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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7370


Mr CIOBO (Moncrieff) (18:02): In this debate on the Telecommunications Legisl­ation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2011, it is indeed a unique privilege for me to have the opportunity to follow the member for Fraser, for a number of reasons. One is to do with the very first example that the member for Fraser gave of why the 'superfast broadband', to use his words, that the Labor government is rolling out through NBN Co. is going to be such a revolution in this country. He said that it will enable those in remote areas to interact and have a consultation of sorts—a virtual consultation, if you will—with a specialist somewhere else, and that this is going to revolutionise the health industry. Otherwise—and he had to walk a very fine line here—that person could be left waiting for weeks to consult a specialist. I noticed he never referred to the fact that state Labor governments have presided over the at-times abysmal health system in this country, with various public hospitals having extraordinarily long waiting lists. That was conveniently left to one side.

Notwithstanding that, he made the point about this revolution that is coming as a result of superfast NBN broadband. He must not have been here in question time. Where were you, Member for Fraser, in question time? Had he been here listening he would have heard the Minister for Health and Ageing and the Prime Minister wax lyrical about the revolution in health. It was a matter of only a couple of days ago that the Prime Minister was in Darwin and the health minister was in Adelaide and they undertook a consultation between a specialist and a patient, one in Adelaide and one in Darwin. There is no NBN, but this happening now. In fact, the government was crowing about it in question time. There is no need for the expenditure of some $53 billion of taxpayers' funds to build the NBN; it is happening today. What an unfortunate choice the member for Fraser made for his very first example of how the NBN is going to change the way Australians will live.

I am also a little intrigued, following on from the member for Fraser, about the way in which the Labor Party seems to have taken to its beating bosom the notion that the NBN is going to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. We hear it from member after member as they trot out their various speaking points. They have the fever—the new religion—that the NBN is going to be the thing that changes the world. You can almost hear them all saying 'amen' in unison as the various members of the Labor Party stand up. It was fascinating to hear that it is not just fast broadband, high-speed broad­band or a somehow faster form of broadband. What we kept hearing from the member for Fraser, over and over again, were those two words that, almost for dramatic effect, he ran together: 'superfast broadband' he kept saying.

I am intrigued. There was an article only a week or so ago that spoke about the opport­unity there might be for new technologies to allow data transfer speeds of up to one terabit per second. We have the government talking about superfast broadband at 100 megabits per second. I would love to see the member for Fraser come back into the House, if we do have one-terabit data transfer rates, and talk about 'super-super fast-fast' broadband or some such thing. You can almost sense the excitement. I know I was excited listening to it, but I have to say, the Labor Party is like any good spiv with a silk tie. Unfortunately, the Labor Party is filled with salesmen. It is filled with salesmen rather than people who actually know what they are talking about.

We also heard the member for Fraser wax lyrical about saturation problems with wireless technology. A country of 22 million people potentially has saturation problems with wireless technology! I interjected, but I am not sure whether it was picked up by Hansard. I asked, 'What do they do in India and China?' The last time I checked, the populations of those countries were a little bit bigger than ours. And, the last time I checked, those countries had full access to mobile telephony and full access to data transfer. I think even Korea and Japan do, as well. So just maybe the argument that wireless technology cannot deliver these same outcomes is a little bit spurious. The reality is that, like everything from the Labor Party, it is a case of 'Sell the sizzle but not the sausage'. This party is the sausage factory extraordinaire. This Labor Party is just feeding in the rubbish and hoping that what it can sell is the sizzle. It will get up and speak in debates like this about how it is going to provide superfast broadband, about how it is going to help 80-year-old pensioners or about how it is going to be the glorious revolution of the health industry, despite the fact that their own minister and Prime Minister, at lunchtime and in question time today, highlighted that they are already doing the things that the member for Fraser was saying were only going to possible because of NBN Co. Do you know what else is possible? Not only are his examples redundant, not only will the NBN be potentially redundant—

Mr Perrett: Potentially redundant!

Mr CIOBO: That's right, potentially redundant—but in my own electorate of Moncrieff on the Gold Coast—Australia's innovation city, as we are officially titled—we have Telstra rolling out 4G wireless technology today. I hope the member for Moreton knows what 4G wireless technology is.

Mr Perrett: It's better than 3G, is it?

Mr CIOBO: I am looking to see if he actually knows what I am talking about, because he is going to speak on this. Telstra is rolling out 4G wireless technology that allows—shock, horror!—100 megabits per second. That is what it is doing now through cellular telephony—100 megabits per second under 4G technology. And do you know what, Mr Deputy Speaker: it is not costing taxpayers a cent. It is not costing taxpayers a single, solitary cent for Telstra to roll out 4G technology with 100 megabits per second.

If you listen to the Labor Party, you might think: 'Look, Steve, you're getting a bit excited for no reason. We are going to have NBN. It is going to change the future of the Gold Coast. It is going to change the future of Australia's most service industry oriented city in the country. It is going to change the future of the sixth largest city in the country.' Unfortunately, the Gold Coast is not even slated for NBN rollout for the next six years. It will be six more years before it even thinks about rolling out fibre across the Gold Coast under NBN Co. This is coming from the Labor Party, which expects the Australian public to take it seriously when it gives us this kind of piffle. That is exactly what it is: a gigantic investment in ego. It all comm­enced with Kevin Rudd, the member for Griffith, when he was the Prime Minister of the country, and it has been continued by the current Prime Minister because it needed to be a matter of policy consistency. Heaven knows the Labor Party needs some policy consistency, and the reason we are now seeing Australian taxpayers being slugged to the tune of $30 billion to $50 billion is so the Labor Party can roll out its revolutionary fibre to the premises, FTTP, NBN.

When Labor talks about a revolution, there is a revolution all right. It will be the revolution of the children of today who are going to be encumbered with debt as a consequence of this junk policy from the Australian Labor Party. That is not to say the technology is all rubbish, not for one moment. Perhaps the member for Moreton should listen, because he might be able to understand the difference—

Mr Perrett: I am about to point out a few.

Mr CIOBO: Yes—between policy and technology. The reality is that there are benefits that flow from fibre to the node and, indeed, from fibre to the premises. There are benefits that flow. The coalition's problem is not with the technology per se but with the fact that the Australian Labor Party has effectively taken all of our eggs, when it comes to the technology, and put them in one basket. It has delivered a great big monopoly to NBN Co. At a time when the rest of the world has walked away from government publicly owned monopolies, we are embra­cing it lock, stock and barrel through the Australian Labor Party. You have really got to wonder why it would do it, because in all these highly saturated areas where there is a degree of population density—so every capital city, including centres like mine in the Gold Coast and other major regional towns like Cairns and Townsville—we have the ability for there to be a commercial rollout of this technology, for private providers to be in the space and for this technology to be made available.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with respect to greenfield sites, which this bill turns to. Nowhere is there a greater example of direct, private investment in greenfield sites than there is through the fact that there is a very large percentage, often in excess of 50 per cent of greenfield sites, that historically has seen the deployment of so-called pits and other fibre technologies through the development of the greenfield site by private operators. This bill actually goes some way towards making sure that that basically does not happen. The reason is that, because of the designation of NBN Co. as a provider of last resort, because NBN Co. will pick up the cost associated with greenfield sites and because NBN Co. will often wear the cost associated with pits, we now have an incentive for developers to simply walk away from these things—although it is legislated—knowing that NBN Co. will be undertaking those activities and doing it at taxpayers' expense.

I have no doubt that NBN Co. will be extraordinarily successful, for lack of a better term, with respect to greenfield sites. This is because any developer with half a brain will know there is no point in their hiring a private operator to undertake these activities or in their undertaking these activities themselves because taxpayers will subsidise the entire deployment of fibre at their greenfield site, thanks to this bill going through the parliament tonight. That is what the Labor Party is going to deliver them. There is little wonder that I and many Australians are deeply cynical about Labor's policy with respect to NBN Co. There is little wonder that we recognise that this is an investment in ego and not an investment in good policy. Good policy would dictate that there should be a level platform that enables the private sector to compete for those markets where it is commercially feasible to do so. Good policy would dictate that where there is not a commercial case to undertake this investment, that is when the government should step in. But that is not what we have from the Labor Party—that is coalition policy, it is not Labor's policy. Labor's policy is to say, 'It doesn't matter whether it's commercial or not. Taxpayers will under­score the entire project.'

For cities like the Gold Coast, where Telstra is already in the process of rolling out wireless technology providing 100 megabits per second, with no cost to taxpayers, and where the Australian Labor Party does not even have a schedule for NBN for six years, the Australian Labor Party says, 'No, you've got it all wrong, Steve. The taxpayers have got it all wrong. The NBN is the way to go because taxpayers will pay for it. It will be in excess of six years but, hey, it will have been worth it.'

I am unashamedly opposed to the complete waste of taxpayers' money that is NBN Co. Where it is not commercial for private providers to undertake that activity, fine—the Labor Party would carry me. But the reality is that in the vast majority of instances, it is commercially feasible, it is already happening, and the highest concentration of private providers in this space—who are about to have their throats slit by the Labor Party because of the passage of this bill—is with respect to the deployment of fibre-ready technologies in greenfield sites.

Labor members opposite, who are now sentencing to an economic death a number of employees with those private providers who used to undertake these activities, should know that that has happened because of the passage of this bill. They should know that that is what they are doing. They are making sure that private providers, who have demonstrated usually at least 50 per cent of the time with greenfields sites that they can undertake the job, will now no longer be in a position where it is economic for developers to engage those private providers and instead to have NBN Co. step in. That is the consequence of Labor Party policy and it is yet another example of how Labor has its policy priorities completely screwed up.

Furthermore, when you listen to the paltry excuses put forward as to why this needs to happen, when you hear the member for Fraser—one of the golden boys of the Labor Party—giving an example, which has been used by the minister today, which has already taken place, and not something that requires NBN Co., when you see the deploy­ment of technology by 100 per cent private money through Telstra on 4G wireless technology, it is little wonder that I and so many others are so deeply cynical about this government's spendathon when it comes to the absolutely reckless manner in which they are about to expend yet another $30 billion to $50 billion of taxpayers funds building a massive new government monopoly. This is not good policy and the Australian people will certainly not be grateful for the Labor Party undertaking this activity.