The Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2017 contains a collection of proposals to reduce the regulatory burden on the broadcasting and telecommunication sectors.
Labor supported an earlier version of the bill, which subsequently lapsed when the 2016 election was called. This bill has been one of the last embers from the deregulation bonfire initiated by the member for Warringah many years ago. Some may be wondering why this bill has taken so long to reach a second reading debate in the House. That is a very good question. Much of what approaches the desk of the Minister for Communications does seem to disappear for long stretches of time. Where it disappears to remains unclear, and why it emerges also remains unclear.
The most recent example of the delay and inaction in this area, which has come to characterise the communications portfolio under this government, is in relation to the video game development industry. It took the minister over 600 days to respond to Game on, the report of the Senate Environment and Communications References Committee into the future of Australia's video game development industry. But, in good news, this bill has finally re-emerged.
Labor is supportive of measures that amend unnecessary administrative requirements and repeal redundant legislation and spent acts. However, we had some concerns about one set of measures in this bill, in particular. I will take a brief moment to explain why. Schedule 2 of the bill seeks to repeal part 11 of the Broadcasting Services Act. Labor does not support the repeal of part 11. We consider it to be a case of over-zealous and ill-judged deregulation by seeking to repeal. This proposed repeal would undermine and confuse the current system of broadcast co-regulation under the Broadcasting Services Act. The Broadcasting Services Act reflects parliament's intention that industry be the front line for complaints handling and that the taxpayer-funded ACMA be the backstop regulator for a range of specified issues. Under the Broadcasting Services Act, the express will of parliament is that complaints under codes of practice must first be made to the relevant broadcaster, subject always to the ACMA's power to conduct an investigation under section 170. If amended by schedule 2, the express will of parliament would shift, leaving the handling of complaints to be a matter of discretion for ACMA, who may issue guidelines about complaints handling. This is a subtle but meaningful shift away from the statutory system of co-regulation. Further, by repealing part 11 of the Broadcasting Services Act, and having the ACMA create and publish guidelines on its website on the investigation of complaints, an additional and confusing layer of red tape is added, utterly contrary to the purpose of deregulation and red tape reduction.
Under the current Act, there is no need for guidelines for complaints on top of the Act, program standards and industry codes of practice. It is simplistic to regard part 11, which deals with complaints to the ACMA, and part 13, which deals with investigations and information-gathering power by the ACMA, as duplication. These parts perform distinct roles in the framework I have just described. Labor would not have supported the removal of part 11 of the Broadcasting Services Act. I understand the government has prepared additional amendments to this bill to address these concerns and reverse that proposed repeal of part 11.
This bill also proposes changes that would allow the transition of telephone numbering to an industry-managed scheme. Self-regulation is an important feature of the telecommunications sector. Where appropriate, it allows industry to take responsibility for managing its own affairs, thereby reducing the regulatory burden and administrative costs. Numbers are an important, scarce resource. Like spectrum, numbers are used but not consumed. The management of telephone numbering has matured over the years, and this presents an opportunity for industry to play a greater role in managing the telecommunications numbering scheme. Moves towards self-regulation naturally raise the question of whether there is a risk of misalignment between the regulatory policy objectives and the commercial incentives of industry. Labor has closely considered this question, and we are satisfied the legislation before the House sets out sufficiently clear principles and contains adequate reserve powers, should the Commonwealth need to re-intervene.
This bill also contains provisions that deal with the disposal of surplus assets by NBN Co. Due to some technicalities of existing legislation, NBN Co finds itself unable to sell surplus non-communications assets such as office equipment and vehicles. Addressing these unintended restrictions would assist NBN Co to manage its assets in a more efficient manner, and we are supportive of this proposal. It's unclear why this took so long, but it's worth noting there may be other surplus assets the company might seek to sell, such as 16,600 kilometres of new copper, which, under this government, has been purchased as a cost of more than $170 million—a shambolic waste of taxpayers' money. But the existing copper network also looks to be in the company's crosshairs. Just this week, the NBN CEO was reported to be considering the construction of a 5G wireless network to overbuild the copper NBN network that has already been built. To put this in perspective, the Prime Minister is building a $49 billion network, and the company that is building it now wants to overbuild it, apparently, with a technology the private sector is already deploying. What a vote of confidence in the multi-technology mix! It's a reflection of just how confused this government's policy has become. Nevertheless, Labor is comfortable with the elements of the bill before us that amend unnecessary administrative requirements imposed on industry and repeal redundant regulation and spent acts. Labor does not oppose the passage of this bill.