Bills Digest No. 4   1997-98 Radiocommunications Legislation Amendment Bill 1997


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WARNING:
This Digest was prepared for debate. It reflects the legislation as introduced and does not canvass subsequent amendments. This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine the subsequent official status of the Bill.

CONTENTS

Passage History

Radiocommunications Legislation Amendment Bill 1997

Date Introduced: 25 June 1997
House: House of Representatives
Portfolio: Communications and the Arts
Commencement: Royal Assent.

Purpose

The Bill empowers the Australian Communications Authority to issue determinations for the collection of taxes from licensees of the radio spectrum (the range of frequencies within which radiocommunications are capable of being made).

Background

As from 1 July 1997, the management of Australia's radio spectrum is now the responsibility of the newly created Australian Communications Authority (ACA).The ACA is the amalgamation of the non-competition functions of the telecommunications regulator AUSTEL and the Spectrum Management Authority.The ACA was created as consequence of the deregulation of the Australian telecommunications industry.

In the past, the licensing of radiocommunications was tied to the radio apparatus i.e transmitter and receiver.With the advent of technological advances in telecommunications, the preferred approach now is for the relevant government agency to auction and licence radiofrequencies within the spectrum itself.Apart from revenues generated from the auction of the spectrum, a tax is also levied to provide revenue for the maintenance of the spectrum.Licensing of part of the spectrum is available for up to 15 years.Some portions of the spectrum are already encumbered by current users whose previous licences are due to expire in the near future.The ACA's functions include administering the use of the spectrum as 'old' licensees progressively vacate the spectrum.

At present, about 120,000 clients hold some 202,000 licenses which authorise access to the spectrum.(1)

Maintenance of the spectrum involves activities such as the investigation of interference in radiocommunications and planning for the eradication of that interference.Establishing standards for electromagnetic compatibility for equipment is one way in which interference can be reduced.Some heavy industrial equipment (welders), computer installations and navigation equipment can affect radiocommunications.Licensees will also benefit from the maintenance and enhancement of international coordination of radiocommunications.

The holders of the 'old' apparatus licences pay such taxes as part of the maintenance costs of the spectrum.This Bill and its companion, the Radiocommunications (Spectrum Licence Tax) Bill 1997, will harmonise arrangements between apparatus and spectrum licences, and allow the collection of taxes from spectrum licences.

There is a counter view which questions the government's approach in auctioning the spectrum.That view holds that with modern technology there is no scarcity of spectrum and the licensing of a part of non-scarce resource by the government, simply because it controls the spectrum, may adversely affect consumers.That view is contained in the article ' The great spectrum snow job ' by Stewart Fist in The Australian of 6 August 1996.

Main Provisions

Reader's Note: The proposed amendments are included in Schedule 1 to the Bill.The terminology to be used therefore is "Item' in the Schedule in lieu of 'Clause' in the Bill.

Items 2 and 4 are key provisions in the Schedule in that they expressly add reference to the proposed Radiocommunications (Spectrum Licence Tax) Act 1997 to both the primary functions of the ACA, as well as to the additional functions of the ACA.Essentially, the responsibility for the collection of the spectrum licence tax is to be a management function of the ACA.

Item 5 adds a reference to the Radiocommunications (Spectrum Licence Tax) Act 1997 to Schedule 2 of the proposed Legislative Instruments Act 1997 (the Bill is still before the Senate).The effect of this amendment will be to require determinations made under the Radiocommunications (Spectrum Licence Tax) Act 1997 to comply with procedures specified in the proposed Legislative Instruments Act 1997.The proposed Legislative Instruments Act 1997 will introduce a mandatory consultation process for legislative instruments directly affecting, or having a substantial indirect effect on business.Government agencies proposing legislative instruments which affect the business sector must prepare and make available a proposal which sets out the need for the regulation, costs and benefits, and alternative ways of achieving the objectives.

Items 6 to 24 contain minor consequential amendments to the Radiocommunications Act 1992 and the Radiocommunications Taxes Collection Act 1983 to recognise the introduction of the new form of spectrum licence tax in addition to the 'older' apparatus licence tax.It is noted that Item 24 makes it clear that a corporation established under Commonwealth or Territory law is subject to the spectrum licence tax.This is the same as applies under the 'old' apparatus licence tax scheme.

Concluding Comments

This is a tax collection Bill and it should be read in conjunction with the companion Radiocommunications (Spectrum Licence Tax) Bill 1997 (which is the proposed necessary separate taxing statute).A Bills Digest for the taxing statute accompanies this Digest.

Endnotes

  1. See Annual Report 1995-96, Spectrum Management Agency, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, 1996.

Contact Officer and Copyright Details

Brendan Bailey
25 July 1997
Bills Digest Service
Information and Research Services

This Digest does not have any official legal status. Other sources should be consulted to determine whether the Bill has been enacted and, if so, whether the subsequent Act reflects further amendments.

IRS staff are available to discuss the paper's contents with Senators and Members and their staff but not with members of the public.

ISSN 1328-8091
© Commonwealth of Australia 1997

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1997.

This page was prepared by the Parliamentary Library, Commonwealth of Australia
Last updated: 23 July 1997


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