Today’s announcement by the Government to repeal telecommunications-specific conduct rules is a complete farce.
The Turnbull Government has proposed the removal of important regulatory tools designed to facilitate speedy action against alleged anti-competitive conduct in a dynamic sector, despite the concentrated nature of the telecommunications market - a fact acknowledged by the ACCC.
The submissions to the consultation process were only made public today. The vast majority of them argue against the Government’s proposal.
The Minister states that these changes follow the decision to amend section 46 of the Competition and Consumer Act - but that amending legislation hasn’t even been drafted yet. Given the Turnbull Government’s recent track record on its inability to pass legislation, who knows whether it will even become law?
This announcement is designed to make it look like the Minister is doing something in a week where he was dubbed “the most ineffective politician in the land” and “the Homer Simpson of the Turnbull government.”
In his media release the Minister asserts that, “the rules were always intended to be transitional, supplementing general competition law until competition grew and general competition law could apply.” He also states that, "the telecommunications sector has changed significantly in the past 20 years and competition is much further advanced than it was.”
Yet again the Minister misses the point. Where is the actual statement of reasons to justify ditching these provisions? Where is the evidence to conclude that all’s well in the competitive landscape and telco competition laws can be wound back?
Part XIB of the Competition and Consumer Act is ex ante regulation that, according to the original explanatory memorandum, was always meant to apply “until some future review determines that competition is sufficiently established that the Part or some provisions of the Part are no longer needed.”
The ACCC’s market study on competition in the communications sector isn’t due to be completed until November 2017. So what evidence is the Minister relying on to conclude that competition today is sufficient?
Today’s announcement can’t hide the depth of Minister Fifield’s incompetence and inaction in his portfolio:
- The Minister will fall more than 7 million premises short of the Turnbull Government’s promise that every Australian household would have access to the NBN by the end of the year.
- He can’t explain his own backflip on loaning the NBN $19.5 billion of taxpayers’ money.
- The Spectrum Review began in May 2014 and we still don’t know the detail of the draft legislation.
- The ACMA Review was announced in June 2015 and there’s still no final report.
- The Vertigan Review, whose terms of reference were announced on 12 December 2013, is still doing the rounds.
Today’s farcical announcement is more evidence of the dysfunction that defines the Turnbull Government and this hapless Minister.