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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 3344

Mr TURNBULL (5:51 PM) —I want to take issue with the member for Lyne’s remarks about cost. He seems to think there is some inconsistency between the coalition being concerned about the cost of the NBN, and its cost-effectiveness, and at the same time seeking to ensure by means of an express provision in an act of parliament that there should be uniform national pricing across technologies so that people in the honourable member’s electorate, and other regional electorates, do not pay any more for their broadband on a megabit per second basis.

There is no inconsistency at all, because what the honourable member is doing—with respect to him—is precisely what the government has done, which is to confuse the objects of the NBN with the means. The object of the NBN, I apprehend, is to ensure that all Australians have access to high-speed broadband at an affordable price. That is the objective. There are many means, even under the NBN scheme—fibre to the home, fixed wireless, satellite—but there other technological means of delivering it. Our concern is that the mix of technologies should be such that deliver the objective of the NBN—universal fast broadband—at the lowest cost to the taxpayer; in other words, in the most cost-effective way.

One of the objectives of the NBN, if it is to deliver universal fast broadband, must be to deliver it across regional and rural Australia—and at an affordable price, which is no greater than that offered in the cities. So that is one of the objectives. Is that an expensive objective? Of course it is. But that is an objective which must be fulfilled, our support for which does not detract from our concern about the cost-effectiveness of the network overall. We recognise—and we recognised when we were in government, with the OPEL scheme that the member for Bradfield has spoken about several times today, very knowledgably—that to deliver fast broadband to the bush you would need to have a subsidy, and a substantial one. Whether that subsidy is delivered as a cash payment by government, in one form or another, or by way of cross-subsidy, we recognise there has to be some financial support. So the honourable members and the coalition are completely at one in terms of the objective of delivering fast broadband across Australia. We are completely at one, so it would seem, in terms of the need to deliver fast broadband at the same price in regional Australia as it is available in the cities.

The honourable member may well be satisfied with a community impact statement tendered by the government. And it shows a touching and endearing faith in the good word and reliability of the Leader of the House, but nonetheless—

Mr Oakeshott interjecting

Mr TURNBULL —But there is no substitute—the honourable member should know this—for express words in an act of parliament, because that act will be there long after the minister opposite has moved onto other responsibilities, and perhaps long after the member for Lyne is no longer in this House. That act has the greatest chance of providing long-term support for the objective which we apparently all share. So it is not a question here of cost-effectiveness. We recognise the objective of uniform pricing across Australia, which will benefit regional Australia. We recognise that objective, and that must be achieved at a cost. Obviously, it should be done as efficiently as possible, but we recognise there is a cost. This statutory language the member for Cowper has proposed will ensure that it is delivered; he won’t just be comfortable with the warm words from the Leader of the House.