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Thursday, 25 August 2011
Page: 5503

Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (10:25): I must say I agree with the bulk of Senator Ludlam's position here this morning, but I do not agree with him in relation to the position that the member for Wentworth, Malcolm Turnbull, is taking on the NBN. Malcolm Turnbull is there simply doing what his leader has told him to do, and that is to destroy the NBN. I find it quite interesting that the former leader of the Liberal Party, Malcolm Turnbull, who is supposed to be the great business expert and the great tech­nological expert in the coalition, has allowed himself to be bullied by one of the biggest bullies in town—that is, the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott. I think it is about time—

Senator Birmingham interjecting

Senator CAMERON: Senator Birmingham, I think your position is even worse than Malcolm Turnbull's, because it is clear what Senator Ludlam said: you profess to understand what the technology will deliver, you profess to be a modern, forward-thinking Liberal—I think that is an oxymoron, by the way; I do not think there is such a thing—and you profess to understand these issues, yet you are part of the team—

Senator Birmingham interjecting

Senator CAMERON: Now, you do not have to get too snaky about it, Senator Birmingham. You are part of the team that has set out to try and destroy what is one of the best, most innovative and most econom­ically responsible projects ever undertaken in this country.

Senator Birmingham: Don't make me laugh too hard!

Senator CAMERON: It is not hard to make you laugh, Senator Birmingham, but you should be laughing at yourself. Your lack of commitment to the future of this country is clearly on display. Here we have another member of the team just walking in, Senator Macdonald. We will hear all the arguments, all the ranting and raving, from Senator Macdonald, but he has obviously not spoken to Ms Gambaro, who wants the NBN in Queensland. He has actually said in some of the Senate hearings that he has had complaints from some of the regional sectors in Queensland that they are not going to have the NBN.

The NBN is something that the coalition could never have delivered, could never have thought of. Why? Because they are a policy-free zone. All they are are wreckers. All they are about is negativity. All they are about is a mad scramble for government. They just cannot get over the fact that the Australian public would not put them in, that they were not trusted enough to get a majority, at the last election. So they will do anything, they will say anything, they will prostitute the few values that they have to push forward and try and destroy the NBN.

And what are we doing? We as a govern­ment are setting about delivering significant improvements in broadband service, with a quality service to all Australians, something that the coalition did not have the capacity to do in 11½ years. I was not here at the time and I am not sure how many failed broad­band policies you had. I think it was something like 20 at the last count. And what did you do? You allowed Sol Trujillo and his team to stand over you. It showed how weak you were as a government when these imported chief executives came here and stood all over you, demanding that you lay off Telstra and allow them to do whatever they liked. And what did you lot do? You capitulated to Telstra. You did not have the intestinal fortitude to deal with them. You could not deal with them. They stood over the top of you. It is a bit like what is happen­ing to Senator Abetz at the moment, where he is being stood over in the Liberal Party by other Liberals who do not agree with him. There is no leadership from the Liberal Party in their internal politics and no leadership in their national politics. Steve Ciobo is stand­ing over the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate. It is a disgrace.

But what we are trying to achieve is a significant broadband service and an addressing of the lack of high-speed broad­band in Australia, particularly outside the metropolitan area. We hear so much rhetoric from the National Party about the bush, but they have delivered nothing to the bush over the years. The federal government has done more for regional development in our time in government than the coalition could ever have contemplated and did not do over 11½ years. And we are doing lots more. There was absolutely no capacity to deliver to the bush, and it has been left to a Labor govern­ment to deliver broadband into the bush.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator CAMERON: Senator Macdonald laughs. The only thing I have in common with Senator Macdonald, I have to say, is this morning's tie for the Cancer Council. That is about it.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator CAMERON: Senator Macdonald, you raise your heritage. I am not sure there are too many highly conservative Macdonalds in Scotland. If you were trying to be a politician in Scotland, my friend, you would never be a politician, because in Scotland we know what the conservatives do. If you say to people in Scotland—I am not sure you have ever been there—'I am a conservative politician,' they would look at you aghast. You are an absolute disgrace to the Macdonalds. The Macdonalds in Scot­land actually stand up for working class people. They stand up for people's rights—not like you standing up for big business. You are a disgrace to the Macdonalds. Don't you lecture me about heritage.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator CAMERON: I am not going to enter into a debate with Senator Macdonald on Scottish heritage, which he would know very little of. My position is quite clear: if you want to do something decent for this country, you deliver the NBN.

What did Tony Abbott say? He said that he wanted to destroy the NBN and that Malcolm Turnbull would be in there to do it. That is what we are seeing here. We are seeing the negativity of the coalition. They have no policies, no ideas and no capacity to ever deliver a decent idea other than nega­tivity in this chamber. I certainly will not be lectured by Senator Macdonald, who came into the chamber the other night and waxed lyrical about Alan Jones and his 8,000 demonstrators out in front of Parliament House. I think I have seen somewhere between 800 and 2,000. The best you got was 2,000. I reckon it was about 800. I do not go down to listen to Alan Jones, the other arch-bully, out there trying to bully journalists: 'You do what I tell you or you shut up.'

Alan Jones is not an example of the common decency of Australians. Alan Jones, the leader of the wreckers out there, calls himself a 'broadcaster', whatever that is, so that he can mislead people. There is no need to deal with the truth. Just say what you like. Just tell lies. Tell the public misinformation. That is the type of leadership that is out there, and Senator Macdonald came in here all excited. He had got his youth back! He was a little puppy dog. The tail was wagging. Out there were 8,000 people bringing the government down. It was a pathetic per­formance. But, for somebody who operates the way Senator Macdonald operates, that is nothing unusual.

First of all, what we need to learn from this is that Senator Macdonald cannot count. He is a bit like a mini version of the whole Liberal Party. They cannot count. They cannot get their books right. There was $10 billion at the last election. They could not get their budget right. Now they have $70 billion that they have to find, and part of that will be at the expense of projects that actually help this nation—projects like the NBN, projects that will deliver benefits right across the country. People need to understand that you have people like Senator Macdonald, who cannot count. You have a Leader of the Opposition like Tony Abbott, who in his first decision on economics put Senator Joyce in as the finance spokesperson and then had to sack him a few weeks later because not only was he incomprehensible, not only could he not develop policy, he was bringing any remnants of the so-called Liberal economic prowess down. I do not believe in the Liberal economic prowess anyway. I have said in this place many times that Peter Costello was the most overrated Treasurer this country has ever had. He was overrated and he under­delivered, and he had absolutely no backbone. He could not stand up to John Howard. Even when John Howard was tottering on the brink of getting out of parliament, Costello could not bring himself to actually stand up for his own position. What did Peter Costello leave us? He left us with one of the lowest productivity figures in the OECD. He left us with no research and development of any capacity. He did not have the guts to deliver on climate change. He was just pathetic and overrated.

I have to tell you that the opposition have lost the plot completely. I believe they were economically incompetent when they were in power; it was simply about money rolling in and money rolling back out. There was absolutely no planning for the future, just economic incompetence. Senator Macdonald said that I am killing him because he is laughing so much. Well, he can laugh on, because that is the absolute truth of the matter. It was an incompetent government for 11½ years which had no idea and could not deliver on the NBN. The only argument they could put up to try to improve productivity in this country was Work Choices. Senator Macdonald supported Work Choices, and Senator Birmingham—the brave, new, future look of the coalition—supported Work Choices. People need to understand that Senator Birmingham voted consistently for Work Choices.

Senator Birmingham interjecting

Senator CAMERON: That was your argument outside the parliament. Your argument was that you would go for it.

Senator Birmingham interjecting

Senator CAMERON: You would do anything. You support Work Choices now, don't you? We hear all the arguments from you about the need for labour flexibility, and what does that mean? Rip away workers' penalty rates and take away their annual leave loading. We know what it is all about. Give them no rights. Sack them whenever the boss wants to sack them. This is what the coalition is about. No wonder the coalition were described as mean, tricky and nasty by their own people.

What we want to do is get a national broadband network up. Why do we want to do it? We want to do it because people like the Group of Eight—that is, the coalition of leading Australian universities—said this:

High-speed broadband network provides the capacity for distant doctors or patients—or midwives for that matter—to have real-time interactions with specialist colleagues in an urban setting if they need it …

…   …   …

Broadband connectivity allows clinicians, wherever they are, to engage in things like grand rounds—when patients of interest are discussed in teaching hospitals, people who are not physically in that building can connect in real time and participate in the questions and answers.

…   …   …   

… it can take years to get thousands of people in a normal randomised controlled trial. We can do online automated randomised controlled trials with people in their houses in a few months.

This is the Group of Eight. This is the coalition of Australian universities who say, 'Here are the possibilities of the NBN.'

I will just mention a couple of other groups. The Coalition of Small Business Organisations of Australia are the people that the coalition say they stand up for. They say, 'We stand up for small business.' So when they are trying to destroy the NBN let me just remind you of what the Coalition of Small Business said to the Senate inquiry:

There are 2.4 million small businesses … They are diverse, but I think I can say with confidence that the greater bulk of them want … access to affordable and high-speed broadband … for competitive reasons as much as anything.

The other group of people who are really fascinating are women on farms, and COSBOA had this to say:

I have seen a few of them use the internet quite well to sell products … and I know one young man is manufacturing and selling golf clubs online and doing quite a good job of it.

Then we go to education, and the Association of Catholic School Principals of New South Wales said this:

E-learning is truly already a reality in our schools. We have moved from paper to e-books to personalised learning and now to e-publishing in a relatively short time. Scalability is necessary to allow us to continue to grow, as I said, and to provide 21st century skills—

I will be interested to hear Senator Macdonald's arguments on scalability; he probably does not know what it is. It goes on:

Our school cannot meet the needs of the 21st century learner with 20th century infrastructure. Hence, the broadband is so important to us. Students are, as we know, the very greatest asset we have. The children of Australia, we believe, deserve an education that enables them to be global citizens of the 21st century. The 21st century classroom is currently grinding to a 20th century halt without fast reliable access to the internet. We dream of the possibilities for our children and believe that national broadband really does have the potential to make some of these dreams a reality for students.

This is the Association of Catholic School Principals of New South Wales, who were effusive in their support of the National Broadband Network. And what wouldn't they be? Because it is correct. It is about bringing new technology to how we deal with health, how we deal with education and how we deal with doing business in this country. If the coalition were half reasonable about this they would actually be saying, 'Let's get on and build this,' instead of running these arguments about cost-benefit analyses that are just so much nonsense. We had Optus appear before the inquiry I was chairing. Mr Krishnapillai, one of the key executives of Optus, said this in response to Senator Fisher:

There are probably a few things in there. The first thing is: I am personally of the view that in a decade’s time we will be looking back and wondering what all the fuss was about; because the connection of broadband to every home and every business and the capacity that it will enable—in my view—will lead to a flourishing of business opportunities and applications that we cannot forecast today. I know it is a difficult equation to add into any cost-benefit analysis.

What Optus is saying is that you cannot do cost-benefit analyses on the potential of the National Broadband Network. There is so much untapped potential there. There are so many unknowns. Senator Ludlam outlined what the OECD is saying about it and what other businesses are saying about it. It is the way of the future, and the coalition is the party of the past.