Liberal Party: Bushranger Conroy's sham communication committee

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At the same time Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is out promoting the important work of the Regional Telecommunications Review Committee, he is moving to raid the very $2 billion Communications Fund which was set up to give life to the committee's recommendations, claimed Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Bruce Billson.

According to Billson Senator Conroy issued a statement urging the people of South Australia to "have their say" about the adequacy of regional, rural and remote telecommunications, through public meetings to be held by the review committee Whyalla and Naracoorte.

On February 18 Senator Conroy issued a similar statement promoting public meetings in Victoria and Tasmania and on February 4 another statement welcoming the launch of the committee's program of public meetings, with 18 scheduled over four months.

Billson said the review committee, led by the highly regarded Dr Bill Glasson AO, was established by the previous government to identify telecommunications issues in regional, rural and remote Australia. The $2 billion Communications Fund - plus the substantial interest stream it generates (approximately $400 million every three years) - was established to provide a funding source to address concerns identified by the committee.

“The Rudd Government has introduced legislation designed to allow it to raid the $2 billion Communications Fund; which is due to be vigorously debated by the Parliament next week. Labor wants to use the fund, plus its interest, to pay for its vague fibre to the node network, which will predominantly service people in and around our capital cities,” he said.

The legislation introduced would even allow the Rudd Government to issue unconditional grants to telcos for broadband work or even see the Labor Government buy hardware itself. There are very real fears that this money, responsibly locked away by the former government, for use in rural and regional Australia in perpetuity, will be recklessly used to displace private sector investment in sectors of the market that are already commercially viable, claimed Billson.

“To promote the committee's work on one hand, but to strip its funding with the other, amounts to hypocrisy and deception of the highest order and also a betrayal of the people of rural, regional and remote Australia,” he said.

Senator Conroy must explain how the Rudd Government plans to implement the Review Committee's recommendations without the resources of the Communications Fund, said Billson.

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