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Thursday, 28 October 2010
Page: 1048


Senator HUMPHRIES (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. I refer the minister to a report in the Australian newspaper on Tuesday that the ISP Exetel, despite—

Government senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Humphries, you deserve to be heard in silence. On my right I need silence.


Senator HUMPHRIES —I seem to have raised a sensitive subject. I refer the minister to the Australian newspaper on Tuesday in which it was reported that the ISP Exetel, despite offering connections to the NBN for free, has only subscribed 18 customers in the five months since commencing that offer. Given that the government cannot even give away the NBN for free, what will be the real financial impact for the Commonwealth of this white elephant?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) —I thank Senator Humphries for his lack of interest in this topic for many years, but we will be fibring-up Gungahlin for you. You should feel free to go to Gungahlin and explain to those residents that you want to stop it.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, address your comments to the chair.


Senator CONROY —I apologise, Mr President, and I accept your admonishment. Senator Humphries is trying to stop the broadband network from being built. He should go to Gungahlin and explain to all the residents of Gungahlin, who have had absolutely appalling broadband, that he wants to stop it.

On to Tasmania and the report—since we officially launched on 12 August 2010, the NBN in Tasmania has seen a steady increase in the take-up of services. Following community consultation in the first release site, there has also been a strong and positive consent rate of residents choosing to connect to the NBN. For the interest of those opposite—and you can draw your own conclusions about the comments of a particular RSP, as we call them—Telstra announced that for the first time as part of the agreement they were going to test the network of NBN. They said they were going to trial it for 100 people—


Senator Brandis —On a point of order, Mr President. The minister was asked about a number. He was asked the financial cost to the Commonwealth and he has not been directly or even indirectly relevant to that. He should be required to address the question: what is the financial cost?


The PRESIDENT —The question was broader than that. That was part of the question, you are quite correct. There is no point of order so I advise the minister that he has 38 seconds remaining to answer the question.


Senator CONROY —In Tasmania, Telstra announced that they were going to trial 100 people using the National Broadband Network. They had 700 applications; 700 people wanted to trial the National Broadband Network and they can only fit in 100. I cannot explain to you why one RSP has this many customers and another RSP has a different number of customers. You might want to have that conversation with the individual. We are offering a very significant paradigm shift. I have said this publicly before and I have also said I do not know if this model will work. (Time expired)


Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I will try again and ask a supplementary question. I refer the minister to his statement made on Insiders on Sunday:

… all of the arguments around take-up are irrelevant once we reach the agreement with Telstra.

What will be the financial impact for the Commonwealth if the government fails to reach agreement with Telstra.


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) —The government has reached an agreement with Telstra, a heads of agreement. In the process there are going to be significant savings for taxpayers and significant savings for the NBN Company from this agreement. The agreement that we have reached is worth $11 billion. It is a 100-page heads of agreement—

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! There is too much noise in the chamber.


Senator CONROY —We are in the process of finalising the agreement. This agreement is being recommended to shareholders by the board so unless they are in breach of the corporations law they are recommending the agreement to their shareholders. You might want to speculate about hypotheticals, what will or will or not happen, but we are engaged in— (Time expired)


Senator HUMPHRIES —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the minister cannot explain to the Senate the financial impact of the lower-than-expected take-up of his NBN and he cannot explain the potential failure of not reaching an agreement with Telstra, will he at least refer the so-called paradigm shifting, game-changing pricing structure of the NBN to the Productivity Commission to provide him with the answers he clearly does not have himself?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) —Your question started with a false premise and it just goes wrong from there. I was talking about paradigm-shifting for the new pricing product offered by the company you were referring to. The NBN is changing the entire structure of the market. In the new structurally separated market, which those opposite have now finally decided they support, there will be a paradigm shift. But let me be very clear about this: your premise is false. We do not have a low take-up; we are actually ahead of schedule. I listed them yesterday and I will proudly list them again for you: Willunga, 87 per cent; Armidale, 84 per cent—


Senator Brandis —How many people live in Willunga?


Senator CONROY —Well, unlike you, we actually care how many people live in Willunga and we care about giving them broadband.


Senator Brandis interjecting—


Senator CONROY —Senator Brandis, if you want to go to Willunga and tell them they cannot have it, feel free. I will come and stand next to you. You come to Willunga and tell them they cannot have it. I will stand right next to you. You can come and tell them. (Time expired)