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Tuesday, 16 March 2010 13:46

Telstra Senate debate delayed again


The Senate debate on the telecommunications reform package has been delayed again, and may not make it to a vote until the May budget sittings.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy accused the coalition of "wilfully" delaying the process, both to block the telecom reform measures and to slow the movement of Government business in the Senate.

The debate had been expected to have proceeded today, but was not listed by Government on this morning's Order of Business for the chamber.

Senator Conroy said the Opposition had "stacked the list" of speakers - each of whom are allowed 20 minutes to address the bill - and that the debate had been adjourned to allow other business to proceed through the senate.

"After doing nothing for 11 and a half years the Opposition are now filibustering and wilfully delaying measures designed to fix problems with the existing telecommunications regulatory framework," Senator Conory said.

"Instead of bringing it on, they've stacked on almost every Opposition speaker to fill space and slow down debate," he said.

Although Government says it remains committed to having the legislation considered by the Senate this week, there is growing concern that it will not be debated until the next sitting period, in May.

Greens communications spokesman Senator Scott Ludlam also told iTWire that without the apparent support of Steve Fielding - who appears the hold the balance on this bill - Government probably saw the debate as a waste of the senate's time.

"It is fairly obvious to everybody that he Liberals have just decided to talk it out and it would just be a waste of everybody's time," Senator Ludlam said.

"I think the Government is probably right in lifting Telecom out of the way to allow a few other matters to proceed first," he said.

Shadow communications spokesman Tony Smith told iTWire it was quite right that the proposed changes to the sector be properly debated, and that Senators with an interest in the issue be allowed to speak on it.

The alternative of simply moving to a vote without debate was no alternative at all, he said.

But the Greens' Senator Ludlam said the opposition delays had carried on for too long and were driven by politics, rather than the desire for a policy outcome.

"They have tried to or three different procedural tactics in blocking debate, and as a last resort they look like they are going to try and filibuster it," Senator Ludlam said.

"The politics though, is that when you don't have anything constructive to add, just delay."

On the chance the bill gets to committee stage, the Greens today tabled their amendments. Senator Ludlam said they managed to get agreement from Government on most of its proposals, but there remained an obstacle in the mandatory privatisation provisions in the bill.

"The only really serious area of disagreement is around the privatisation of the NBN," Senator Ludlam told iTWire.

"It's not the timeframe so much as the fact that the privatisation is automatic. There would be no public interest test, and no form of Parliamentary approval."

"We just think the parliament should have the final say on whether it's a good idea or not," he said.

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