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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 78


Senator CONROY (2:22 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. I refer the minister to her claim that she is delivering a ‘state-of-the-art national broadband network’ for rural and regional Australia. Hasn’t this claim been totally discredited by evidence that the minister’s second-rate service will not work properly if you live in a hilly area, it is raining, you are using the microwave, someone in your house is on the phone, you are using a baby monitor, your garage door is being opened, your neighbours are online at the same time or you are using a laptop? Don’t these most basic problems show that the minister has failed to deliver anything more than a second-rate service for much of outer metropolitan and rural and regional Australia? You should get a lesson in WiMAX.


Senator Abetz —Mr President, on a point of order: I understand that there is a standing order about tedious repetition, and this has simply been a tedious repetition of Senator Marshall’s question from yesterday.


The PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order.


Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I take a point of order too, if we are going to discuss relevance. I note that the minister has done the same dorothy dixer and read the same script three days in a row, so maybe Senator Abetz ought to take it up with her.


The PRESIDENT —Order! When you come to order, Senator, we will continue with question time.


Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —It is pretty obvious that the opposition are starting to run a bit threadbare in trying to find something wrong with a policy that delivers first-class broadband to all Australians, that ensures there is going to be universal broadband coverage regardless of where you live and that 99 per cent of the population will have speeds of 12 megabits per second—several years before the Labor Party will have the speed they are promising. For some reason, the opposition simply think they are technology experts. I have never met so many broadband prophets in my life. Rather than setting ourselves up as technological experts, what the government have done is to have a very rigorous and robust competitive grants process that has let experts make the assessments, not the government and certainly not Senator Conroy. The government lets the commercial market pick technologies because they are properly the experts. They are the ones who appropriately take commercial risk, and the two companies that are going to form the OPEL joint venture certainly have skin in the game to the tune of about $1 billion of their own capital funds.

As I have said, the government conducted a competitive assessment and an independent panel that, by expert advice from Consutel, has selected this company and this technology. It will use a mix of technologies to extend high-speed broadband to 99 per cent of premises. Alvari, for instance, a leading equipment manufacturer, recently advised that it has tested WiMAX technology in Australia of the type that will be available to OPEL, and the trials have demonstrated that this technology will provide broadband out to a distance of 20 kilometres at the speeds we have claimed. The government will ensure that Ernex, a specialist testing laboratory, will be able to fully verify OPEL’s coverage speed and service quality so that all consumers can be confident that these services are being delivered. This is in stark contrast to the fact that the ALP’s only foray into this, apart from a press release 90 days ago, with no supporting evidence, was a foray to support dial-up—


Senator Chris Evans interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Evans!


Senator COONAN —The Labor Party were so technology savvy that just a matter of a couple of years ago they were trying to urge dial-up internet on this government. Thankfully, we do not pick technologies; we let the market pick a technology. If you are actually talking about technology, hasn’t the Labor Party picked one themselves with fibre to the node? Really and truly, they do not know whether they are coming or going with this. They should just give up and give in and recognise that this is simply a superior proposal, a complete proposal for Australians regardless of where they live.


Senator CONROY —Mr President, I would hope all her colleagues notice that Senator Coonan just confirmed that Kevin Rudd was correct, despite what she read out a moment ago. I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister confirm that it is not just the bush that will experience these problems? Won’t fast-growing parts of capital cities such as Meadow Springs and Halls Head in Perth, as well as cities like Burnie and Devonport, also have to put up with a second-rate service? Is this why the minister’s second-rate plan has been described as the ‘beta video of broadband’?


Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Actually, I did note that comment, but it was made by Ericsson, and—guess what?—Ericsson supplies Telstra and advises on 3G mobile wireless solutions. So, poor old Senator Conroy, you are going to have to do a bit better than that. How about you show us your own plans? How about you tell us what prices you would suggest? And why don’t you tell us which 25 per cent of Australians are simply going to be left out under your totally uncosted, unthought-out plan?