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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 3316

Dr LEIGH (3:33 PM) —We often regard the debate over broadband as one driven by young people, excited by fresh technologies and keen to log on to YouTube and Myspace and Facebook. But the value of the National Broadband Network was most powerfully brought home to me when I was holding a mobile office at Kippax in my electorate. A woman approached me and said that she had two issues she wanted to discuss with me. The first was public transport; she felt that public transport in the electorate should be better, because she was in her 80s and was struggling to get around. She relied very heavily on the Canberra bus network, and we talked for a while about the way in which the Canberra bus network could better serve her needs. And then she said, ‘And my second issue is the National Broadband Network. I love being able to use Skype to talk with my daughters, but I just cannot get that speed that allows me to have a good conversation with my daughters in other parts of Australia’.

So the National Broadband Network is not just some fancy technology that is going to work for one particular portion of society; it is technology that is going to serve all Australians. It is technology that is going to serve young families in Gungahlin, the part of my electorate that is going to be Canberra’s test bed for the National Broadband Network. Three thousand households in Gungahlin will be the first people in the ACT to receive superfast broadband under the National Broadband Network, and those sites are already being determined. Whenever I doorknock in Gungahlin, the residents there do not tell me what members of the opposition are saying: ‘Hold back the National Broadband Network. It’s good enough already. Other technologies will do it.’ What those members of my electorate tell me is that they want superfast broadband. They want the applications—the e-health, the e-education.

In my former field of academia, superfast broadband could well transform the sort of work we do. At the moment, the Australian National University run seminar series where we fly people in from around Australia. However, with access to high-definition video conferencing, there is no reason why the ANU seminar series could not involve video links with the best academics in Beijing or Boston. That will improve the quality of the work that academics at the ANU do and, therefore, improve the research output.

The National Broadband Network is also critical to improving access to medical specialists. Many towns in Australia will never be of a size to be able to have at their fingertips all the medical specialists that the people in those towns might need. But we can get them superfast broadband. We can give them video access to e-health, which will allow them to tap into the best specialists, wherever those specialists are in the country.

So these reforms are going to be critical to driving innovation throughout our economy. They will allow small business people to link up to one another without the time and expense of getting on a plane and flying to the other side of the world.

Mr Frydenberg —You can do that now!

Dr LEIGH —Opposition members say, ‘You can do that now,’ and that is exactly what you would expect from someone who has never tried to use a video link. If you have tried, you would be aware that current technologies are not that good. The picture is, typically, jumpy. You simply do not get the real-time, high-def experience that superfast broadband will provide. It is not like having the person in your lounge room.

Mr Turnbull —Mr Deputy Speaker Scott, on a point of order: the honourable member’s passionate submissions about the virtues of broadband are all very interesting, but they are not relevant to the particular amendments that we are discussing. They are obviously buying the government time while the government continue to pressure the member for Lyne to roll over and not support the coalition’s amendment. But, really, if government members want to filibuster, they should at least be relevant.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—The member for Wentworth will resume his seat. The member for Fraser has the call.

Dr LEIGH —The benefit of the National Broadband Network is that it will drive competition in the broadband sector. Through a monopoly controlling the network, we will ensure that it is possible to have competition throughout the sector. This is the critical difference that those opposite do not seem to understand: if you privatise everything, you get less competition. The British government showed this when they privatised rail tracks as well as trains, and the same thing will hold true in this debate. (Time expired)