Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:01): It is my privilege to deal with these bills on behalf of the coalition and in the absence for personal reasons of Senator Birmingham. This is a very truncated debate today. I notice that because of the guillotine by the Labor Party and the Greens, we have already breached standing orders once this morning, Mr Chairman, because the standing order guillotined through by the Greens and the Labor Party showed that debate on these bills was to start no later than 11.00 am and would conclude at 11.30 am. It did not start until one minute 30 seconds past the hour of 11. It seems in this chamber that if you are the Greens you have one set of rules and if you are the opposition you have a different set of rules.

Yesterday the Senate gave leave to Senator Faulkner to speak about a very gracious lady in Australian history, Mrs Whitlam. That 30 minutes was given by leave of this Senate, but outside of the rules of the guillotine passed by the Greens political party and the Labor Party. Mr Chairman, I know this Senate does not run to any particular system to assist people in their own personal issues, although I suspect with Senator Faulkner and his very strong connection to the Whitlams that perhaps it was personal.

I had an issue last night where I wanted to make a speech while some 80-year-olds were in the gallery to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the crash of an RAAF aircraft at Duntroon, involving my brother, the pilot of that Dakota aircraft, and other crew members. The surviving members were sitting in the gallery last night. Two of them are well over 80 and unlikely to be able to come back into this chamber at any time in the future.

I thank the members of the Labor Party who agreed this morning to allow me to start this session by special leave to give my speech that I was going to deliver last night on the 55th anniversary of the plane crash that took my brother's life and the lives of the relatives of those people sitting in the gallery last night. Of course, when it comes to these sorts of things, we are inflexible. When it comes to Senator Faulkner speaking about Mrs Whitlamand she was a very gracious lady and a very important personthe rules seem to be allowed. I thank the Labor Party senators for agreeing to allow me to do that.

I put on record my disgust and detesting of the Greens political party for their refusal to allow me this personal indulgence. I give it out and I take it. I have no regard for the Greens.

Senator Bob Brown: Mr Chairman, on a point of order: what the honourable senator says is untrue.

The CHAIRMAN: That is not a point of order, Senator Brown.

Senator Bob Brown: It is untrue.

The CHAIRMAN: Senator Brown, that is not a point of order.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Mr Chairman. If what has been reported to me about the Greens' attitude is incorrect, then I will apologise. I can only indicate what was indicated to me: that the Labor Party were agreeable but the Greens had a problem.

As I say, this is a personal issue and personal issues should not involve and interfere with the running of the country. It is typical of the actions of the Greens political party and particularly their leader that this sort of indulgence is given to the Labor Party but not to others. You have the leader again interrupting because he cannot take it.

Senator Bob Brown: Mr Chairman, on a point of order: I do not know what ails the senator but it is quite inappropriate for him to be continuing a diatribe on the Greens when he is being indulged to make a personal statement about a matter of historic importance to him. I suggest that he have the decency to stay with that or, Chair, you direct him to do so.

The CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Senator Brown. It is strictly not a point of order, and Senator Macdonald, I would remind you that you do have the indulgence of the chamber.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mr Chairman, I do not. I am actually speaking on the bill before the chamber. Senator Brown, as usual, is completely wrong. He is never in the chamber, so he does not understand what is happening. We are in fact dealing with the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill and related legislation. What I am saying in my contribution to this committee stage is that, although this is a complicated bill, because of the guillotine put in place by Senator Brown and his party we have 30 minutes to discuss these very important bills. I know Senator Fisher wants to say something on this. I want to say something on this but, in 30 minutes, what chance are we going to have to debate anything at all relating to the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill, which I am speaking upon, and which Senator Brown as usual does not understand and has no interest in It is rare to see him in the chamber. He is here only when, it seems, he is asking questions about issues that certain donors have

Senator Bob Brown: Mr Chairman, I rise on a point of order. Senator MacDonald is complaining about the shortness of time but he has taken half his speech time now

The CHAIRMAN: It is not a point of order, Senator Brown.

Senator Bob Brown: It is, Mr Chairman. He should address the question before the chair.

The CHAIRMAN: He is addressing the question before the chair. Senator MacDonald, you have the call.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It is typical of the Greens political party and particularly their leader that they simply cannot take it. Unless it seems to be a question relating to something that is relevant to a substantial donor of $1.6 million to the Greens political party, Senator Brown does not seem to have any interest.

Senator Bob Brown: On a point of order, I again ask you to have the senator address the question. You know he is not addressing the question and it is time you got him to address it.

The CHAIRMAN: Senator MacDonald has been relevant, but he has just started to stray from the relevance of the bill. Senator MacDonald, I remind you of the question before the chair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I am talking about this legislation and that the consultation in relation to the universal service obligation reform is deficient. There are a lot of other problems with this legislationthings that should be addressed in debate in this chamber, but they are not being addressed because the Greens political party and their leader have combined with the government to curtail debate on this and other important legislation. As I mentioned, when it comes to giving leave to vary these rules when it relates to the Labor Party the Greens fall over themselves to agree, but when others seek the approval of the Senate to digress slightly the Greens are not at all interested.

How can we address the issues in this particular legislation in what is now 20 minutes I repeat: while I always appreciate prayers at the beginning of the day it is contrary to the strict letter of the motion that actually dealt with the time for discussion. We are not even having 30 minutes for this legislation; we are having 29 or fewer minutes.

The coalition questions the need for an entire new bureaucracy to administer the universal service obligation. I would like to question the minister at length about the need for that bureaucracy but are we going to have a chance We have now 18 minutes left to deal with every aspect of this particular legislation, thanks to the Greens. I know Senator Ludlum makes a contribution to this area of law. Is he happy with the fact that he is going to

Senator Ludlam: Just ask the question.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do not tell me to hurry up, Senator Ludlum. You should have thought about this before you agreed with the Labor Party to curtail debate on this legislation to less than 30 minutes. Do not give me the hurry up signal; you should have thought about that before. With the way this chamber is now run in a little coterie of Labor Party and Greens senators we have these sorts of difficulties and these sorts of unfortunate aspects. Senator Conroy, I can well understand why you, as the relevant minister, do not want much scrutiny and do not want much debate on this because this debate

Senator Conroy: You've got me!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I know I have got you, Senator Conroy. If we had been debating this particular legislation properly you would have been subject to many penetrating questions from Senator Fisher

Senator Conroy: Oh my goodness!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: There is the absolute arrogance of the Labor Party and its ministers. Nobody except Senator Conroy, whose total history, whose total qualifications for running Australia's biggest business, a $55 billion telecommunications company

Senator Conroy: It's $50 billion.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It is $55 billion and rising, Senator. His total experience for running the biggest business in Australia is that he was once a clerk in the Transport Workers Union.

Senator Conroy: A clerk

Senator IAN MACDONALD: What were you

Senator Conroy: I was an industrial and superannuation officer.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: He was an industrial and superannuation officer, whose sole purpose in life at the TWU was to get Labor Party people elected to the Senate. He did that very well. He got himself elected to the Senate.

Senator Conroy: And othersbe fair.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: And one or two others. What a qualification for running Australia's biggest business$55 billion of taxpayers' money, not Senator Conroy's money, not Senator McLucas's money but taxpayers' money.

Senator McEwen interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Senator McEwen. You might recall Senator Conroy started this. So, if you are talking about personal attacks, you should start where they emanated.

The Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill is an important bill. We would like to question Senator Conroy at length on why we need an entire new bureaucracy to administer the universal service obligation. Are we going to get an opportunity We will probably have Senator Conroy talking for the next 10 or 15 minutes and then the debate will be finished. I note Senator Ludlum has wisely left because he is not going to get an opportunity to question the minister about this important piece of legislation. I know that Senator Fisher, who is very, very skilled in this area and who has a real interest in the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill, is barely going to get an opportunity to raise some of the particularly important issues that are relevant to this bill.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has been administering the universal service obligation for some time. We would have thought that it has the expertise to continue doing so, even if the universal service obligation moves to a contractual model from the current regulatory platform. The government has not justified the need for a new entity to administer the public interest telecommunications services, and I want to question Senator Conroy about that particular aspect. He will give an answer, I assume, but it will be, like most answers given by the Labor Party, total spin. I will then want to question him further after he responds to my question.

I understand that the government, with the connivance of the Greens, is going to be moving amendments to its own legislation before the chamber. Have we heard about them yet Certainly, the amendments have been distributed, but it is very difficult to understand what those amendments are about. These are amendments to the government's own legislation. We are now going to have some 12 minutes for the minister to answer our questions and the questions of the Greens on this legislation and to deal with government amendments that have been circulated in the chamber but which have not been debated at all. What way is that to run the Parliament of Australia What way is that to allow legislation to be properly scrutinised, debated and, hopefully, improved Whilst the coalition generally supports the bills before the chamber there are amendments and improvements that could be made and there are different issues that need to be addressed. But are we going to have time to do that in the next 10 minutes

What I highlight in my very short contribution to this debate is that the way the Labor Party and the Greens run these chambers means that we are rapidly becoming like the totalitarian regimes of yesteryear Europe. There is no opportunity to debate serious legislation because the Greens and the Labor Party say, 'No, we know what's right; we know what's best for Australia,' and they forget that parliament is about allowing the representatives of the Australian people to question, to propose and to amend legislation of the government.

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