Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (10:38): I take up the minister’s invitation to address certain elements of the bill and the amendments. Through this debate we have constantly raised our concern about the prospect that universal wholesale pricing will be watered down and that this will lead to an exacerbation of what we are already concerned about—a digital divide, not just in the rollout of the network but in the pricing and people’s ability to access broadband at the same price regardless of where they live in the country. That was the objective, the vision and the motivation: that we would not have the regions left behind either in terms of infrastructure or pricing. We have had these concerns and we have raised them through the debate in relation to the watering down of the safeguards and also the concern about pricing.
Through the course of the debate, too, we have raised the fact that the former CEO of nbn co has pointed out what he believes to be the cause of the $15 billion blow-out in this project, which is the emphasis on the HFC network and the fibre-to-the-node network that has been rolled out and the move away from what we had previously had in place. We have had some very serious concerns raised, as the member for Wakefield and the shadow minister for communications have raised, in relation to the article in The Sydney Morning Herald today, which indicated that there has been a trial. Pilots and trials are referred to in the amendments, but we have a pilot and trial here. This pilot and trial will use a new version of cabling that will allow fibre to the premises, yet we are not being told about it. Instead, we are having blow-outs on this project because of an alternative structuring of the project by the coalition that has had an emphasis on HFC, which, as I indicated earlier, constituents have said to me does not work when a lot of people are on the network. We have a fibre-to-the-node network that is nowhere near achieving the reach that the coalition promised, and yet they are having pilots and trials of new systems that we are not being told about.
Nbn co flatly refused to respond to the issue raised in the leaked document about this trial, so this is the opportunity for the minister to tell the Australian parliament and the Australian people, are you going to move to a system we have long advocated, which is fibre to the premises, based on the savings achieved by this? If you are not, you are saying that you will continue to adopt the philosophy and approach which has led to this blow-out of $15 billion so far. It is this type of blow-out that is forcing you to put into this bill a requirement to water down universal pricing, because in effect you want the regions to pay more for broadband services because this is how you are making up the losses. You are accounting for the blow-out by changing the pricing, making the regions pay for your bad mistakes. Yet we have a trial that shows, through your own documents—this document shows it—that you are able to roll out this network along the same lines, of fibre to the premises, as we said, and you can do it cheaper.
We are happy if a way has been found to do it cheaper, because the reality is that, with infrastructure projects of this magnitude, as they rollout and progress you find ways to do things more efficiently and more cheaply. If that has been found, good. What you should be doing is delivering to the people of Australia what they want: faster broadband delivered through fibre to the premises. It can be done in a way that avoids the blow-out of $15 billion, avoids the watering down of the universal access pricing that will allow you to get the same wholesale pricing whether you are in a city or a region and would deliver to them a service they want.
What we want to know is this: if you are undertaking pilots and trials—you have done it in two spots in Australia already, Ballarat being one of them—tell the Australian people. You have the chance to tell them how you are changing the delivery of the service to make it efficient and cheaper and to do it in a way that people want. I certainly invite the minister to respond, because it is clear that they have been hiding these types of trials from view and refusing to be transparent about them.