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Wednesday, 21 October 2015
Page: 12030


Mr FLETCHER (BradfieldMinister for Territories, Local Government and Major Projects) (15:25): The relevant movie, I would suggest, is not Back to the Future but Groundhog Day, because we seem to consistently have the shadow minister having the chutzpah to stand up here on this issue despite being from the party which produced a car crash when it came to the NBN. He is like the man at the car crash who is berating the emergency services when they turn up to fix his car for not fixing it quickly enough. Let's be clear: the reason that the NBN presented a policy challenge to an incoming Abbott and now Turnbull government is that we inherited one of the most disastrous pieces of public policy execution in the history of the Commonwealth.

Let's just remind ourselves of a few key facts that demonstrate the first proposition I want to articulate this afternoon, which is that Labor's NBN under the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government was hopelessly mismanaged and poorly planned. We had a sweeping but ill-conceived promise from Messrs Rudd, Conroy, Tanner and Swan in April 2009 that it was going to be a 100-megabit-per-second network and it was going to cost $43 billion. According to the then Prime Minister, it was going to be such a great investment that they were going to fund it through Aussie infrastructure bonds and he urged mums and dads to go out and invest in these bonds, one of the most woefully inappropriate, negligent pieces of financial advice that has ever been given.

We were told at the time that there was still going to be substantial private sector investment. We then had the implementation study commissioned from McKinsey and KPMG. It came back nearly a year later. The report was released the Sunday before the budget in an attempt to disguise it from public scrutiny. That report said, 'There is no prospect of the private sector touching this with a barge pole,' and it suddenly turned out that the Commonwealth was going to have to pay for the whole thing.

What did those opposite achieve by the time they left government in September 2013? They achieved a woeful performance. After 4½ years, how many Australians were in a position to connect to the NBN if they chose to do so? Barely over 300,000 premises were in that position after 4½ years. Labor flailed around in the most incompetent and disorganised fashion when it came to the NBN. There was virtually nobody on the board who had any experience in the telecommunications industry and private sector. Do not even ask the question of whether there was anybody in the Labor Party who had any experience in the private sector and the telecommunications industry. That would be a futile question.

What we have had from Labor is incompetent execution. The challenge for the incoming Minister for Communications, who is now the Prime Minister, was to turn that around and to turn it into a credible, deliverable, executable and achievable plan. It was to deliver on the rollout and start to get Australians connected to the NBN. The then Minister for Communications, the current Prime Minister, did a magnificent job in dealing with that challenge.

I mentioned before that barely over 300,000 premises could be connected after 4½ years. By the way, those opposite managed to spend over $6 billion in public money during that period. There is nobody who can better the Labor Party when it comes to vaporising public money at a very rapid speed. What have we done in two years? The number of premises that can now connect is 1.32 million. That is nearly four times as many in two years after Labor got to the, frankly, pathetic number of just over 300,000 in 4½ years. It is a mystery why they even thought it was a good idea to bring up this issue in an MPI debate today.

We are not stopping at 1.2 million, because there is an ambitious target to connect 12 million premises. We are quite frank and open with the Australian people about the scale of the challenge. On the opposite side of the chamber they seem to think it is somehow curious that we should be honest and open with the Australian people about how this is an extremely challenging infrastructure project. But it is, and we are seeking to be very open and transparent about that. Every week the rollout numbers are published on the company's website, something that we never saw from the previous government. Their principal interest in the NBN was in securing photo opportunities—and they certainly generated a lot of those—but substantial, tangible and measurable performance demonstrated by what was published on the company's website was nowhere to be seen.

By contrast, last Friday we announced a credible three-year rollout plan under which, by mid-2018, some 7.5 million premises around Australia will either be able to connect or will be in an area where construction has commenced. That is a plan which has been developed by an experienced board and experienced management. Of course, we very largely changed both board and management to make sure we had capable, competent, experienced people—something, bizarrely, Labor never thought to do when they were in government—and we are getting on with the job of delivering the national broadband network.

Let me make a critical point as I come to the third theme I want to mention this afternoon, which is the increasingly hysterical claims we are now getting from the shadow minister. For example, we have this hysterical claim that there is some kind of problem with the copper because NBN has purchased $14 million worth of copper from its supplier, Prysmian. Let me explain some basics about how a telecommunications network works. There are pillars along the streets all around suburban Australia. We are going to install what are called nodes, and they are going to be near, but not exactly next to, the pillars. Therefore, there needs to be a copper connection from the pillar to the node. That is how a fibre-to-the-node network works. That is how a fibre-to-the-node network has always worked. You need to make sure there is a copper connection between the existing pillar and the new node. When you work out the total number of the many thousands of nodes around Australia that need to be connected to the many thousands of pillars, it turns out that that is quite a bit of copper. NBN is buying that copper as part of the ordinary job of delivering this network, consistent with the plan that we have carefully developed and explained to the Australian people.

Let's turn to the even more extraordinary and frankly ludicrous claim from the shadow minister that what we need to do is return to a plan under which NBN will be fibre all the way. On 14 October he said:

… if you vote for the Labor Party at the next election you will be voting for more fibre.

What an interesting suggestion! How has that been received by industry participants? What did the chief executive of M2, one of the major telcos in Australia, have to say about that? He said:

I think any further change in deployment model would be ill-advised … I wouldn't advocate for any change.

That is what the industry said. That is not politicians. That is industry participants in the telecommunications sector. What did the Australian Financial Review have to say about this brilliant new idea from the shadow minister. The Australian Financial Review had this to say:

Labor has no credibility in this area. The NBN as conceived under Rudd Labor turned an important piece of national infrastructure, running to a sensible timetable into a Kevin Rudd vanity project, with no real idea of the costs, that ran to a political schedule. It went from $4.7 billion in 2007, to $42 billion in 2009 to cost at least $56 billion today.

A lack of considered detail bedevilled the NBN under Labor. The fact the party doesn't want to give any details about its new plan—or more accurately, a reinstatement of the old NBN—and not talk about the cost, makes this policy look like the last: an expensive joke.

So it would seem that the new idea from the shadow minister about how Labor is going to deal with the NBN has not been well received by informed stakeholders, and the reason for that is pretty obvious. It is that, while the shadow minister presumed to stand up and complain about the cost of the NBN that the coalition is now rolling out, he neglected to mention that the cause was the chaotic basis on which Labor first introduced the NBN, which we have been left to fix up. He also neglected to acknowledge the obvious point that his plan is going to cost at least $30 billion more. Your objection is the cost of the plan, yet you now stand up and say, 'We are proposing to spend at least $30 billion more.' That is clearly inconsistent. And what about the fact that his plan is going to take six to eight years more to get the NBN rolled out to Australians?

The Turnbull government is getting on with the hard work of delivering an NBN. We do not say it is easy, but we have a credible plan. What we have from the opposition is deluded fantasy.