BILLS - Telecommunications Legislation Amendment Fibre Deployment Bill 2011 , Consideration in Detail

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (19:08): I want to deal with two things stemming from these amendments. The first is in relation to the future of the market and some of the scenarios that have been put forward by the member for Wentworth and the other is in relation to standards. The member for Wentworth used the term 'chilling indifference'. I want to relay the experience that I have had of chilling indifference and that was in the late nineties representing Telstra workers as they saw the start of contracting out within that corporation. These were people working on pit and pipe who saw the jobs that they had being transferred to the private sector. By that I mean the individual workers were being told that that work would no longer be available for them because they would be made redundant, but that those people could go out and invest themselves in getting the boring equipment and the like and could go out and seek to perform work for Telstra on contract. That continued as well through the work that 'linies' or linesmen were doing on the individual connections in homes or even when working on the pillars in the streets. The chilling indifference was that Telstra did not really care about the fact that they had 40- and 50-year-old men at that stage in the late nineties being told that the work that they had been performing for the bulk of their working life would leave from underneath them and the conditions that they had enjoyed would go. I guess what happened over time is that the market developed the pit and pipe work—the work that was being done in the streets, on pillars and on connecting homes—which had been contracted out to a variety of companies, some large, and to individual contractors.

The market is out there, and the suggestion that it will disappear or collapse overnight—and I take on board the point that there is a difference between copper and fibre—cannot be sustained by practical experience. The market is there. In getting ready for fibre, there is an army of registered training organisations that is now seeking to upskill those people moving from the limited copper future to a fibre future. That market exists. It will not disappear and it would be ludicrous to suggest that it would with the scale of the work that is being proposed as a result of the NBN rollout. If anything, the pressure is on to find enough skilled people to be able to deliver what is required for the project, bearing in mind—as has been identified—that this project will run past 6,000 homes a day when it hits full stride.

The next issue is the suggestion that—if I can characterise it—NBN Co. would want to hoard this work. I come back to the point that the cables, the lead-in work, will need to be run past 6,000 individual homes. NBN has got enough on its plate not to be chasing individual greenfield sites. It will prefer to have the private market step in to do that work, given the need to connect up brownfield sites to ensure that they are cable-ready and ready to meet demand as it grows.

In relation to the standards themselves, as has been highlighted by the member for Greenway, the fact of the matter is that the minister has a reserve power. The preference is for the industry to sort this out and to come up with a set of standards in relation to cabling and to the way that the work will be done. The preference is for the Communications Alliance, of which NBN is a member, to set this standard up, but in the absence of a standard, which the industry has not been able to agree to, the government is asking the opposition in good faith to remain confident that the industry will get these standards and the government will assume the risk if the industry does not get it right. If the performance of the network does not meet the expectations of the public, it is the government and not the industry that will wear the blame. The bill, it is important to note, does not set out technical specifications for the infrastructure, but it does give the minister reserve power to make instruments to do so in relation to passive infrastructure and the optical fibre lines if the industry cannot get its act together. For the fibre infrastructure to be able to serve its purpose and operate at an appropriate level across the new developments, some degree of standardisation is going to have to be required to ensure that, as I said, performance meets expectations. I do not accept some of the positions that have been put forward by the opposition, and I urge the House to reject the amendments.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): The question is that the amendments be agreed to. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133(b) the division is deferred until after 8 pm.

Debate adjourned.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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