House of Representatives

Radiocommunications Legislation Amendment (Reform and Modernisation) Bill 2020

Second Reading Speech

Mr FLETCHER (Bradfield - Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts)

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Radiofrequency spectrum is a vital resource which underpins many aspects of Australia's digital economy, such as the operation of fixed and mobile wireless communications networks. It is essential that the legislation governing the management of that spectrum is flexible and effective.

With markets and technology having changed markedly since the current legislative framework took effect, there is a clear need to update that framework.

The Radiocommunications Legislation Amendment (Reform and Modernisation) Bill 2020, which I introduce here today, will modernise the management of spectrum and radiocommunications in Australia.

A lot has changed since the Radiocommunications Act 1992was first introduced. For example, when the act was introduced in 1992, a typical equipment supply chain was from manufacturer, to retailer, to customer. Today, shopping on the internet means that modern supply chains are more diverse and complex making it more difficult to identify and place requirements on different parties in a supply chain and to hold those parties to account.

The processes in the act for allocating and re-allocating spectrum, licensing and renewal can be significantly improved, meaning less red tape. Spectrum not being allocated quickly and easily imposes unnecessary costs on both industry and government. It slows the pace of innovation being driven by emerging technology and the enthusiasm of the sector to make better, more creative and productive use of the spectrum.

The government's 2015 Spectrum Review highlighted the limitations of the current framework and looked to reform the way spectrum is managed. Consultation on an initial draft bill was undertaken in in 2017. When I became minister, I considered the outcomes of this consultation process and I listened to the concerns of stakeholders around the costs of transition to a new act to regulate spectrum. I concluded that the best way to achieve effective reform was through a series of targeted amendments. Following this, further stakeholder consultation occurred in June and July this year, with stakeholders indicating broad support for the bill that I am introducing today. The proposed amendments in this bill are in line with the original recommendations of the Spectrum Review and take into account the feedback received from stakeholders.

The amendments will clarify the object of the act and streamline spectrum allocation and reallocation processes. They will remove unnecessary prescription and legislative barriers, add flexibility and more clearly delineate the roles of the minister and the regulator in spectrum allocation processes.

Amendments include:

extending maximum spectrum licence terms from 15 to 20 years and maximum apparatus licence terms from five to 20 years;
providing greater flexibility in decision-making for allocating spectrum licences and apparatus licences;
modernising the compliance and enforcement regime through increased regulatory options; and
additional information gathering powers for the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

I will now provide a brief overview of the proposed reforms of the bill. In schedule 1 of the bill, the object of the act has been streamlined so that the intention of the act is clear and long-term public interest is promoted. In addition, issues such as public safety and defence have been made more prominent to further support the national interest.

Schedule 2 of the bill introduces two new means for clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the minister in setting government policy and the regulator in implementing that policy. These are ministerial policy statements and the annual work program. Ministerial policy statements allow the minister to provide ACMA with policy guidance or to convey government expectations and strategic priorities for ACMA's spectrum management functions. ACMA will be required to produce an annual work program, with the aim of giving more and better information to users and the market. Importantly, the annual work program will be prepared in consultation with stakeholders and ACMA will be required to report back on its performance in its annual report. This builds on the work that ACMA currently undertakes through the annual development and publication of its five-year spectrum outlook.

Schedule 3 of the bill is focused on licensing and associated processes. Through this schedule the maximum licence terms for apparatus and spectrum licences are extended to 20 years. To provide greater assurance to licensees, renewal statements will be introduced for spectrum licences and complex apparatus licences. This will make clear the requirements for any further licence. This, in turn, will assist licensees to make long-term planning decisions. Where a licence is proposed to be renewed for a period of 10 years or longer, ACMA must be satisfied that the issue of the licence is in the public interest. As part of the schedule, the scope of responsibility for ACMA in the allocation and reallocation of spectrum is broadened, in line with the intention to devolve more responsibilities to ACMA while enabling the minister to provide policy guidance. ACMA is granted the power to set allocation limits to promote competition and to make spectrum reallocation declarations to promote efficient planning and use of spectrum bands.

Schedule 4 enables ACMA to regulate equipment through statutory rules that prescribe technical standards, record-keeping requirements and labelling obligations. These rules will be imposed from the point of supply, so an ordinary user can operate a radiocommunications device with confidence that the device complies with a spectrum authorisation or licence. The bill will introduce civil penalties for breaches of equipment rules, as well as infringement notices for noncompliant users. The schedule gives ACMA the power to make interim and permanent equipment bans backed up with significant criminal and civil penalties.

Schedule 5 expands the powers of accredited persons and is intended to provide ACMA the flexibility to broaden the scope of the existing accreditation powers. This would allow ACMA to devolve certain kinds of administrative or technical work to qualified individuals. This gives ACMA greater flexibility to align resources with priority outcomes.

Schedule 6 introduces a more simplified and streamlined set of compliance and enforcement powers. This means ACMA takes enforcement action that is proportionate to the seriousness of the breach. The amendments also include a new civil penalty provision that provides that a person must not engage in conduct that results in substantial interference, substantial disruption or substantial disturbance to radiocommunications within Australia (or between a place in Australia and a place outside Australia).

Schedule 7 provides targeted information gathering powers to enable ACMA to require persons to provide information about unlawful possession of devices or compliance or noncompliance with licence conditions. This is relevant to ACMA's administration of various parts of the act, which have to do with planning, licensing (including reissue and renewal), interference management and compliance.

Schedule 8 gives ACMA powers to grant certain activities or persons with exemption from compliance with parts of the act and, amongst other measures, gives ACMA authority to use computer assisted decision-making, particularly in the renewal of licences. These types of improvements will provide greater decision-making certainty to the sector and reduce unnecessary regulatory burden.

Schedule 9 of the bill repeals the datacasting transmitter licence framework. This licensing framework has not been used to date. Schedule 10 repeals ACMA's power to hold public inquiries about radiocommunications, which has also not been used.

In summary, this bill provides a clear reform pathway to modernise our spectrum management framework, which will deliver benefits to spectrum users by cutting red tape. It provides a more flexible framework, and allows a longer term investment horizon, to allow industry to better adapt to future innovations and changing demand for spectrum, including the rollout of future generation wireless technology.

I commend the bill to the House. Debate adjourned.