I want to add some comments in this debate as someone who in a previous life closely watched from within the industry the impacts of regulation upon the industry and the ability of people to secure work in the industry. I have a deep and abiding interest in the future of the industry—the very debate we are engaged in right now. One of the issues that I have is that we have referred a number of times to the multitude of plans that were embarked upon by the other side when in government. In that array of plans was a recognition that leaving it to Telstra on its own would never satisfy the demands of consumers. We would never see the industry evolve if it was left on its own, which was why the former coalition government attempted on a number of occasions, through its 18 or 20 versions of a plan, to see us change the industry.
One of the things that I learnt watching from within the industry was that a litigator was a telco’s best friend. If left to their own devices, the telcos would use any avenue they possibly could to fight the decisions of regulators or competitors to advance the interests of competition in the industry. While zealously guarding themselves and saying that they needed to protect their own interests, we had armies of lawyers willing to engage at any point to frustrate the ambitions of regulators and government to inject more competition. We had 18 plans from the other side because the coalition was unable to progress this further.
Telstra decided that it did not want to invest further in its copper network. Telstra made the decision that if it did invest in broadband it wanted to see a greater return on that investment, about which the ACCC would then have reservations. Where did we get? Nowhere. I pick up on some of the contributions made by the member for Greenway when I support a stronger role for the ACCC into the future in the oversight of Telstra and NBN Co. We cannot remain stuck in the regulatory logjam that prevented the industry from moving forward.
If I can add another perspective, there are employees within Telstra—line workers and technicians—who for all their lives have been working basically on copper. We have an opportunity now to train those employees to move into the world of optic fibre and to be part of this rollout. Another thing I have said on the record is that it does not take much to convince Telstra to sack employees. I used to dread every analyst day because frankly that was the day they would announce further job cuts—not necessary cuts, as no-one could argue that Telstra did not have work; no-one could argue that those workers were not required on the front line, in call centres answering customer inquiries, or out in the network. Telstra would basically cut numbers to satisfy the share market.
Any further delay that we have in being able to move forward on this bill, or getting the rollout done, is a further delay in re-training those workers who otherwise will be lost from the industry. The union that I previously worked for demonstrated that 85 per cent of people who had been made redundant by Telstra were lost from the industry. We face a worsening skill shortage within the sector if we are unable to advance the training and re-training that will also be offered as part of this process and to bed that down.
My final remark refers to the member for Wentworth. I have enormous regard for his understanding of this area and I would never seek to parallel or match that in the sense that I know he has watched this area for some time. But I cannot believe that a person in his position could argue against or seek to frustrate this process further. His words of 26 October in the matter of public importance in this place are still ringing in my ears. He said he had ‘…very serious cause to reflect whether there is any prospect of there being a net benefit to our economy from this project.’ I find that astounding and cannot believe that in the course of debate something like that could be expressed.