National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 - Consideration of Senate Message

 

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (1:27 PM) —This is an extraordinary action by an opposition that will do and say whatever it takes to try to stop something that is overwhelmingly wanted by the Australian public. It is wanted by consumers; it is wanted by the regions; and it is supported by industry. The only ones who do not support it are those opposite, who are yet again demonstrating that they will put their own political interests above the needs of the Australian public and all those people who are crying out for super-fast internet access, who are quite stunned by the fact that the opposition would go to such extraordinary lengths to block it.

I can understand why the Liberal Party want to block it. They do not see the need for this because in their neck of the woods internet access is not an issue. If you go to east Sydney—for example, within the constituency of the member for Wentworth—you will not get the kinds of problems that are experienced in western Sydney or the regions. Editorials like those that appeared in the Illawarra Mercury rightly pointed out that the member for Wentworth is basically advocating second-class internet access. The Illawarra Mercury effectively said that the member for Wentworth was out of touch and was offering a second-class network option to the rest of Australia.

It is extraordinary to watch the Nationals. They are performing the greatest lemming-like manoeuvre in this parliament. They are strapping themselves to the Liberals’ idea that they are okay with the access that they have at the moment but they will condemn the regions. National Party members come in here and say that they do not support the NBN and that they would rather have wireless. Then we had the member for Paterson come in here and say, ‘We should support wireless, but I don’t want the towers in my electorate’—as if this is going to be internet delivered by carrier pigeon. How do you deliver wireless without the towers? He is a Liberal representative within the regions. The Nationals are strapping themselves to the Liberals’ vehement opposition. This is opposition for the sake of politics. It is not in the national interest. They tried 19 times to get this right and failed 19 times. We are trying to get this system in place and they refuse to support it.

It is worth going to some of the comment from the regions themselves. I want to take the House to some of the benefits that are recognised within the regions. Dr Jenny May, Chair of the National Rural Health Alliance, presented to the committee that I am a proud member of, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. We are looking at the benefits that come from the NBN being rolled out in Australia. She said:

The introduction of universal high-speed broadband will make available everywhere a range of health services that are currently technically feasible but only available now where there is a point-to-point fibre. Currently, this excludes much of rural and remote Australia.

Real-time videoconferencing and transfer of digital images such as x-rays, CAT scans, zooming in on wounds or lesions and exchange of other information will make a tremendous difference in providing interactive emergency support, primary care and health care at home.

That is from the National Rural Health Alliance. National Party members say, ‘We do not need it,’ but the people in the know who are delivering health services in regions denied them, saying, ‘We need this.’ Who else? Charles Tym from Harbour IT Mudgee said, ‘I think that Mudgee is a big enough town that it would be covered by the fibre rollout. Irrespective of how much the cost may or may not be, the NBN will be a truly revolutionary step forward in technology available to everyone.’ In March this year, he said, ‘Most people in Mudgee can get decent broadband coverage at the moment of around 20 gig, but once you get out of town it starts to drop.’

Philip Lazenby, Bendigo Community Telco chief executive officer, welcoming the NBN business plan said,

We are proud of the part the Community Telco group has played in changing the competitive landscape of regional markets and look forward to working with NBN Co. to provide improved services to regional communities. The higher priced broadband in regional communities currently compared to the Metro area has long been a barrier for business growth and we are happy to see that barrier removed.

Delivered by this government and opposed by National Party members in the coalition.
Ms Rowland —Shame!
Mr HUSIC —Absolutely. It is a shame, as the member for Greenway rightly points out. Tim Williams, the author of Connecting Communities, said:

In the UK, rural areas stopped losing people, and are now attracting the successful back with high-speed broadband a key force in the comeback.

They are saying this in the UK, where the regions now do not lose their best and brightest. They are kept in the regions—decentralisation spurred by the provision of adequate high-quality, world-class infrastructure. We support it, the National Party oppose it. Why? It is because they are politically lock-step with the Liberal Party that already enjoys those benefits. National Party members, who are supposed to represent the interests of their own constituencies in this place, have failed, neglected and damned those communities because they remain committed to the Liberal Party plan, which is to deny people access to this infrastructure and to make them second-class citizens, as has been identified by media outlets in the regions.

The opposition have said that they need time to consult, that they have not had time, for example, to consider these amendments. They cannot use the weekend to read the amendments. They say, ‘We haven’t got the time and we need to consult.’

Let’s turn to the industry view about the benefits of the NBN. Let us look at some of the quotes from industry about what the NBN will deliver for this country. I have mentioned the regional groups that see the benefit, but here we have Alan Noble, the Google engineering director, saying: ‘We absolutely endorse the government’s plans for NBN. It is the right move. We have the head of carrier relations at Internode saying, ‘The entire DSL HFC ISP industry wants NBN to succeed. Malcolm Turnbull has a thankless task.’

In previous debates I have remarked that it is a pity to see people who can make a great contribution deliberately not doing so because they have been given the task ‘to demolish something’. In his heart of hearts the member for Wentworth knows this is needed in this country not just in terms of the technology element but also in terms of delivering the competitive outcomes that were being denied as a result of previous policy where we had a public monopoly in Telstra basically created into a private gorilla laid out onto the streets of this nation able to do whatever it wanted or refuse to do what was required to upgrade the network.

Ziggy Switkowski, a former Telstra CEO, said back in 2009, ‘The government decision to announce the creation of a fibre optic based National Broadband Network I think was an audacious and quite visionary commitment.’ We have Intel’s managing director, Philip Cronin, saying, ‘This is the utility of the 21st century and it is as important to our future economy as transport infrastructure is today.’ Finally, we heard a quote from Optus earlier from Maha Krishnapillai, who said:

We hope that we can now move beyond the broadband debate and get on with the job of building a world class broadband network.

He also said:

… fibre is indisputably the best way to deliver high-speed broadband for the long term.

How many more industry quotes do you need? You have the regions wanting this. The regions have been let down by their National Party representatives, who fail to see the benefits of NBN because frankly those regional members from the coalition do not even understand the delivery platforms required for this.

You have industry saying they want the NBN and the opposition are still out there wanting to oppose it and coming in here amazingly saying, ‘This has all been delayed, we should be getting on with the job, why has the government failed to do it?’ The reason is simple. We are here now. If you want evidence, we have been called back to this parliament to debate this, when it should have been done last week. Why? Because the opposition in the Senate was trying to do everything it could to delay it. Today the opposition have sought to repeat that effort in the House.

Let me go on to some of the other red herrings the opposition have put out that I think need to be tackled. We have for instance the opposition asking the question—and they know the answer and refuse to state it publicly: why did we go from a $5 billion network to a $43 billion one? The answer is simple. As I have previously remarked in the House, they know that when we went out and called for industry to participate in this, the biggest component of the industry, Telstra, refused to play ball because Sol Trujillo figured that the best thing to do was to put in a five-page response to the government’s call for industry involvement in the biggest infrastructure plan we had for this country. When it became clear that Telstra was not going to meaningfully participate in this, we had to take it to another level to get the job done—the job that the opposition failed to complete, not once, not twice, but 19 times. They were unable to put in place in this country a plan that would work—so we had to go to that level. They always fail to mention that point.

We have had, for example, this call for a list of reports. The opposition frequently will call for a list of reports on justifying the NBN. Despite the fact that consumers, industry and the broader public want this, they fail to come up with it. This is not to do with the fact that there have not been enough reports. There have been ample reports—reports by McKinseys and reports that were tabled throughout the tail end of last year. This is not a case of their not having the reports; they do not have the one that they want. They want the answer that justifies their position and if they do not get it they will keep trying to undermine it and find some way to do it. Frankly, they undermined their own arguments, and the broader public’s view of the credibility of those arguments, because people realise that the opposition oppose for the sake of opposing. They do not weigh up merit or all the other points. They will oppose this no matter what.

Regarding their other comments, I noted the defence of Campbell Newman, the outsourced leader of the coalition in Queensland. It is apparent that when the opposition cannot get policy at the federal level they outsource it to One Nation or any other fringe group that might have some harebrained idea that might stand as policy. But, now, when they do not have the people within to do it, they outsource their leadership. I will be interested to see if the Queensland condition comes to Canberra for the coalition. I wonder who they would be able to get to outsource their leadership—leadership by mobile telephone and SMS. They will be sitting in question time getting SMSs. Campbell Newman says, ‘The buck stops with me.’ He will be sitting outside the parliament directing the way that the coalition, or the L-NP in Queensland, should operate. I noted that one of my colleagues was trying to defend Campbell Newman by saying that he did not actually support this model of NBN. He wanted to push fibre through sewerage networks. And how is that plan going by the way? It does not seem to be going many places. But, again, this is what constitutes policy on their side. It is not legitimate policy or considered policy. This is politics. It is about blocking what is good for Australia, because their political interest is about trying to create a division between the Independents, who recognise the benefit of this policy because their own constituents tell them that. People I have quoted today have indicated that. This is simply about their trying to drive a wedge, regardless of what is required in the national interest, and waste our time here today and ignore the overwhelming majority of Australians who want this, all because it serves their interests and not the nation’s interest.

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Ed Husic MP
Federal Labor Member for Chifley


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