant of a premises could be out of pocket by thousands and thousands of dollars and have months and months of delay because there is no equipment available. In this day and age, we should be treating telecommunications infrastructure—the line from the street into a new premises—the same way we treat electricity and water. You could not get a sign-off by a council for starting a new business and get occupancy for a new business if it didn't have electricity and water and many other facilities. In this day and age we should have telecommunications equipment as a part of that requirement. I will be taking the initiative in my own electorate by writing to every council and asking that they consider their own approval arrangements to ensure that these sorts of examples—I have cited one; I could cite many, many others—aren't repeated around my electorate.

I think a requirement that for new developments we ensure that telecommunications equipment is actually available to the new occupier of a new premises is something that should be taken up at least at the state if not the national level. It costs business thousands of dollars if it isn't there and it's simply not good enough. As we're doing all of this work to roll out a new network throughout the country—and we can see that new developments are going to be a part and parcel of infill, of conversion of use from one type of residence or premises to another—this is going to be an ongoing issue. The bill doesn't deal with it and hasn't dealt with it. It's not a criticism of the government in and of itself, but it is something that I put on the agenda that simply has to be addressed.

We can't have a situation where businesses or households are out of pocket for thousands of dollars for the connection of a service that the house or the business literally 100 metres up the road has had connected for nothing. It is simply not good enough in this day and age. With those comments made, I again commend the need for upgrading our consumer protection frameworks to the House. It's an urgent job and work that needs doing. With the exception of those comments, I commend the bill to the House.