Thu, 26 Mar 2015 - 22:00
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Reducing red tape in the telecommunications sector – progress this week as a key Bill passes the Senate

It didn’t get a lot of media attention, but this week the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation) Bill 2014 passed the Senate.   

This is a good example of the work occurring across government to reduce the red tape burden on industry.

I’ve had a focus on these issues as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications. In an earlier life as an Optus executive I was responsible amongst other things for regulatory compliance – so the issue of how to reduce the regulatory burden on companies in the communications sector is something that I have a strong interest in.

The measures in the Bill are rational and not very controversial – which is probably why the Bill passed without objection from Labor or the minor parties.  (This is probably why there was little media coverage: when the political parties work co-operatively to get sensible outcomes, journalists generally do not consider it to be a story!) 

The Bill lightens the regulatory load on industry – and on consumers - in a number of areas.

For example, it changes the rules governing the Do Not Call Register so it will only be necessary to place a phone number on the Register once, as opposed to re-registering after eight years. This change means households will no longer have to remember to renew their registration and it will help them avoid the frustration of being disturbed by unwanted telemarketing calls at dinner and other times.

Another thing the Bill does is abolish the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency (TUSMA) – its functions are going to be taken on by the Department of Communications.   TUSMA was set up only a couple of years ago.   The Coalition felt that the extra cost and complexity of having a separate agency – when universal service issues are already dealt with in different ways by the Department of Communications and the Australian Communications and Media Authority – was really not justified.

Another measure in the Bill will lighten the load on telecommunications companies regarding ‘preselection’.  In the 1990s preselection was an important aspect of competition in telecommunications – you could have your fixed line phone provided by Telstra and ‘preselect’ Optus for your long distance, for example.  Today it is of largely historical relevance and so we have removed the requirement that companies must offer preselection as they build new networks. 

The measures in the Bill were developed after extensive consultation between industry and consumer groups that began over a year ago, including a discussion paper and stakeholder forum which I led last year.  This stakeholder feedback has been crucial to the deregulatory measures which passed this week.

The better targeted regulation that the Bill delivers will lower the cost burden on industry and consumers with expected savings of $6.71 million a year – and contribute to the Government’s overall target of cutting red tape by $1 billion every year.

Reducing red tape – so business can do a better job of serving customers, generating prosperity and employing Australians – is a major priority for the Abbott Government.  There is plenty of red tape in telecommunications, and Malcolm Turnbull as Minister and I as Parliamentary Secretary are putting a fair bit of effort into winding that red tape back. 

The passage of the Bill this week was another milestone in this work.