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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 3341

Mr HARTSUYKER (5:37 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak again and to put on the record yet again the fact that the coalition certainly does support high-speed broadband throughout Australia.

The difference of opinion that we have in this House is how we actually deliver that outcome. On this side of the House we believe it is appropriate that government get involved in providing high-speed broadband for people in regional and rural areas, or high-speed broadband for those people in other areas where speeds and services are insufficient. That is the role of government.

But as funds and resources are not unlimited it would appear to be a waste of taxpayers’ money to provide broadband in areas where there are good services. That is the point of difference that we have. On this side of the House we believe that high-speed broadband should be provided at the taxpayers’ cost where there is market failure and where services are not up to scratch. That has been our position all along and that has been my position all along. What we believe on this side of the House is that there is no place for wasting taxpayers’ money on replacing broadband delivery methods where the speeds available are already acceptable. It would appear crazy to duplicate the service that can be delivered to 2.9 million homes in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. That would appear to be a very poor use of taxpayers’ funds.

That is reflected in the rate of return on the project, which struggles to achieve seven per cent IRR; and when you factor in the potential for competition, without discriminating against competition under the proposed business plan and legislation, that return falls to five per cent. It will be the taxpayers of regional and rural Australia who will subsidise the duplication of services that already exist in the cities. That is a big point of difference between us.

We are very focused on the need for high-quality services. We certainly agree with you on the point that high-quality services right across the country are vitally important. The bridge over the digital divide is vitally important; we agree with you on that. The thing we do not agree with is wasting taxpayers’ money, the ability of this government to deliver a project of this magnitude and the way in which this project lacks scrutiny.

We know that the government will not submit this project to a cost-benefit analysis, because it knows that it will not pass muster. We know that this project is being propped up, firstly through taxpayers’ funds and secondly through the restrictions on competition. The member for New England did talk about independents in his electorate, and I do want to quote Richard Torbay, who was quoted in the press as saying:

The destruction of the independent brand rests with the perceived conduct of the federal independents.

Mr Draper said that Mr Oakeshott’s 17-minute speech last year and about his deal with Labor had done irreparable damage to the cause of the Independents. Those are not my words—

Mr Albanese —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance: I know it is hard for the member for the member for Cowper to defend his position, but he needs to do that.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The point of order is relevance. I understand that the member for Cowper is responding to the remarks from the member for New England, but I would ask him to come to the point quickly.

Mr HARTSUYKER —I will conclude by reiterating the fact that on both sides of the House we see the need for high-quality broadband. The difference between us is the way you deliver those speeds and the way in which you distribute taxpayers’ funds, because it is the people of regional Australia who will provide in no small part taxpayers’ dollars to fund the NBN. I see no reason for regional and rural Australians to have their taxpayers’ money squandered in replacing services in the cities that are already of a reasonable standard and that already deliver good connectivity to people in metropolitan areas, such as the HFC network that can already deliver 100 megabits a second.

Why would we waste regional and rural Australian taxpayers’ money by ripping up backyards in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane when those services can already be delivered at an appropriate speed? That is a very appropriate point of view; it makes sense and I am sorry that the member for New England cannot see that—but I am certainly happy to keep repeating the message until he does.