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Wednesday, 25 August 1999
Page: 9053

Mr WAKELIN —My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Minister, you will recall that the government at the last election promised to ensure that all Australians had access to Internet services. Can you advise the House what progress the government has made in fulfilling this undertaking for people in remote, regional and rural Australia?

Mr ANDERSON (Deputy Prime Minister) —I can answer the question and advise the House of where we have got to on this issue. I would certainly acknowledge that the member who asked the question has a real interest in it. He represents an area that would dwarf the size of many European countries. There are people out there, living and producing in some extraordinarily remote parts of the world, for whom distance can now be shrunk to a degree that we would not have dreamt of being possible just a few years ago.

I do indeed—as members of the House will—remember our election promise to amend the universal service obligation to provide a digital data service to all Australians of at least 64 kilobits a second. We made that commitment less than a year ago, so less than a year after we made it we have launched today Telstra's Bigpond Advance—a new satellite technology that delivers on that promise and more besides. This is not just a basic service. This is not the sort of service that means that somebody in Arkaroola in the honourable member's electorate who may be studying a course from Charles Sturt University in the member for Riverina's electorate is in a situation where they have to seek information and then wander off and make a cup of tea, kick the dog, and wander around the house, waiting for half an hour to get a response. They will get a response very, very quickly indeed. This is world standard stuff. It is leading edge technology, delivering information at speeds of up to 400 kilobits a second, if the customer so wishes.

The government is, furthermore, now finalising the delivery of another part of its election commitment: the arrangements to deliver on our promise to reimburse half the cost of the necessary satellite receiving equipment for the four per cent of people without landline access. So those people will have access at half the cost that they might have been looking at with the commercially prepared purchasing arrangements that will be available. I believe that people will be able to freely access these arrangements without any significant financial pain at all.

This subsidy is part of the USO arrangement. As I have indicated, four per cent of Australians have never had access to Internet. Now, all Australians have access, and high-speed access at that. I think this is a very welcome development indeed. It is the first time that a broadband product has been made available Australia-wide, and for the same price for country people as city people. It is a great example of our commitment. It is a great example of the way we work as a government. It stands in stark contrast to the sorts of commitments we hear from the other side now—after they had 13 years to deliver on a whole range of things that simply never materialised but which are now regularly promised would have somehow or other appeared in the 14th or 15th year. We saw the problem; we have addressed it. I believe that that is the approach that regional Australia wants and needs, and I think that we can be very proud of the achievement we have racked up today with the launching of this commitment.