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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7359


Mrs PRENTICE (Ryan) (17:10): No-one disputes the benefits of a national broadband network. The coalition support high-speed broadband but what we do not support is the outdated monopoly telco model being run by the incompetence of NBN Co. The member for Robertson said that this will impact profoundly on the lives of Australians, and indeed it will because for generations we will be paying off the billions of wasted dollars spent on the NBN and the NBN Co.

For far too many years Australian consumers and businesses have suffered from over-priced telecommunications. I look back to over 30 years ago, indeed last cent­ury, when a subcommittee of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce decided they had to do something about the monopoly of Telecom Australia, as it was known then, and from that ATUG was born—the Aust­ralian Telecommunications Users Group. For many years, we saw ATUG and other industry bodies struggle to bring competition into the market, struggle to bring in some competition for products, service and pricing. Finally, just as we were achieving competition, we were handed back a last century model, a last century way of doing business—NBN Co. a monopoly. This is not the way forward and this is not the way other countries around the world are rolling out their telecommunications.

The amendment proposed by the member for Wentworth and the coalition is about greenfields sites. We already have an exam­ple in Townsville, in the seat of Herbert, where a developer is desperate to sign off on his new development but he cannot get anyone to lay the fibre in the conduits, which he has already provided. This is because NBN Co. have told him that it is not ready yet, but when it is ready it will roll over the top of what he has already done. So, once again, we have the bully-boy tactics of some of the people at NBN Co. They are threat­ening very good opportunities in greenfields sites and, furthermore, some of our redeveloped brownfields sites in Brisbane. Some years ago, the local government in South-East Queensland wrote to the federal minister seeking assistance in this area, and of course, as usual, the response was silence and it was deafening—absolutely no resp­onse let alone assistance. The local govern­ment wanted to get on with the job and do it then. But many of those areas will be left until 2020 before they can get competent communication facilities.

When we look at the greenfields sites we see the need for and the benefit from some of the smaller companies providing those facilities. We heard before about some of the innovation that could come from it. A trial was conducted in your area, Madam Deputy Speaker D'Ath, in Virginia in Brisbane. Fibre optic cable was rolled out from Virginia to Chermside at less than a third of the cost projected by NBN Co. We have seen NBN Co. sack the messenger, as in two of its officers, because they came up with a fibre rollout above their projected cost. Yet we had an example, which we offered to them to look at, of where we had done it for less than a third of their projected costs. I support the opportunity of private companies rolling out fibre. I think it will be a benefit. I think we might see some different methods of doing it.

It is very disappointing that NBN Co. have chosen to ignore some of the other models around the world, like Bournemouth, where this rollout has already occurred efficiently and effectively. There are opport­unities there. There are lessons to be learned but NBN Co. have the protection of the Gillard government and are not interested in doing anything cost effectively or efficiently because they do not have to worry about that and because they know the poor taxpayers will have their hands in their pockets to pay for the rollout cost.

There is no doubt that the rollout of NBN will be of benefit, but the problem we have is the way it is being done and the cost. I look at facilities such as a new industrial estate near the airport in Brisbane where we already have high-quality, high-standard fibre throughout the development. Yet NBN Co. have told them that they will roll over the top of it. It will not necessarily be with anything better—possibly with something inferior—but they are so determined to protect the monopoly to keep out other people that they are prepared to roll over and waste money on a product that is already in the ground and already operating.

That is the mentality we are trying to deal with in this bill. That is why the member for Wentworth has proposed some very reason­able amendments to facilitate assistance on some of these greenfield sites and new estates. They are not just in Herbert. They are in the western suburbs of Brisbane. They are areas where, if we were more relaxed about competition, we could benefit already and people could have it before the 2020 date.

The member for Wentworth mentioned South Korea, where fibre goes to the basement of the building. There are other methods as well. He mentioned copper. They have also have satellite and wireless. They do the extra mile waiting for the take-up so they can look at benefits going forward. We do not have to roll out the tens of billions of dollars solution that has been proposed.

It is a bit like giving all the roads to Ford and letting Ford control the model of the cars that go on them. That is the restriction we are putting on our consumers and on the industry. Once again we are consigning Australia back to the last century for communications, for overpricing. Once again we see that the Gillard government is all about grand plans, but always with other people's money. There is opportunity here for private enterprise to be involved but, no, we have to get the NBN Co. privatised, a monopoly that only they control. The only conclusion we can draw from the continual refusal to refer this for a cost-benefit analysis is that there is something more to hide because I cannot understand why you would not benefit from having a cost-benefit analysis, from seeing where we can save money, from seeing where we can partner with private enterprise and providing open access.

The world declared the music industry would fall over when Napster was introd­uced because there would be open access. Anyone could put up whatever they wanted. Yet we have seen it flourish and benefit from open access. I believe an open access, synchronous, ubiquitous NBN would be of benefit to all Australians. We need to work with private enterprise, not against them. We will get a better deal for taxpayers, a better deal for the users of communications and, hopefully, a better deal for Australia. I commend the amendments put forward by the coalition and I really hope for a better outcome.