Conroy exits Coalition-dominated Telstra debate

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Conroy exits Coalition-dominated Telstra debate

Opponents ask why Australia needs 100 Mbps speeds.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has walked out of the Senate on the third day of debate on the Telstra split bil, as Coalition opponents lined up to rail against the bill, the NBN and the Government.

The debate was completely dominated by Liberals and Nationals Senators who argued that 100 Mbps was unnecessary; that broadband was less important than issues of health, transport and education; and that there should be "no hurry" to pass legislation in the Senate.

The Nationals whip in the Senate John Williams claimed that the Government and NBN Co could not get people to agree to take NBN fibre connections without "being pleaded with to actually take it up."

He claimed lack of interest had forced the Tasmanian Government to legislate for residents to automatically connect the network from the street to their houses.

Williams said that "most people [in Japan and Korea] were happy with 12 to 20 Mbps" after years of having the ability to take up 100 Mbps services.

He said he was "quite happy" with his existing ADSL service although he thought "it could be a bit quicker".

And he attempted to position 100 Mbps services as unnecessary for eHealth applications.

He said that medical procedures "could still be carried out with a 4 Meg download [speed]."

Senator Alan Ferguson said he would not take up a 100 Mbps service when it rolled past his house.

"I don't download movies so I guess I'm the wrong generation [for 100 Mbps]," he said.

He said his current service provider - Internode - was "wonderful and that will do me certainly for the foreseeable future".

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy attended the first hour of the debate before leaving the chamber at about 1.30pm.

He attempted to introduce a point of order against Senator Williams on the relevance of his speech to the legislation.

"I am loathe to interrupt this stream of consciousness, but surely it can't be too hard to speak for 20 minutes against the bill," Conroy said.

The point was not upheld. Williams accused Conroy of "the pot calling the kettle black".

"I don't think we've seen Senator Conroy ever answer a question being asked in the Senate. Now here he is with the saintly halo saying ‘You must be relevant'," Williams said.

Senator Guy Barnett accused Conroy of "getting very sensitive now as a result of criticisms and observations being made" by Coalition Senators as arguments continued across the chamber, forcing the acting deputy president of the Senate to intervene repeatedly.

Senator Mary Jo Fisher accused Conroy of leaving the chamber "presumably because he's rather shamefaced" at the Coalition's accusations.

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