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TELECOMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (COMPETITION AND CONSUMER SAFEGUARDS) BILL 2010
- Parl No.
- Question No.
Birmingham, Sen Simon
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- Start of Business
- TELECOMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (COMPETITION AND CONSUMER SAFEGUARDS) BILL 2010
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC INTEREST
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Abetz, Sen Eric, Evans, Sen Chris)
(Moore, Sen Claire, Evans, Sen Chris (Leader of the Government in the Senate))
(Ryan, Sen Scott, Conroy, Sen Stephen)
Kimberley Liquefied Natural Gas Precinct
(Ludlam, Sen Scott, Conroy, Sen Stephen)
(Barnett, Sen Guy, Conroy, Sen Stephen)
(Sterle, Sen Glenn, Wong, Sen Penny)
(Colbeck, Sen Richard, Carr, Sen Kim)
Australian Defence Force: Medical Officers
(Fielding, Sen Steve, Evans, Sen Chris)
(Nash, Sen Fiona, Evans, Sen Chris)
(Marshall, Sen Gavin, Carr, Sen Kim)
(Fisher, Sen Mary Jo, Conroy, Sen Stephen)
- Labor Government
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS
- FUTURE FOR TASMANIA’S FORESTS
- VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
HOME INSULATION SAFETY PROGRAM
FOIL INSULATION SAFETY PROGRAM
- HUMAN TRAFFICKING AND SLAVERY
- VOLUNTEERS AND VOLUNTEER ORGANISATIONS
- SAKINEH MOHAMMADI-ASHTIANI
- PALLIATIVE CARE
- MASSACRE IN MAGUINDANAO PROVINCE
- POST-ELECTION BRIEF FOR A RETURNED LABOR GOVERNMENT
- GLOBAL CARBON BUDGET
- FOREIGN ACQUISITIONS AMENDMENT (AGRICULTURAL LAND) BILL 2010
- PATENT AMENDMENT (HUMAN GENES AND BIOLOGICAL MATERIALS) BILL 2010
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS
- DELEGATION REPORTS
HUMAN RIGHTS (PARLIAMENTARY SCRUTINY) BILL 2010
HUMAN RIGHTS (PARLIAMENTARY SCRUTINY) (CONSEQUENTIAL PROVISIONS) BILL 2010
NATIONAL BROADCASTING LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2010
- FAMILY ASSISTANCE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CHILD CARE BUDGET MEASURES) BILL 2010
FAMILY LAW AMENDMENT (VALIDATION OF CERTAIN PARENTING ORDERS AND OTHER MEASURES) BILL 2010
HEALTH INSURANCE AMENDMENT (PATHOLOGY REQUESTS) BILL 2010
- NATIONAL MEASUREMENT AMENDMENT BILL 2010
- NATIONAL HEALTH AMENDMENT (PHARMACEUTICAL BENEFITS SCHEME) BILL 2010
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
(Johnston, Sen David, Sherry, Sen Nick)
(Johnston, Sen David, Evans, Sen Chris)
(Johnston, Sen David, Evans, Sen Chris)
(Johnston, Sen David, Evans, Sen Chris)
Tasmanian Community Forest Agreement
(Milne, Sen Christine, Ludwig, Sen Joe)
Tasmanian Forest Industry Development and Assistance Programs
(Milne, Sen Christine, Ludwig, Sen Joe)
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Senator BIRMINGHAM (11:13 AM) —I appreciate the Greens’ intent in moving these amendments to the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010, which go to the objects of the Telecommunications Act, but the coalition will not be supporting these amendments. However, we think that the tone of the objects are important for the chamber to note and reflect on, because the tone very much goes to many of the things the coalition is arguing in the overall NBN debate.
I note that Senator Ludlam wants to insert in particular an object regarding ‘the availability of accessible and affordable carriage services that enhance the welfare of Australians’. Let us be very clear about ‘accessible and affordable carriage services’. Of course, that is what the opposition has argued from day one of this debate. The object behind our policies, the government’s policies and the Greens policies—it seems it is everyone’s object—is to provide the most accessible and affordable services. We, however, put a caveat on that: it should be at the lowest cost to the Australian taxpayer; it should be at the lowest cost base to provide those accessible and affordable services.
Regrettably, the path that the government is tracking will see it spending billions of Australian taxpayer dollars in a $43 billion scheme designed to produce some great political outcome for the government through which it can claim to have solved all the woes of the world before getting to the object. Politically it is miraculous, marvellous and wonderful, Minister, because you have been able to go to elections and offer nirvana to people. That is what you are really trying to do: offer them some great utopian nirvana. Practically, however, you are offering an overbuild and an overlay of structures across the country that will involve the waste of billions of dollars, and it will be done without providing real transparency to this parliament—the type of transparency this parliament should expect to see.
I am sure the intentions of Senator Ludlum and the Greens are sincere, but if we want to have accessible and affordable services provided at the lowest cost to the Australian taxpayer, putting an object into a bill will not provide it. What will provide it is a thorough, robust cost-benefit analysis of this NBN, a thorough, robust Productivity Commission inquiry. That will deliver a decent analysis of the best way to provide accessible and affordable services at the lowest cost to the Australian taxpayer. That is what we all want. That is what we all expect to see.
Unfortunately, the government is afraid of scrutiny of its NBN proposal, the type of scrutiny that the experts, the economic modellers, at the Productivity Commission can provide. They are the people who can provide robust and transparent analysis. The government is afraid to get that done. I do not know whether it is a matter of pride for Senator Conroy and the government that they are refusing the opposition’s requests or whether it is because it has come from the opposition. The national interest, the taxpayers’ interest, the billions of dollars that are on the line and the interests of the communications sector in Australia should come before Senator Conroy’s, the Prime Minister’s or the government’s pride. If they are going to pursue decent broadband policy they should be willing to give it a decent test, put it on the line, take it to the PC and give it the type of robust analysis that is necessary.
Senator Ludlum, I welcome the intent, but you are not going to get this outcome by inserting it into the objects of the bill. You are only going to achieve this outcome by testing the government’s assumptions, policies and alternatives. And there are alternatives to ensure that we get affordable, accessible broadband services provided to all Australians at the lowest cost. They focus on the areas of market failure, ensuring that builds do not overlay areas that already have effective fast broadband services and focus on the black-spot areas, the regional areas, that need a decent standard of broadband. Instead, we have a government that wants to build the same fibre connection across the entire country, destroying billions of dollars in existing assets in the process, to create a multibillion dollar government owned monopoly which it now concedes may be a government-owned monopoly indefinitely. This is thanks to agreements it has made with the Greens. Through all of that, the government is just refusing to accept that there should be some decent analysis of its policies. It is even hiding from the Australian people the types of documents that we should expect to have available to us, including all 76 senators in this place, for a real fair dinkum debate about the merits of this legislation and the merits of the government’s NBN policies.
The government will not release to us the business plan that I know Senator Xenophon is calling for so passionately. That business plan should be released. It should be made available to all senators in this place and Xenophon is right to fight for its release. We should be able to see the assumptions that have been put into it. I have no doubt that the business plan claims the NBN will be a great success. The business plan for the government’s NBN was written by the NBN Co. The business plan will claim the NBN to be a great success. But it is important to test the assumptions and pricing models that underpin it and to see the expected take-up rates. This will ensure that we have all of that information and evidence on the table for all 76 senators to consider.
Senator Xenophon should certainly hold out for the government to release that plan. He should certainly ensure the release of the analysis of that business plan that is being undertaken by other agencies or independent bodies that the government has commissioned. Senator Wong, at least, has commissioned them; we are still not clear whether Senator Conroy had any say in commissioning the analysis of the business plan. Senator Xenophon should ensure that those analyses are also provided, along with the business plan, to inform this debate.
Right now the government is asking all 76 senators to vote in the dark. That is why the opposition called a division on the second reading motion. For us it is important that all the information is there. For us it is important that there is some robust assessment of whether this is the right path to go down, because this is the largest investment of funds in an infrastructure project in Australia’s history—$43 billion. It is a very significant investment and it is being done without the business case being made available and without the analysis of the business case being made available. More fundamentally, it is being done without any consideration, before all of this happens, of whether this is the right model or the right approach.
I can remember when Senator Conroy came into this chamber as a newly minted minister for broadband and communications. He used to tell us that fibre to the node, providing minimum speeds of 12 megabits per second, was the answer to all our woes and was what Australia needed to secure its economic future. Do you know what? That was not 10 or 20 years ago; it was three years ago, two years ago and even about 18 months ago. We were still on a fibre-to-the-node vision then, where 12 megabits per second was acceptable. That could have been done for $4.7 billion.
Today the government are telling us that it will cost $43 billion and that we need 100 megabits per second. How did they come up with those figures? We know that they came up with those figures on the back of a napkin on a RAAF VIP plane that Senator Conroy had to board with the then Prime Minister Rudd. We have had three years to the day of this Labor government mismanaging program after program. We have seen them try to put pink batts home insulation into Australian rooftops. Where did that get us? It got us loss of life, houses burning down, an industry decimated and a situation where we now have a government spending a billion dollars on a clean-up for its own program.
We have seen this government encourage thousands of Australians to set themselves up as home sustainability assessors in the Green Loans program. What happened there? They have basically all ended up unemployed. They have ended up without work. We have seen this government encourage the building of school halls across the country, in many instances at a gross cost. Of even more concern is the fact that many schools would far rather have seen the money spent on something more functional and useful but instead, because the Labor government knows best, they had to have a school hall!
So, if you want to know why the opposition is fighting hard to ensure there is decent analysis of the government’s NBN model and why we are fighting hard to ensure that there is transparency about all of the business cases and studies into your NBN model, I can tell you that it is because we know that you cannot be trusted to deliver. We know that the government has failed time and time again with every single policy area that it has tried to implement. We know that in all of these areas they have wasted billions of dollars, they have crippled industry, they have hurt households and they have left schools in the lurch. And the opposition are not going to let the government do it with $43 billion in an industry that is critical to Australia’s future.
The telecommunications sector is critical to our future as a country, but we have to get it right. We have to get the competition in this sector right. We have to get the innovation in this sector right. By picking a winning technology the government are not encouraging innovation. The government are doing the complete opposite of encouraging innovation. Instead, the government are picking a winner. They are picking one technology. They are saying everybody needs fibre rolled to their front door and hooked up to their house, and that will be the solution to all their woes.
Indeed, in the legislation that they are asking us to consider today they are potentially blocking and stifling one of Australia’s major companies, Telstra, from investing in future wireless opportunities. That is a key part of their legislation. The option is there for the minister to block Telstra from bidding for more spectrum that will make it possible for them to pursue further investments.
So we have this government picking winners, saying that it knows best, creating a new government owned monopoly, and doing it all at the whopping great cost of $43 billion. We are going to hold them to account every step of the way on this. The challenge for the government, as this debate progresses through the committee stage, is to inject a bit of transparency—to accept the demands of Senator Xenophon and to release the business case. We have been calling for it. Senator Cormann has, of course, ensured that other areas of analysis of that business case have been exposed. He and I will move a motion in this place later today that the Greenhill report be released as soon as it is provided to the government. All of these documents should be released if you believe in transparency, and you should accept the need for robust analysis of your proposal. It is a $43 billion proposal and it should have a decent cost-benefit analysis attached to it.
Even Senator Conroy has previously talked about the importance of cost-benefit analyses. The government’s own body, Infrastructure Australia, has talked about the importance of cost-benefit analyses, yet for the biggest project ever undertaken the government will not commit to a cost-benefit analysis. That simply says to us that they have something to hide, and that is why we will push the government to the brink on this issue. We will do that because it is very important that we ensure that such large sums of money in such an important industry receive the types of protection and wise decision-making that this government is so clearly incapable of.
I turn to Senator Ludlam’s amendment. I again say that the opposition will not be supporting it, because changing the objects of this bill will not deliver the robust analysis that we think is necessary. The challenge for the Greens, the crossbenchers and, most importantly, for the government—if they believe in having accessible and affordable services and if they want those services at the lowest cost to the Australian taxpayer—is to accept our demands. Get the Productivity Commission involved. Let us have that study. It need not hold anything up. It can be done by the end of May and then we will have something decent to debate in this place.