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Tuesday, 19 June 2007
Page: 22

Senator LUNDY (2:00 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I refer the minister to her claim that her broadband plan will provide very fast broadband speeds of 12 megabits per second to rural and regional areas. Can the minister confirm that Optus-Elders themselves concede that their plan only delivers speeds of up to 12 megabits per second? Don’t Optus-Elders qualify their claim by acknowledging that actual speeds will vary according to distance, internet traffic, weather conditions and terrain? Why has the minister ignored the Optus-Elders qualification and misled Australians about the broadband speed that her package will deliver?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Thank you to Senator Lundy for the question. The technology that the government has adopted in its Australia Connect package and in the rollout of the new network will reach people that the Labor Party will simply forget. The rural and regional Australians who will be excluded from the Labor Party’s ‘fraudband’ will be covered by this new technology. The OPEL network will use the best mix of technologies. It will use ADSL2+ in the more densely populated urban fringes and WiMAX technology to fill black spots in the ADSL2+ coverage and in the less densely populated regional areas. I am glad that Senator Lundy brought up Optus-Elders’s claim, because I happen to have here what Mr Les Wozniczka, CEO of Futuris, which is the owners of Elders, said this morning:

The network has been designed from the ground up to meet all the needs of users in rural and regional Australia. The government funds will be deployed in a mixture of fibre. In fact, 80 per cent of the funds will be going into improving backhaul roots, where there has been major congestion, and to address some issues of monopoly pricing there. It is going into WiMAX technologies and it is going into ADSL2+. The technology will deliver a performance that will be comparable to metropolitan centres.

He continued:

It is scaleable—

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. It goes to the question of relevance. The minister has made no attempt to answer the question—in fact, in answering it she said she was glad Senator Lundy brought something up, as if the answer should not be at all related to the question. I ask you to direct her to the question, which was about a comparison between her claims and the claims of those allegedly providing the service. I ask you to ask her to answer the question.

The PRESIDENT —The minister has over two minutes left to answer the question. I believe she was relevant, because she was talking about broadband speed and that is what the question was about.

Senator COONAN —I know this is hitting a bit of a raw nerve over the other side. Mr Wozniczka, from Elders—and this was specifically raised by Senator Lundy in her primary question; I am sure I will get a penetrating supplementary—said:

This technology is scaleable. The long-term plans are to reach speeds of up to 50 to 70 megabits per second. The infrastructure that we are putting in place will allow Australia to continue to be at the leading edge of technology as new technology comes in.

I was interested to hear Mr Wozniczka comment that the opposition had not bothered to talk to Elders about this technology. Can you imagine, Mr President, that there is criticism of the technology? According to one of the companies that will be rolling it out in a joint venture, nobody has even bothered to ask them how they see this technology working.

It is also interesting that this company—the Elders and Optus joint venture, called OPEL—have actually got some skin in the game. This joint venture are putting $1 billion of their own money into this technology. Would they seriously back technology that they did not feel was capable of meeting the capabilities that they claim for it? WiMAX is a fourth generation wireless technology, and it is proven to provide high-speed broadband connections over long distances. Mr Wozniczka has confirmed the speeds that the technology is capable of. He said that it is a guaranteed speed, increasing to 12 megabits out to a radius of 20 kilometres, and that will be by 2009. (Time expired)

Senator LUNDY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Despite my colleague’s point of order I note that the minister deliberately ignored my specific question. I ask this supplementary: isn’t it the case that, if you live in a flat area and there is a cloudless sky at 2 am, wireless broadband might be able to deliver speeds of 12 megabits per second? Isn’t this exactly why the minister’s colleague Senator Joyce said today that a lot more needs to be done on this? Why should regional Australia get only a second-rate service?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —The government will deliver a service where the Labor Party will provide absolutely none. Labor has absolutely no answer for the last two per cent of the population. In fact, they have no answer after about 72 per cent of the population, but that is for another answer. The important thing to notice is that this technology will deliver what it is claimed to do and it is capable of scaling up. The critical point is that the Labor Party will simply drain the Communications Fund that this government will keep and retain for the benefit of future upgrades for rural and regional Australians so that this technology can continue to improve over the years.