6 February 2007
Revealed: Labor’s secret plan to dump consumer safeguards
Media reports today reveal the Labor Party’s plans to wind back regulation of the telecommunications industry and remove safeguards put in place to protect the rights of Australian consumers, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan said today.
“Once again bowing to the demands of the unions, Labor will abolish the regulatory safeguards that protect consumers and competition in Australia, competition which has seen the average cost of telecommunications services slashed by more than 25 per cent since the Howard Government was elected in 1996,” Senator Coonan said.
“This is an extraordinary move considering Labor’s communications spokesman Senator Stephen Conroy said in October last year:
“Labor has repeatedly stated that it strongly supports the telecommunications competition regime (that was after all developed by the previous Labor government).”
“But today’s reports show Senator Conroy has been rolled by Mr Rudd. This is yet another example of how the new Labor leader is beholden to the Unions. Blindly following the policies of the Communications Workers Union and the Community and Public Sector Union, the Labor Party will remove the safeguards that have:
· Forced Telstra to freeze basic home line rental charges;
· Forced Telstra to provide access to home phone services, irrespective of where people live;
· Forced Telstra to maintain adequate numbers of payphones throughout metropolitan, regional and rural Australia;
· Forced Telstra to minimise faults and report faults to the industry regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority;
· Forced all telecommunications companies to commit to repairing telephone faults straight away;
· Forced all telecommunications companies to pay financial compensation to customers where minimum performance standards are not met, such as failure to connect phone lines or rectify faults;
· Guaranteed untimed local calls.
“And at the unions’ command, Labor will undoubtedly abolish the cornerstone of the telecommunications regulatory system: the Universal Service Obligation.
“In Telstra’s own words the Universal Service Obligation “ensures all people in Australia, no matter where they live or conduct business, have reasonable access on an equitable basis, to standard telephone services; payphones, and prescribed carriage services.” (Clause 1, Telstra’s Universal Service Obligation Policy Statement).
“If abolished, there would be no onus on Telstra to deliver any vital communications services to Australians – particularly those living in rural and regional areas. It will be back to the dark old days.
“Further, Labor will abolish the ACCC’s power to force fair and adequately compensated access to all monopoly infrastructure. This includes infrastructure Telstra inherited when it was the only telecommunications company run by the Australian Government and funded through the contributions of Australian taxpayers over decades,” Senator Coonan said.
“Once again, Labor has shown its cowed subservience to the union movement. Kevin Rudd has shown that like his predecessor, he will tow the union line on industrial relations, education, and now, competition policy and telecommunications regulation.
“This is an extraordinarily irresponsible move by the Labor Party. Australia would be the only country in the OECD without telecommunications specific laws should a Labor Government roll back regulation. Australia’s regulatory regime has a much lighter touch than other countries.
“Removing regulation will not deliver broadband to all Australians. It will only return Australia to the dark old days of a monopoly provider that could charge whatever it liked, knowing consumers did not have a choice.
“Contrast this: Under the Government consumers can choose from more than 150 telecommunications providers, under Labor they could choose from two.
“Under the Government there are safeguards in place so phone faults and connections are carried out straight away or compensation is paid. Under Labor, people waited up to 27 months for a phone connection.
“Under the Government fast broadband is being rolled out across Australia, under Labor Australian taxpayers would have footed the bill for a $5 billion rollout of dial-up Internet.
“Under this Government $1.1 billion will be invested to deliver faster broadband, better mobile phone coverage, high speed backbones to connect our schools, hospitals and universities and better communications services for our remote Indigenous communities.
“Under Labor, the Connect Australia package and the $2 billion Communications Fund would be pillaged to pay for a pie in the sky plan that will not deliver improved telecommunications services to all Australians.
“Consumers should not chance it with Labor’s plan. It would result in big business being the winner and every consumer in Australia who enjoys the benefits of competition – choice and lower prices – being the losers.
“Forget Kim Beazley’s roll back, this is Kevin Rudd’s roll over.”