Senate debate continues as NBN bill passes

Access arrangements bill could send Senate to weekend sitting

Senate debate on legislation concerning access arrangements under the National Broadband Network (NBN) could continue over the weekend as the Federal Government sought to push through bills before a six-week break for Parliament.

Debate has continued on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures - Access Arrangements) Bill 2011 in the Senate on Friday, following the passing of another piece of key legislation - the National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 - at an approval of 34 affirmative to 32 negative.

Senate hours were extended on Thursday to further debate amendments to the access arrangements bill proposed by the Federal Government on late Wednesday. Greens senator, Scott Ludlam, told Computerworld Australia that the bill could be voted on Friday afternoon, but was unable to guarantee this would be the case.

Asked on Sky News whether the Senate could sit over the weekend, Nationals leader, Senator Barnarby Joyce, said: "Well, it could be. What we've seen is the Labor Party once more ... not across the detail".

"I think we will be here all of today - until Senator Conroy convinces people to vote for the bill, and he hasn't done it."

The House of Representatives will need to reform on Monday to pass the bill once it has been passed through the Senate.

Amendments passed prior to voting on the companies bill included those exempting dealings between NBN Co and Telstra as part of the $9 billion financial heads of agreement from state stamp duties and taxes.

According to Senator Ludlam, the amendment could save the companies some $550 million worth of taxes. The individual companies, however, would still be liable for duties outside of those agreements.

Both the opposition and the Greens also supported amendments applying the Freedom of Information Act to NBN Co. However, Greens senator Scott Ludlam echoed previous concerns raised by shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in the house that there was a lack of clarity around how much NBN Co could use commercial sensitivity as grounds to witholding documents from release under the act.

Liberal senator Simon Birmingham also echoed those sentiments, but supported amendments proposed by independent senator Nick Xenophon that the Freedom of Information minister review possible abuse of the laws in a year.

“We think this is a halfway house, but at least a halfway house is better than no house at all,” Senator Birmingham said on the legislation.

ISPs continued to express concerns about amendments on the access arrangements bill, with Optus chief executive, Paul O’Sullivan, labelling the Government’s proposal a “curve ball”.

“We’re concerned that they could alter the intent of all the legislation to create a level playing field and provide equivalence of access to all the players in the industry,” he said.

“We are looking at these amendments carefully; we are in a constructive discussion with government and we would hope to be able to get the necessary changes to these amendments that would allow us to support the bill being passed in the Senate.”

The telco is yet to clarify what actions, if any, it will, given most of the amendments were passed through the amendments following O’Sullivan’s comments on Thursday night.

With AAP

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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