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Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Page: 10153


Mr CONROY (Shortland) (17:22): Since I was elected to parliament four years ago, there has rarely been a week in my electorate office when we haven't received complaints about inadequate television reception. I have been actively campaigning for improved communication services in the Lake Macquarie and Central Coast regions, and I have continuously called upon the Minister for Communications and the government to help me in resolving the issue. However, the people of Shortland have been continually ignored by this government. These residents have a right to expect decent television, as television provides us access to news and a connection to our community with locally produced content from regional broadcasters. It is particularly important for people who are elderly and isolated, as free-to-air television remains the most accessible form of telecommunications.

Inaction by the government prompted me to launch a digital television survey to gain further feedback on the state of television services in Shortland. I received 227 responses, which provided a small snapshot of the area and problems we are experiencing. However, hearing these stories has been overwhelming. So many people have told me they are frustrated and angry, and many have exhausted all their options. I found from the survey that the transition to digital has seen a large decline in satisfaction with television reception. The proportion of respondents who were satisfied with their television service dropped from 83 per cent with analog to 54 per cent with digital since the transition. That's a drop of 30 percentage points. Of the respondents who have had a technician out to improve their service, more than half saw little or no improvement. Let me repeat that: more than half the people who have taken action to get a technician out still can't improve their service.

One example is Mrs Flanagan from Belmont, who has had several technicians out to try and improve her reception since the switch to digital, but nothing has helped. She looks after her grandchildren and is unable to access ABC KIDS for them because of the poor reception. Mrs Flanagan applied to the Australian government to receive access to VAST, viewer access satellite television, to resolve the issue but was rejected because of the new transmission tower in Belmont North. However, multiple technicians have explained to her the new tower offers her no improvement. Another example is Mr Hedley from Caves Beach, who has digital reception so bad that he's had to pay for VAST equipment to be installed. The ability to watch television came at a considerable expense to him. I do not believe it is reasonable or fair that these residents are forced to invest in a satellite service simply to replace what has been delivered for nearly half a century for free. Due to the nature of satellite television, Mr Hedley is now excluded from access to local news content from the NBN channel.

The government has been aware of the issues for years, as this matter was first raised by me in 2014. In the years since, the government's response to my attempts to resolve the issues have been appalling. I have asked both the former and the current Minister for Communications to refer the digital television issues to the Australian Communications and Media Authority for field testing and for the government and regional broadcasters to start working together to find a solution to these problems. This has not been done. In an act of political hypocrisy, half a million dollars of federal funding was allocated to upgrading the television transmitter in the nearby Paterson electorate in 2015 in a vain attempt to keep the former member for Paterson in that seat. That failed miserably and the seat was won by Labor in the 2016 election. I had hoped that the then communications minister, the now Prime Minister, would do the same for the people of Shortland, but instead they were ignored. He literally drove through my electorate—which is facing similar or worse television reception problems as those the electorate of Paterson is facing—to make this announcement, which showed outrageous pork-barrelling of a coalition seat. The people I represent deserve better than that.

Access to basic services like free-to-air television reception in towns less than an hour and a half from Sydney is a basic right of a developed nation. It is a right that should not be politicised. It is a right that is actually fundamental to democracy. This isn't just about watching entertainment. So many constituents in my area get their news from television. That is the way they form conclusions about the political process and it helps them make decisions about who to vote for in elections. They have a right to get free-to-air television. Let me repeat: we are an hour and a half from the largest city in Australia. The fact that so many of my constituents cannot get adequate television reception is a disgrace. And the regional broadcasters must share some responsibility. Media reform legislation that is going through this parliament right now will increase the profitability of those broadcasters. They should invest in television reception for their customers. It is a basic right. To my constituents I say that I will continue to campaign for greater telecommunication services and I will not rest until we get the services we deserve from this unsympathetic and incompetent government.

I will turn to another communications issue, and that is the appalling rollout of the National Broadband Network in my electorate. The most up-to-date figures from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman show that the postcode with the second highest level of complaints is that of Belmont in my electorate, which also happens to be where my electorate office is located. There are three postcodes on the Central Coast in the top 10 regarding complaints—another of the areas I represent. Let me repeat that: the second highest number of complaints comes from a suburb in my electorate, and three suburbs on the Central Coast, an area I represent, are in the top 10.

The New South Wales Business Chamber has released disturbing figures about the impact of the botched rollout on small business. The chamber recently conducted a survey and found that 43 per cent of businesses reported they were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the NBN. Thirty-nine of those surveyed reported having to wait more than four weeks for their NBN connection to come online. My electorate office is constantly being contacted by constituents complaining about the rollout of the NBN. Indeed, just last week I was advised that, in a suburb where there had been a full rollout, there is one street which won't have access until 2020. The current Prime Minister—and who knows how long he will last for—is responsible for this mess. He was the shadow minister for communications and then the Minister for Communications and the Arts and he came up with this ridiculous fibre-to-the-node concept—a ridiculous concept that he promised would be rolled out in half the time of fibre-to-the-premises and would deliver comparable speeds. Nothing could be further from the truth. The cost of the rollout has doubled, the speeds are appalling, the service is appalling and my constituents, like constituents around the country, are up in arms. I say this to members opposite: if they claim to represent their electorates they will be voicing the same concerns. Their government is responsible for a botched NBN rollout—a rollout that is putting businesses at risk.

Let me give you another example. A constituent of mine who sells boats had to sleep in his boat dealership for a month because the NBN cut off his alarm system. He was so concerned about the security of his stock, which was worth millions of dollars and was quite portable, by definition, that he had to sleep in his office for a month. Those opposite show contempt for constituents by defending this botched NBN rollout. It will be a national shame and will be the subject of a National Audit Office report in no time—a report that I'm sure will find an incredible waste of money, overpromising of speeds and services and an underwhelming delivery of those services. Communications remains an incredibly important part of my electorate.

Government members interjecting

Mr CONROY: I hear all the yapping over there from the member for Maranoa, who's been here five minutes and can't keep his mouth shut.

Government members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Maranoa!

Mr CONROY: He's a cheap shots merchant and a man without any credibility. I'll return to the point. Communications are incredibly important to my electorate, like every other electorate in this country, and this government has botched it up. There's no greater symbol of the fizzer we have as Prime Minister than the communications errors he made when he was communications minister, which continue to dog him. They will hang around his neck like a millstone, because that's what they are. They symbolise an incompetent government—a government unable to deliver—and a government that is not delivering the services one would expect in a developed Western nation. I'm very proud that my party took to the last election very strong communications policies that would have fixed a lot of these problems, and I'm confident that we will take policies to the next election that will do the same thing. I continue to fight for my constituents' communications access: access to free-to-air television—which is a right in a developed Western nation—and access to high-speed broadband, which is not just important from an entertainment point of view but also for doing business, for e-commerce, for education and for e-health. These are things that are incredibly important in an advanced economy, which this government is botching and will continue to botch until we chuck them out.