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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7390


Mr HAASE (Durack) (19:32): I rise this evening to address the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2011 and subsequent amendments. The NBN and the process of providing high-tech communications to all Australians—and I underline all Australians—has been the focal point of members of this House for some time. It is quite clear to Australians today that we have a solution to providing that service. Less than $10 billion will provide a very capable and adequate service to all Australians. There is that inclusive again—all Australians.

This best estimate $50 billion service is going to provide ultrahigh speed to 93 per cent of Australians. There is no guessing as to where those other seven per cent reside. They are in my own electorate of Durack. The members for Lingiari, Grey and Maranoa also have a few. There is a large part of this continent where fibre to the premises will never be provided. It is those seven per cent that I am concerned about tonight. Presently, we have a proposition akin to taking out a high-cost bank loan to buy a Lamborghini to go into town and pick up the mail each week. It is dumb, and everyone out there who has ever had to balance a budget and provide facilities at the same time for a family knows that it is dumb. You do not go ahead and borrow inordinate volumes of currency and subsequently push up interest rates across the country to invest in something that is simply not necessary. There are other ways to do this job—ways that we have espoused on and on but all to no avail, unfortunately, with this government who seem hell-bent on constructing monuments. The monument to the Prime Minister, the school halls fiasco, is well known. I believe the NBN fiasco will be well known in the future as a monument to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. But, at the end of the day, it is the taxpayers of Australia who will be footing the bill. You cannot justify borrowing the funds that are being talked about by this government with the taxpayer footing the bill in higher interest rates into the future simply because you want to build a monument.

There are many parts of my electorate where mobile phones are not available. There is no doubt, however, that wireless communications is the preferred commun­ication method in rural and remote Australia. I hazard a guess that it is also a trend that is catching on swiftly in metropolitan Australia. More and more internet users are demanding that their facilities be mobile. People do not want to be tied to a particular point to gain internet access. Apple found that last year when they released their new product. The iPad was sought after by thousands and sell-outs were swift. By comparison, when the NBN was turned on in Armidale, the government was battling to get any real paying customers to the occasion because Australians do not want to pay through the nose for something that has been rammed down their throats, that they have been told is something they have to have and, what is more, that they will pay for whether they like it or not. They do not like it. If we spent a fraction of the difference between $10 billion and $50 billion, $1 billion is $1,000 million. We talk about billions of dollars as though they simply fall off trees. They do not. In this case they are the dollars of hardworking Australians, for which they will be responsible into the future. If we talk about providing a service to all Australians that is adequate and affordable, we talk about spending about $10 billion.

This particular bill is a very specific bill that relates, in the main, to greenfields. Generally speaking, we accept that in the case of greenfields there is a lot to be done. If we have to have the NBN solution of fibre to the premises, that facility will be provided at a much lower cost if it is mandated to be rolled out in greenfield developments. Keep in mind that the best guesstimate is that by 2020 there will be some 1.9 million premises that will be part of greenfield developments. So it is a very substantial market that we are speaking of.

With the size of that market in mind, we in the coalition believe that amendments ought to be made to this legislation so as to provide for greater efficiencies and greater cost economies in the rolling out of services. We know through past history and experience that, wherever a monopoly is involved, costs have a habit of trending upwards unnecessarily. Presently we have well in excess of 1,000 employees in the NBN and something like 600-odd genuine customers. It is not a ratio that commercial Australia would find very sustainable. If you look at that fact today on the basis of this $50 billion expenditure proposition not being costed, with no triple bottom line analysis and no real transparency in the calculation of the price and the manner in which it will be spent, it is pretty unsatisfactory.

I go back to the amendments. Because of the broad scope and the numbers involved into the future, we firmly believe that operators in these greenfield developments ought to be exempt from the cherry-picking laws. We believe in that because there is room for competition here—and compe­tition, as has been experienced in the past, will bring the costs of providing that service down. Further, we wish to have an amendment that will provide for private operators that wish to set up a network in competition to NBN to have the opportunity via this legislation to do so. Furthermore, there was a commitment that those networks be able to sell out to NBN in a negotiated settlement at some point in time in the future. We on this side of the House believe in true competition. True competition is driven by market forces. Supply and demand is the best solution to any trade relationship. In this case, where you have the opportunity for the creation of a monopoly you equally provide the opportunity for inflated prices. Australians are already suffering that in the areas of groceries, fuel and electricity, and this is not the time to add another level of inflated prices through their internet participation.

We on this side of the House are quite resolved as to what should be the outcome for this bill. If the government will reasonably accept these very rational amendments, we will be happy to see the passage of the bill. In the meantime, I reiterate that the interest of Australians is simply to have a reasonable internet service. Those Australians who have almost no access to mobile phones today and no reliable internet service would be served extremely well with a high-tech, up-to-date wireless internet service that would provide for them to access markets. As an aside, I mention that those markets have, in the main, been shut down by the decision of this government in cancelling live beef exports to Indonesia. But I digress. We need in rural and remote Australia to have access to the internet because remote marketing is an important tool today. But we do not need to go into hock to this extent to provide that service. Rural folk are a fairly sensible lot. They do not believe that you spend above your means. They do not believe that you accumulate absolutely non-serviceable debt in order to brag that you have a Rolls Royce service that you will never, ever need. Therefore, the case remains that this is too much money spent without proper cons­ideration. Unless this legislation specifically relating to greenfields is rationally amended to allow some competition to maintain reasonable costs, those hardworking Austr­alians who want to use these services will be worse off.