Federation Chamber - Committees -National Broadband Network Committee Report

Mr HUSIC: Just before the break I was indicating to the House that it was my great pleasure to inform members that, following a very active campaign, we were successful in seeing communities that had previously been black spots included in the NBN construction timetable, and that by next year residents in Woodcroft and Doonside would be connected. Some residents were overjoyed to hear that—some of them had not even experienced YouTube—because some suburbs in Western Sydney that were dependent on a dial-up connection are looking forward to the prospect of having superfast broadband. In cooperation with Telstra, we have seen some neighbourhoods in these suburbs be able to connect to the HFC network; others are benefiting from an investment in the ADSL network in the area through the rollout of what is called Top Hat, which will install extra cabinets in existing areas where ADSL is provided. People will now be able to access much faster broadband speeds.

I convened two community forums in the Woodcroft area. The first forum, in December last year, attracted over 100 residents and this was followed up by another forum I held in April, which was attended by a similar number of people. We were able to tell those people that, through a combination of work between Telstra and NBN Co., these suburbs would get access. I am correcting the record, because the member for Wentworth has suggested that these suburbs would still be without a connection under the NBN plans, when in fact that is not the case. The other thing I would point out, which should be taken into consideration by every member of the coalition, is the concern of residents that if the coalition gets in they will be denied access to superfast broadband, because the coalition is failing to support this technology. That is a very real concern for my constituents.
I have a simple challenge for those opposite. We saw last week the Leader of the House highlight the complaints of the member for Mitchell that the NBN was not coming out to his electorate. Mr Hawke was carrying on with the standard, rote lines that those opposite use to rail against the NBN but was then complaining, as those opposite do—as was the member for Wide Bay earlier—that the NBN has not gone to their neck of the woods. My simple challenge for any coalition member who feels that the NBN is a waste of money—to use the coalition's words, not the words of the general public or of most people in Australia—is that they should say to their electorate: 'On your behalf, I have determined that I will write to Senator Stephen Conroy, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, and I will ask that our area be opted out of the rollout,' because there are certainly a lot of other suburbs in this country that would love to see the broadband network rolled out to their area. If those opposite do not recognise the enormous value that this technology is providing to this country, even at the moment, they should opt out. IBM, for example, in commissioned work entitled A Snapshot of Australia’s Digital Future to 2050,predicts that there is, through ICT, superfast broadband and other online applications, a value of up to $131 billion to our economy. That research was just provided in the last two weeks. If those opposite do not see the value of it, they should opt out and tell their constituents that they are turning their back on this equipment, on this infrastructure, on this technology. Have the courage to not say one thing here and then another thing in your own electorates. That is the simple challenge I extend to those opposite. I am absolutely confident that not one of them will write that letter to Minister Conroy, because they know what we know—and what Essential research found—and that is that even their own supporters, the people who vote for the coalition, support the NBN.

I have spoken about the value to the economy and the communities, but I am particularly pleased about what this does from an employment perspective—with nearly 20,000 jobs created as a result of the rollout of the NBN. While there are some jobs that will be created, there will be a period of transition for Telstra, which has operated its copper network for quite a number of decades—I cannot say 'countless' because we can count how many decades they have had it for. As the copper network is decommissioned, there will be changes to the workforce within Telstra. To provide for that situation there was a negotiation between NBN Co. and Telstra. Through the binding definitive agreements, the government agreed to provide $100 million to Telstra under a retraining funding deed to help retain and redeploy those Telstra employees who would be affected by the reforms to the structure of the industry—chiefly, structural separation. That RFD will conclude in 2019.

Over that period of eight years Telstra have to do a number of things. In particular, they need to ensure that, for example, under the deed, they support the availability of an appropriately trained workforce and that they establish a retraining arrangement with the staff who would otherwise face a redundancy as a consequence of the rollout of the NBN. This is detailed in the report. I commend the secretariat for this element of the report, because I think it faithfully reproduces exactly—following the appearance by Telstra back in April at the committee hearing—the nature of the questions from the committee as well as Telstra's responses, which I think were detailed as far as possible given that the actual binding definitive agreements came into effect in March and there was time required to negotiate the actual RFD. The deed operates by identifying an automatically eligible work group or employees who would be eligible for retraining—particularly those who work on the copper and HFC network and the direct field support workforce that conducts copper and HFC field based support, including workforce management, workforce and resource planning and construction program management, along with a number of other areas. Those employees who may face redundancy will be retrained.
This is particularly important to me because I have been concerned, knowing the composition of that workforce. It is an older workforce—on average, they are about 45 years of age—and, for them to face redundancy now, given the specialised skills set that they possess, it would be difficult for them to find work elsewhere. So, given the nature of the copper network versus a fibre network, it is important to be able to retrain them, using their existing skills base to lever off into new skills sets. Certainly that is why I feel this RFD is critical, and I am grateful to the committee chair in agreeing to have this component looked at as part of the joint committee's work and that we look at those workforce planning issues, particularly as it affects this section of the workforce. There are just over 6,000 employees in that automatically eligible workforce category who will be considered for retraining. Registered training organisations will be used, and Telstra itself has those capabilities. They will be able to identify the training needs under a training plan. Courses would be developed and a training methodology and target set for retraining. Telstra is also engaging in consultation with relevant stakeholders such as the unions that are involved with, or have coverage within, Telstra. Under the RFD, the training plan has to use 70 per cent of the funds for accredited training delivered by a registered training organisation, and they must be registered with a state or training authority.
Also I was keen to see that this training be spread out between urban and regional areas, and it was pleasing to see that Telstra indicated that it has a long history of delivering training to all geographic locations nationally. Its training is, to use its terminology, delivered as part of the business-as-usual training plan, and resources for that retraining will be planned on an annual and quarterly basis.
The initial training plans have been submitted to the department. They were supposed to be delivered by 30 April this year. In its appearance, Telstra had said that it was in the process of consulting employees, unions and governments on the first draft of that training plan. We look forward to talking with them further and gauging where they are at in the development of the training plan and how they will take the first steps to implement that plan.

We had also been interested to know how long it would take between the RFD coming into effect and it becoming operational, because there were redundancies that were taking place for employees that potentially would fall under the scope of the automatically identified or eligible work group. Telstra had indicated that they did not believe that there would be a great or significant impact at this stage, because the bulk of their business continues to rely upon the copper network. It is heartening to see to that they will also ensure that they pick up those employees in the meantime, and that they will receive retraining and potential redeployment to ensure that they remain within Telstra and within the sector, because my overwhelming concern is that we have major skills shortages within the sector—I have detailed that in the House previously—and the challenge, if we are to maximise the benefit out of the NBN, is to deal with those skills shortages.

These are the types of issues that I am proud to say will be picked up by a special group that has been formed within the government—the Labor Digital Economy Group. It will be looking at these types of issues, plus ways to maximise the value of the rollout of the NBN within our digital economy. As I indicated earlier, the estimates for that would range—if you take, for example, Google's commissioned work—from $70 billion worth of value to the economy through to, potentially, by 2050, according to IBM, $1 trillion worth of value to our economy, through the application of technology, the internet and the improved productivity that flows from businesses and governments and communities effectively digitising the way that they operate. That enables them to be in much greater touch with communities and customers, and enhances the way that they work.

Certainly, there is a lot that we can look forward to. I am looking forward to the Labor Digital Economy Group engaging with the ICT sector and picking up on issues such as skills shortages, and issues such as to how to get more businesses to embrace the online world and improve the way that they work. That group will, I think, form an important bridge between the sector and government.

Finally, I would like to pick up on a point that the member for Wentworth raised. He indicated—and I suspect others are going to try to indicate that, for instance, the NBN Co. has not met the targets it has set—that there has been no adequate reason as to why that would be the case. In actual fact, he is wrong. The report itself does deal with the ACCC's decision to increase the number of points of interconnect from 14 to over 121, and I draw the House's attention to paragraphs 2.12, 2.13 and 2.14, where it is clearly stated that major regulatory changes or positions by the regulator that had not been foreseen, and could not have been reasonably foreseen, have altered the way in which the corporate plan has to be shaped. Obviously those opposite continue their campaign to denigrate the NBN. I heard the member for Wentworth say that there is general amazement within the industry about NBN. If anything, there is general amazement about the position of those opposite. Most people in the sector cannot fathom how those opposite would say that the NBN would not in one swift move, in one powerful move, address something that they had tried 19 times to address but were simply unable to. If they say the NBN is not worth doing, why did they try 19 times to devise a plan that simply did not work? Their supporters support the NBN. The industry supports the NBN. Everyone knows the value of this technology to our nation.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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