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Thursday, 1 March 2012
Page: 1395

Broadband


Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:09): My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. Can the minister inform the Senate if he is aware of any plans to emulate and replicate the telecommunications sector of communist countries such as Cuba and North America—North Korea, sorry?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:09): I thank Senator Polley for her question and assure her that I am not aware of any plans around North America, but, in relation to North Korea and Cuba, the Gillard government is committed to replacing Telstra's ageing copper network with fibre for 93 per cent of homes and businesses, to help future proof our broadband infrastructure for generations to come.

In responding to this announcement, Senator Polley—you heard it absolutely right, I know you did not believe it—the opposition spokesman, Mr Turnbull, has revealed a new and bizarre twist in the coalition's broadband plan. It turns out that, rather than invest in a new network for the future, the coalition plans to take back Telstra's ageing copper network, an asset the coalition sold barely 6 years ago. They are going to buy it back. How Mr Turnbull plans to do that we do not actually know, because as always he completely refuses to give any details whatsoever. Mr Turnbull has now adopted the North Korean and Cuban telecommunications manifesto on how to operate a state owned fixed line copper network. You have actually told them to go and buy it. He did go on to ask, I have to say, how much it would cost. What did Mr Turnbull have to say? He will not detail it; in fact, he goes on to suggest that it will not cost anything. What we do know is that Telstra has in the past valued its copper network at between $20 billion and $33 billion—truly staggering. (Time expired)


Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:12): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister inform the Senate if he is aware of any research into the communication needs of regional Australia? How does the National Broadband Network compare to that research?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:12): I thank the senator for her question. I am indeed aware of some research in this area. In 2005 a report entitled Future-Proofing Telecommunications in Non-metropolitan Australia was published by an organisation called the Page Research Centre. The authors of the report made a number of interesting observations including: 'the copper network is fast becoming redundant'. That is right—redundant.

The authors of the report clearly need to speak to the opposition spokesperson. They must be shocked that he wants to buy back the copper when those in the Nationals' corner have told him it is becoming redundant. That is not all, the report goes on to say:

The government contracts a supplier to lay fibre optic cable to a majority of consumers in non-metropolitan Australia …

Clearly the authors understand that fibre is the technology for the future. (Time expired)


Senator POLLEY (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (14:13): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. In relation to the report the minister has cited, can the minister provide further information about the report?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:13): The Page Research Centre paper was authorised by its telecommunications advisory group, an action group consisting of three people who, as I just finished saying, clearly understood regional Australia's need to be future proofed. They understood what was needed. The advisory group included Mr Troy Whitford, a current director, and was chaired by none other than the National Party's then senator-elect Fiona Nash, who was no doubt ably supported by Senator Barnaby Joyce. I can only come to the conclusion that, once again, the National Party has rolled over to Mr Turnbull. Its own report, authored by two senators in this place, said fibre is what we need; copper is redundant. Yet there they are rolling over to give up and betray the very people they claim to represent and taking us back to the future and reintroducing North Korean-Cuban policies.(Time expired)