Conroy to re-introduce Telstra split bill

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Conroy to re-introduce Telstra split bill

Hopes second time lucky.

The Federal Government has re-introduced draft telecommunications laws to parliament in the hope they will pass the Senate before its make-up changes in mid-2011.

The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) bill - informally known as the Telstra split bill - was first introduced to parliament last year.

It later passed a Senate Committee review but faced criticism over sections of the proposed legislation that forced Telstra's break-up and punished the carrier if it did not agree to separation.

Key independent senators had called for the bill to be amended and re-introduced for debate after the $11 billion Telstra-NBN Co deal was struck - but the Federal Election delayed that re-introduction.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy foreshadowed the re-introduction of the proposed laws at a Senate Estimates hearing late last night.

"It went through caucus today," Conroy told Senators.

Conroy and Prime Minister Julia Gillard fronted a media conference in Canberra to announce the re-introduction of the draft laws.

It was hoped that the combination of Government amendments and Telstra's support for structural separation would combine in favour of the laws being passed.

"This is a bill that was tied 38-38 in the senate," Conroy said.

"One of the minor parties indicated they wanted to see a deal struck [with Telstra] before they would support this. Now that there is Telstra support, I think there is a fresh chance it can pass the Senate before 30 June [2011 when Election 2010 changes come into effect]."

Telstra chief David Thodey supported the re-introduction of the draft laws.

"We believe the interests of Telstra shareholders would be best served by the Bill being passed this year so that a definitive agreement on our involvement in the NBN can be reached quickly," Thodey said.

"We also strongly recommend that consideration be given to further amendments that guarantee appropriate checks on regulatory decision making and bring telecommunications into line with other industries."

Thodey said he was confident the bill provided "the mechanisms needed to secure agreements with the Government and NBN Co regarding Telstra's participation in the NBN and that it provided much greater certainty on access to fourth generation wireless spectrum."

Good for consumers

Conroy said the laws were about the "important microeconomic reform of structural separation" of Telstra, enabling a leveling of the wholesale market he said would allow consumers to "begin to see the sort of retail competition" being seen by customers of the Tasmanian NBN.

"If you think it's an accident that Telstra and all other ISPs in Australia are offering larger download limits, it's not an accident - it's happening because of the threat of competition from the entry of the NBN," Conroy said.

"We're already seeing [broadband] packages in the market that are affected by what's happening as the NBN rolls out to the rest of Australia."

Conroy also attacked Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull over his introduction of a private members bill that could delay the rollout of the NBN.

"Let's recognise the Opposition stunts for exactly what they are," he said, accusing Turnbull of "wilfully delaying" the NBN rollout.

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