National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 - Consideration in Detail

 Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (7:34 PM) —It is sad when you see great people forced to do things that deep down they just do not believe in. I will give the member for Wentworth credit: there is panache in the way he does it and it is inspiring. In many respects it is greatly disappointing. I love the fascination with a cost-benefit analysis. It was reflected upon earlier by the Leader of the House that the water plan that the member for Wentworth had responsibility for never had a cost-benefit analysis. It was $10 billion and a cost-benefit analysis was never called for, never sought, and never put in place by them.

When the member for Wentworth mentioned OPEL, it brought to my attention Henry Ergas, who the opposition have quite a deal of enjoyment quoting to us from time to time. In his book Wrong number: resolving Australia’s telecommunications impasse he talks about how almost $4 million through your 11 years in government was spent addressing telecommunications issues in regional areas. I do not know that at any point at that stage the opposition called for a cost-benefit analysis.
Ms Rowland —None.
Mr HUSIC —Right, member for Greenway. There were other claims made during the debate too. Since 1997, over $3 billion, at 2007 prices, of taxpayers’ money has been appropriated to schemes aimed at promoting the availability or use of telecommunications, mainly in non-metro areas. In mid-2007 the government committed a further $958 million to the Optus-Elders OPEL consortium for the construction of a WiMAX network in non-metro areas. I do not know where the cost-benefit analysis was. I would be more than happy for anyone opposite to point out where that actually was.

There were some other outstanding claims. For example, the member for Wentworth said that people in the sector believe this may not ever happen, that the NBN may not ever get built. One, I would love to hear where he is quoting that from and, two, if it is the case, how come we have got over 30 construction companies lining up ready to participate in the build, ready to put people on to make this happen? Again he has no proof and no ability to back it up. He just puts a statement up.

The other thing too is the whole notion of the scare campaign on the monopoly. The fact of the matter is that we needed to get into this space due to the failure previously to be able to address the market failure because, effectively, we had what I would liken to a hundred year war between Telstra and regulators: Telstra saying that it would not invest unless it got a return rate that would see prices at a level that consumers would not bear, and the government of the day refusing to allow for Telstra to do this. We had a system where there was no investment in broadband because Telstra was—and I know this sounds hard for people in this chamber to believe—playing hardball against regulators, against government and against anyone that did not want to play by the ground rules set by Telstra. That is why I shuddered when the member for Wentworth was suggesting for that moment that we could almost buy Telstra back. I do not know whether you would want to buy them back in a million years.

There is a reason we got to this place, and the member for Bradfield quoted this back on 23 February. He was wondering why we went from a $4.7 billion plan to what we have now. You know exactly why: you had the strategic genius of the entrepreneur Sol Trujillo, backed up by Don McGauchie, whose great contribution to HR in this country was alsatians on the docks, saying, ‘We’ll put in a five-page tender and that is all we will do in relation to a multibillion-dollar program,’ and it was clear that the major telecommunications company in this country was not prepared to play ball on broadband. Optus could not foot the bill, Telstra was not ready to play, so we basically had the position put where we needed to move into this space and do so in a big way. They know exactly why this is the case.

And if we are in this area, we need to provide stability and certainty for the construction phase and at the proper point go to sale, unlike the situation before, where it was a grab for cash by the opposition. It failed to go through the issue of structural separation, which we have had the courage to undertake in government and then to ensure that the NBN is in a position to be let loose in the market at that point. What these guys are playing with they know is unsustainable. (Time expired)

 Question negatived.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley

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