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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6429


Mr BILLSON (12:35 PM) —Thank you, Minister, for that gripping oversight of the budget. Questions that arise are many, and I hope that he is in a position to answer a few or at least take them on notice. The most troubling question is the National Broadband Network. We have had so many false dawns on this. It was a policy that was drawn up with a crayon on the back of an envelope to start with; there was no costing, no understanding where the regulatory framework would go, no commitment to competition, no indication about pricing arrangements, no access obligations and no recognition of where the universal service obligations might sit. Other than that—other than the complete lack of information—it was indeed a cunning political plan.

For Labor, a national broadband network has always been about the sound bite and not about the sound public policy. That awareness has come crashing down on your government, Minister, as we now move on to NBN mark II, which according to reports in the Sydney Morning Herald was dreamed up during a secret meeting involving Senator Conroy, the Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, Mr Swan and Mr Tanner. I am curious to know whether this meeting did take place on 20 January—yet there was all the machinations of due process masquerading in the background. What was the detail? What was the expert input? What advice was there from the ACCC about whether this would work? What about the costing? It was reported by a reader responding to the Sydney Morning Herald that the $43 billion was simply a $5,000 multiplication over 8.6 million premises. Surely there is more sophistication to this proposal than appears to be the case. The original proposal was based, supposedly, on very rigorous costings linked to the number of pillars needed to be converted to nodes. We never saw any evidence of this.

When will the government provide any evidence, any skerrick of analytical data to support this plan, so that the telecommunications industry, and consumers generally, can work out what is going on and people can understand their current network? There are many networks out there, and the coalition has always argued a network of networks was the way forward. What are they going to do with their dangling DSLAMs, their assets that are no longer available, while the government rides over the top of the telecommunications industry saying that they know better than the entire global telecommunications industry? Where is that detail? Why won’t the government embrace the ideas for a proper analytical assessment of this proposal and a proper development of public policy? Will the government embrace Senator Minchin’s private member’s bill in the Senate that tries to put some due process around this fiction of NBN and do a proper cost-benefit analysis?

The minister, in a compelling answer yesterday regarding the O-Bahn and Northbridge project that fell out of the sky despite no attention by Infrastructure Australia, said that, as neither of these projects are funding by the Building Australia Fund, they did not need to go through IA. This National Broadband Network is supposed to be getting $2.4 billion out of the Building Australia Fund. Are we to presume that Infrastructure Australia is now supposed to have a role, or is the minister simply playing funny buggers with Infrastructure Australia? It is a flag of convenience, it is a flag that is flown when it suits them and a flag that is tucked away when it does not suit them. Is this what is going to happen with the NBN, Minister? In your state of New South Wales, the New South Wales government has already instigated changes to planning laws that will allow the aerial deployment of cables with no local government or community input. Everywhere you look, you will see cables in the sky—I can feel a song coming on.

Are you going to look after the interests of communities that want to have a say about cable deployment, that want to know that their amenities are not getting trashed for some rough-and-tumble idea about broadband? There is infrastructure available but the government is too lazy to incorporate it into a future plan for higher speed, more affordable broadband. Minister, why was there going to be a two-tier system, a two-tiered system where those in rural and regional Australia are destined to have a greater digital divide under your plan? You junked the OPEL project that provided opportunities for rural and regional communities under service to have metro-comparable broadband. Now you are not even trying to do that. You have 12 meg discounted for rural and regional while there is 100 meg in downtown Cityville. This is instituting the digital divide and making sure it is with us forever.

My final question relates to community television. Minister, when will you put some money into giving them some spectrum so that they can broadcast? It is nice that the training is there but they actually do need some spectrum to be able to broadcast. (Time expired).