Mr HUSIC (Chifley—Government Whip) (11:18): I have heard it all in this place—the National Party talking against the NBN; the National Party talking about the connection of their regions to modern high-speed telecommunications and broadband infrastructure, and talking against it! I might as well be sitting here listening to them bagging out farmers! I simply cannot believe that a National Party member who has a chance to connect his or her community to the modern world would say, ‘This is a bad thing,’ and spend most of their time bagging it out. It is beyond the pale.
I just want to ask a simple question: what type of committee was similarly brought together at any time under the Howard government?
Mr Danby: None.
Mr HUSIC: None, as the member for Melbourne Ports rightly indicates. Why? Because in the 19 times that they had the opportunity to fix this up, they were unable to do it and unable to provide any oversight whatsoever. We have here, in the nation’s parliament, a joint committee of both senators and members—many of whom, I am proud to say, are serving the country well on this committee: my colleague, the member for Greenway, who is here; the deputy chair, the member for Petrie; and, even though I have deep differences at a policy level with him, the member for Bradfield brings a lot to bear.
But, having said that, that is where I have to depart because, even though they know well what is required to be done, they work their hardest to frustrate the need to do something that escaped them 19 times. The deputy chair, the member for Petrie, reflected very positively on the work of the member for Lyne, the chair of the committee, who tried to ensure both sides of the debate were accommodated through the work of the committee. But at some point something has to give when, effectively, we have Luddites on the other side. We have been open and accountable and have been met with nothing but frustration from a phalanx of technological Luddites on the other side who lack the vision and the ability to contribute to this debate. Remember that these are the people who keep arguing that we needed a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN. From the 19 times that they tried to get this right, clearly, they knew there was a need. They knew there was a benefit that would come from upgrading our network to ensure that everyone could get access to broadband. They tried it 19 times and now they are calling for a demonstration of benefit when they knew full well that it was there and needed to be done.
They called for a cost-benefit analysis, but they did that on their $10 billion water plan that the member for Wentworth advocated. They never did it on the Adelaide to Darwin railway, the plans that were put forward at the tail end of the Howard government. At no time did they provide a cost-benefit analysis, but they keep arguing about cost-benefit analysis in this place simply because it will frustrate the process of doing something that they failed to do. People in the know have outlined the absolute startling benefits of what this network will do. The member Greenway pointed to the Deloitte Access Economics report—and I was very grateful that she did. That report talks about $27 billion of productivity benefit generated for business and government because it has improved the way they work by getting access to the internet. What was the opposition’s response? Via the member for Wentworth, the opposition’s response was to bag out Google and to criticise Deloittes for putting forward this economic work. It is simply astounding. Any time any person seeks to put forward a different view to those opposite, they will not respect those views and go out on their way to challenge them.
They also challenge the need for fibre to the premises and say, for example, there has been no backing for it. I actually recall significant backing for it from the ACCC. The ACC said that having fibre to the premises was our chance to finally rid ourselves of the competition devils that had held us back in the sector—a sector dominated by one major player that continued to crowd out any ability for new players to come in, for new innovation and for someone else to take up the communication challenges facing the country. And the opposition say, ‘Why did we move from our initial plan to the end plan of where we are at? Why did we move from the $5 billion plan to $43 billion plan? They know full well, and the member for Bradfield knows full well, that the reason for that was that the major dominant player in this country submitted six pages for a $5 billion tender for the major upgrade our telecommunications network. Those six pages clearly demonstrated that the major player in this country under the former leadership of Sol Trujillo and Don McGauchie at Telstra were not serious about this and would do whatever they could to frustrate it. We had an ossified industry dominated by one player. We wanted to smash through a calcified Telco sector. What did we get? We got the opposition criticising us for something that had, frankly, bedevilled them. They knew the frustrations. You only need to spend five minutes with former senator Helen Coonan to know how much frustration she had as the former minister trying to get Telstra to play ball.
Telstra were refusing to invest because the ACCC would not give them a green light to rip off consumers, again under the former leadership of Sol Trujillo, and it was something that the former government was not prepared to countenance either. We know they had problems. We wanted to smash through those problems. You would think they would want to join with us. They do not. They spend their time bagging it out. We had to step up.
They continue to frustrate every step of the way on this committee and are still managing to run the same old tired arguments that we know will not work. The member for Greenway knows it. I understand the member for Bradfield—as I have reflected on earlier, I have regard for his industry expertise and regulatory expertise—has been told he has to run a line which he knows, in his heart of hearts, is not the right one to run. We have a debate: fibre versus copper, with its limitations in capacity, copper, with its limitations because of its fault rate. As reflected on by the member for Petrie, the minute you get moisture in it, faults go through the roof. We know we have a chance. We can either keep rolling out copper with its limitations or we can say, ‘Righto. We know this is an old technology. We’re going to go to the one that actually works and that’s optic fibre.’
The other thing is, too, they know what is better in a head to head contest. They know that fibre is the way to go but what is their option? They talk about HFC. Nothing better demonstrates that the shadow minister for communications simply has no idea when he keeps advocating HFC, when he talks about HFC in Sydney and Melbourne. Everyone knows that HFC chokes up. Once you have Foxtel, subscription TV, running through your home and you are trying to rely upon that plus another signal for internet access, you are going to become choked up.
At the same time they argue for wireless. Everyone knows that when more people are on wireless at one particular time wireless cannot deliver, that it slows right down. So they say to us: HFC; they say to us: wireless and then they say, ‘We don’t even need to go down this path. Why don’t we just do a black spots program’ and then condemn the rest of the country to inconsistent speeds. We are talking about a uniform network with massive download speeds and fantastic uploads. That is the big thing: the fact that there are greater upload speeds in this network. We say, ‘Regardless of where you live, we want, in 93 per cent of cases, to have you connected to the network of the future,’ and they say, ‘No, we want you to have a patchwork network that won’t deliver.’ I recall editorials from the Illawarra Mercury asking Mr Turnbull, the shadow minister, why he was condemning the regions to a second-rate option. I said earlier in a head to head contest people know—wireless versus optic. I might reflect rightly on the words of the member for Greenway who said, ‘It isn’t a case competition; it is about of being complementary, that wireless and fibre have a place together in this network.’ Head to head fibre versus wireless—we know who wins. Why? The answer was delivered to us by the member for Sturt when he chaired a committee which clearly said, ‘Hands down, fibre wins.’ They know it. The member for Bradfield, with his expertise, knows it. The people in the know, the people I joined on this committee, the member of the Greenway, they know it but the Opposition still argue that we have to be down this path.
Frankly, I think we are expecting too much of the opposition. The member for Cowper says, ‘The NBN cannot tell us numbers.’ I think we are expecting too much from a bloke who should know that the NBN is a wholesale network and it does not necessarily keep the retail numbers because the RSPs do. The RSPs have to go through a process of activation of individual clients. It is not the wholesaler’s job to keep the retail numbers; it is the RSP’s job. It is the RSP’s process to go through the activation mechanism. It is their job to do it. But the member for Cowper is not interested in that, just as he was not interested when the member for Kingston told us that in the past week, when they activated the network in Willunga, 90 per cent of the people there opted in. When I went to Victor Harbour with another committee I have the honour of sitting on, we learnt that they cannot wait for the NBN to come to their neck of the woods.
They say they want to hold onto their best and brightest in regional South Australia instead of seeing them denied the opportunities for jobs and education, leaving there and going to Adelaide. You should be looking to hold onto the best and brightest in your part of the world instead of seeing them travelling from the regions into capital cities.
The thing that gets me the most in this debate is this elitist argument that comes out of the opposition when they sneer and look down their noses, saying, ‘We all know what you want to use the internet for: you want to use it to download IP TV, and we shouldn’t be spending money on that.’ They seek to degrade the purpose of the NBN. As the member for Greenway rightly said, they only see it as the internet. They cannot see it as a broader application of this network. They sneer down from positions where their constituents have access to a great network. In constituencies that I am representing—for example, Woodcroft—the network is jammed and people have to leave that suburb for someone else to get a connection. Wireless does not even work. We are trying to do something for the people of Western Sydney and the people of regional Australia, and they, from their positions with constituents who do not have these problems, say to us, ‘The best you should get is a second-rate option,’ and ‘Stop always hoping for the Bentley when the best you can get is a Commodore.’ That is the line they use.
Their words are an insight into their thinking. It is that the best you should hope for is the second-best option. ‘You do not deserve a network that we already enjoy.’ That is what they are saying to me. That is what they are saying to the member for Fowler. That is what they are saying to the member for Greenway. It is what they are saying to members opposite who have to toe an insane party line. When they talk about this report in this place, remember this: they cannot be trusted. People in the general community know they cannot be trusted on this issue, because their sole job is to destroy this network and to deny opportunity to the people of Western Sydney. They talk with a forked tongue and a dead policy head.