SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Stephen Conroy clearly thinks the communications industry is his own little plaything. Well, it’s far from a plaything – it’s an industry that employs tens of thousands of Australians that turns over billion upon billion of dollars in revenue. This is a very serious industry and it deserves to be treated as far more than a plaything but when you look at how Senator Conroy is organising his NBN – has organised his NBN legislation – frankly, it becomes clear that he couldn’t manage to get a ride at Disneyland if he had to try. Senator Conroy first introduced this legislation into the Parliament way back in November last year. He’s had ever since then to get it right, and what happened? On Wednesday night he tabled hundreds of amendments – 28 pages worth of amendments – to his own legislation. That’s how many mistakes he’d made in his own bills. The industry is dissatisfied. The Optus CEO has been out there slamming the Government for its process on this. The Opposition has made it clear – we’re happy to come back and debate this sensibly next week but let’s take a breather. Let’s take a breather because Senator Conroy has equally made it clear that despite having tabled hundreds of amendments already – 28 pages worth already – there are still more Government amendments to come, so we’re still here because the Government cannot get its own house in order, because Stephen Conroy doesn’t know what he’s doing, because he doesn’t know how to actually construct this legislation in a way that delivers on his promises of the NBN as a wholesale only network, as a network that is actually one that will deliver competition with appropriate oversight of the ACCC. We have serious concerns that his amendments will leave competition worse off and the ACCC having less of a say in critical areas of the management of the NBN. Senator Conroy needs to accept that he’s bungled it to date, take a few days’ breather, get it right, get his house in order, finalise his amendments and then we can happily come back next week and deal with this in a sensible way. Until he does that, we’ll be holding him to account, hour after hour in the chamber, for as long as it takes to ensure that he does get this right or that the flaws are exposed.
JOURNALIST:  Isn’t protecting Optus and Telstra against the NBN taking its retail customer base… isn’t that anti-competitive anyway?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  The NBN is meant to be a wholesale only network. Senator Conroy has proclaimed that from day one. This is a core element of the NBN, and so to say suddenly now that it’s okay for the NBN to start selling a retail service… and it’s a retail service if you’re selling to an end user. Senator Conroy seems to somehow want to define a retail service by the product that is offered. It’s not the product that’s offered that makes it a retail service or a wholesale service. It’s actually of course what you do with it, who you’re selling it to. Anyone… any layperson’s definition of wholesale service means you sell it to a company or a business for on-sale to the end user. It’s not acceptable for Senator Conroy to want to be having the NBN Co competing directly with retailers in selling to end users. That will strip their market away. This is not about protecting Telstra or Optus. It’s about providing maximum competition for consumers and not about repeating the mistakes of the past by risking the creation of another vertically integrated telco company in this country.
JOURNALIST:  Now that you’re back here today, when do you expect you should get through this? Will you finish it today?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Look, I think it’s highly unlikely because Senator Conroy cannot give the Senate a guarantee that all of his amendments are on the table. We’ll be here as long as it takes. We think the Government should take a few days’ breather. The Coalition will hold him to account ruthlessly on this and if that takes days, well, we’ll be here tomorrow, we’ll be here Sunday, we’ll delay the House [of Representatives] on Monday if need be, until we expose the flaws in this and ensure that he has got it right and give the maximum opportunity to air the problems in these amendments.
JOURNALIST:  Senator, what was your response to these stories of Australian soldiers in Afghanistan posting really racist comments on Facebook? Should they be more careful with this sort of thing?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  They’re disappointing and inappropriate comments and I have faith that our military leaders will take care of it and will address these issues with our personnel, and we would all hope for better and would hope that this wouldn’t happen but I would just make one reflection on it and that is that as we start the footy season, every year in Australia we sadly go through the challenges of young men making mistakes. These are young men who’ve made mistakes. Let’s not overreact to it. Let’s have faith in the military leaders to take care of it and address the issue sensibly and take what action is necessary to ensure that it doesn’t happen again in future.
JOURNALIST:  Senator Joyce says that, you know, these guys are at war, people are trying to kill them, we can’t really criticise them because we’re not in their shoes. Is that fair enough?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM:  Oh look, I think all of us would struggle to understand the position they’re in and the situation they’re in but Australia prides itself on having a high standard of conduct for its military personnel. We expect that. I expect that and that Defence Force leaders take appropriate action. That’s where it should end. All Australians respect our Defence forces and we want to see them act in the best possible way. That’s what we expect for the future but let’s not dwell on this. Let’s let the Defence leaders get on and take appropriate action and not blow it out of proportion.
Thanks guys.