BILLS - Telecommunications Legislation Amendment Fibre Deployment Bill

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (16:28): It gives me great pleasure to talk on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2011 and reflect on some of the work of the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network. It is a great honour to be on that committee for a number of reasons, only one of which is my deep and abiding interest in broadband. More particularly, at this point in time we are discussing some of the most exciting reforms that are taking place within this industry.

Over the course of the last two weeks, the deal that the government did between NBN Co., Telstra and Optus was fundamentally a groundbreaking reform which has been pursued for generations: decoupling Telstra from its network and ensuring fundamental competitive reform. This reform had escaped the nation and we managed to achieve it. In its wake, we will ensure that we will not revisit some of the debates about the needless duplication of networks when cable TV was being rolled out in the 1990s. We have singularly sidestepped that through this deal we have set up between NBN Co. and Telstra and Optus, which will ensure a more efficient use of our telecommunications network. It will transform the industry and ensure that we achieve fast and efficient broadband for nearly the entire continent. It is something that others only dream of but we will achieve. We will reshape the industry through this.

People cannot wait for access to this transformational technology. I have seen the enthusiasm firsthand. I notice one of my colleagues is on the other side of the chamber whom I worked with on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. We visited various parts of the country and were able to see with our own eyes the excitement in the regions about the prospect of tapping into a new superfast broadband network and what it will do. For example, they will be able to retain young people in regional areas through better access to educational opportunities. Small businesses will have the chance to tap into new markets which up until this point have escaped them in the regions. We have the chance to deliver a service in parts of the country like the area of Sydney I represent where people thought they would never have access to such a system because, frankly, the market did not value investing in a network in the area based on their incomes. I think that is a disgraceful reflection of where we are at, and I will reflect on this stalemate later. I take great exception to some of the quoting of ABS statistics earlier by the member for Wentworth. It was quite misleading and I want to address that as it impacts on the electorate I am proud to represent.

People in the electorate of Chifley are eagerly awaiting the National Broadband Network not just for its speed, not just for what they will be able to download but for what they will be able to do. Just the other day I had the pleasure of visiting the Blacktown Computer Pals group, which is teaching senior Australians how to access computers in a way that they have never had the opportunity to do before. Wendy Lambert and all the volunteers that operate Blacktown Computer Pals do tremendous work in showing senior Australians the opportunities presented by this technology. The other day we were talking about some of the applications that will open as a result of access to the National Broadband Network and one that particularly caught them was the prospect of e-health so they will not be stuck waiting for specialists or GP support. They will get fast and easier access to medical assistance. They will be looked after in their older years. They know some of the applications and they cannot wait for this.

This bill is critical in ensuring that, as we connect up to 6,000 homes a day, the greenfield areas of Australia will be looked after just as efficiently as the brownfield areas. The bill will ensure that there is an optic fibre requirement, a fibre-ready facility requirement, a fibre-ready installation requirement and a facilities access regime. The bill was examined by the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate the chair of the committee and the deputy chair—you, Madam Deputy Speaker D'Ath—for the work that ensured that this bill will be considered in a timely way. A lot of the states will depend on this bill going through the House and through the other place to ensure there is a mechanism to connect greenfield estates quickly. Having worked for an electricity distributor and having been a union official in the telecommunications industry, a lot of what has been considered by this bill is simply—without bursting anyone's balloon—unremarkable. Frankly, a lot of utilities have been working for many years with the developers to rollout networks—electricity, gas or telecommunications—in new estates. The reason I congratulate the chair and the deputy chair is outlined in the chair's forward to the report that was presented today which states:

Where the committee found areas of dispute, these were less about the Bill and more about the underlying policy that has led to this Bill.

We continually have these arguments, as represented in the chamber today, not about the bill itself but about the way we are going about bringing superfast broadband to this country through the NBN Co. and the reforms that we have put to this House. I believe the report put forward some very sensible and considered recommendations, for example advocating that internal customer protocols be put in place within NBN Co. to ensure that the time frame for issuing statements to developers is completed and benchmarked; that NBN Co. commit to specific time frames to publish its performance on fibre rollout—a sensible idea; and that there be an investigation into the possible impact on risk premiums of regular changes in development regulations—again, pretty sensible.

However, the coalition have sought, as evidenced today by the member for Wentworth, to engage in spurious claims about this bill. For example, they claim that rolling out the NBN will make it more expensive for homes. No-one who has bought new land and is intending to develop a property on that land would for one minute expect that any of the utilities connected to that property would come for free. They would expect to pay for a gas connection, for water and for electricity. They would expect some cost. That cost has been outlined in the explanatory memorandum—and I will come back to what I believe are the spurious costs being claimed in self-interest by industry. The cost outlined in the explanatory memorandum is about $800, which is in line with what would be expected for the other utilities that would have to be connected.

The opposition claim that the processes to be used by NBN Co. will be slow and bureaucratic. But the report has recommended some measures which I hope the government and the NBN will embrace to ensure that we can have a timely rollout. They claim, for example, that developers might have to wait too long. That was raised by the member for Wentworth earlier. Guess what? Sometimes developers do wait. They roll out aspects of the network, undertake the pit and pipe and wait for the utility to come through. As I said earlier, this is unremarkable. But the claim that is being put forward is that in some way NBN is doing something that hitherto has not been experienced by the sector. That is simply and patently ridiculous.

The other claim which was made through the course of the hearings was that NBN or the minister should not set standards. To some extent the member for Bradfield and I, despite the fact that we are on different sides of the chamber, actually agree that there is always a danger that monopolies set standards in a way that excludes competition. The preference would always be that the industry would set them. Who in the industry is responsible for setting these standards? The Communications Alliance, the sector itself. Up to this point, the sector has been unable to come up with standards in relation to the rollout of the network. The problem we have is that in arguing the minister should not set the standard the coalition is assuming that the industry will get its act together and effectively asking government to shoulder the risk if the industry is incapable of reaching agreement within itself. Mind you, NBN Co. is a member of the Communications Alliance. If they are unable to come up with a standard then what standard do we operate to? And when the faults start racking up because the performance of the network is not up to scratch, who will be responsible? Ultimately, the government will be, not the industry that was unable to come up with the standards in the first place.

During the course of the hearings, TransACT put forward to us that developers or contractors within the sector who have carriers licences should be enabled to roll out the network to the standards that they roll out to. I asked TransACT, which is a regional telecommunications provider that operates in the ACT, which standard it would operate to: would TransACT let the subcontractor put it in to their own standard or would TransACT require the subcontractor to work to TransACT's standard? The answer from TransACT was simple. It said, 'We want it to our standard.' Yet TransACT argued to the committee that NBN Co. should not be entitled to operate to the standard it sees fit in the absence of the industry standard. It says that TransACT should be entitled to operate to its own standard—something it would not allow for its own network. When we are trying to roll out a uniform network with standards whereby everyone can expect the network to perform in the same way we cannot have what I would argue—with no disrespect to TransACT, I will put it in very crude terms—is a self-interested position when it comes to the network.

The member for Wentworth wants things to be done in a timely way but he has flagged some unbelievable suggestions. For example, an article entitled 'Turnbull tests NBN Co-pays amendment for greenfields', which appeared on the iTnews website, talks about the fact that the member for Wentworth was arguing that NBN Co. basically would have to negotiate with each developer, as they roll out in their own estate, how much they would pay for the assumption of the network. On the one hand he wants the network to be built quickly and says that we should not force delay on developers, yet on the other hand he would force on us a delay in the negotiation process with developers one-on-one.

I also could not believe the claim the Housing Industry Association was making that it might cost up to $5,000 per premise to roll out the NBN on a greenfield site. When we quizzed them on that, they said that they were earlier estimates but then came back later and said, 'We've tested those out and that is what we believe to be the case.' But there was no evidence of what that was supposed to be. Frankly, we need to get the NBN rolling out as quickly as possible to reach the target of 6,000 homes a day.

In the time remaining I will address the spurious claim made by the member for Wentworth that he put amendments to the committee. That is a falsehood. He put forward, for example—and I am willing to table this—an incomplete amendment that had different sections. I will read directly:

Notice must be given to NBN Co. of the requirement … (some time before expected completion of the network? Within some time after completion?)

He put half-baked amendments that were not even complete to the committee dealing with the rollout of one of the most important pieces of infrastructure in the country. He could not even get that done yet suggests that he did. He talks about a cost-benefit analysis and comes back to it. I am going to give you a cost-benefit analysis that was carried out at the 2007 election: people basically looked at the 19 plans you guys could not get through; they liked our plan. The cost-benefit analysis was done in 2010: people did not like what you were putting forward; they liked what we were putting forward. The crossbenchers late last year also had a cost-benefit analysis. They liked our plan; they did not like yours. It is about time you stopped trying to stop the rollout of a network that is critical to the country. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs D'Ath ): Is the member seeking to table a document?

Mr HUSIC: I seek leave to table the coalition's appendix C, the text of the amendment to the fibre deployment bill that was put forward by the opposition.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley

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