Australian government passes new legislation to support competition and protect consumers

2 Dec 2021

Australia’s government has announced the passing of the ‘Telstra Corporation and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021’, a piece of legislation designed to guarantee ‘that important consumer outcomes continue to be delivered regardless of how fixed line incumbent Telstra structures itself, both now and in the future through a flexible regulatory framework’. Announcing the development, Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Paul Fletcher, noted that while there have been significant changes in the telecoms industry over the past decade, Telstra continued to play a key role in metropolitan, regional, rural and remote Australia. As such, in terms of the legislation itself, it amends the Telecommunications Act 1997 to: define Telstra successor companies and designated Telstra successor entities and replace references to Telstra with references to the successor entities; allow the communications minister and the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to make determinations relating to the designated successor entities; and make technical and consequential amendments.

In addition the new Bill amends: the Telstra Corporation Act 2001 to extend existing regulations relating to the operation and ownership of Telstra to its successor entities; the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 to extend existing regulations relating to the operation and ownership of Telstra to its successor entities; and the Telecommunications (Consumer Protection and Service Standards) Act 1999 to extend the communication minister’s powers to impose service provider obligations to Telstra’s successor entities and retail price controls on each successor entity. Finally, the new legislation also amends ‘three regulations, four determinations and a code of access’ in relation to ownership of Telstra shares, access to telecommunications infrastructure, carrier licence conditions, emergency call persons and services, real estate development exemptions, arbitration and sunsetting.

According to Minister Fletcher, the provisions are focused on ensuring current consumer safeguard laws are adapted to Telstra’s new structure, improving transparency, and closing a loophole that may have carried a cost for consumers. ‘First, the Bill has a set of provisions to ensure that existing legislative and regulatory safeguards, such as the Universal Service Obligation, are appropriately repointed to the proposed new Telstra structure,’ Fletcher noted, adding: ‘This is backed up by new transparency and direction powers, so the community can have confidence that Telstra is keeping in place contractual arrangements that deliver the outcomes required of it. Second, the Bill closes a loophole that may have reduced the effectiveness of the facilities access regime, which is a vital mechanism to ensure competition and improved consumer outcomes.’