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Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Page: 5877


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) (13:41): I have always admired your capacity to find the most tenuous link possible, but I will concede you have found a tenuous link for your questions, so I am happy to respond because there is just a glimmer that this is all relevant to the bill. Unfortunately, some of your base assumptions are wrong and you are not comparing apples with apples; that is probably the short answer. Firstly, prices are forecast to fall under the NBN business plan. That is the first thing, so the question about recovering through increased prices over time is wrong. As for the words 'over time', 'over time' was referring to the length of years to generate the return. The seven per cent return is over time. So your concern that it meant that NBN was putting up prices was unfounded. I will be kind and say it was unfounded.

Senator Ian Macdonald: What? The five per cent is over—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Boyce ): Senator Macdonald, could you let the minister finish, please.

Senator CONROY: No, that is not a business plan. I talked about the business plan.

Senator Ian Macdonald: So the business plan is different from reality?

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Macdonald!

Senator CONROY: No, the business plan is about the stated intentions of NBN Co. and they have forecast that all their prices go down in either nominal terms or real terms over time.

Senator Ian Macdonald: So who is asking for CPI plus five per cent then?

Senator CONROY: You are referring to a draft submission for public comment, which the ACCC will consider. I think on the weekend Mr Sims was asked if he considered this to be an ambit claim, to which he politely declined passing comment as it was only a draft and had not actually been submitted by NBN Co.

Senator Ian Macdonald: But who is asking for it then?

Senator CONROY: Senator Macdonald, I have answered your question about prices. Now, as to your deliberate attempt to mislead the Australian public about the prices of NBN Co. and speeds—and I do say deliberate—if you chose to do more research rather than simply parroting what you read in the Australian you would find—

Senator Ian Macdonald: This was in a Senate committee report.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN: Senator Macdonald, would you please let the minister finish.

Senator CONROY: Not a remotely researched attempt by the opposition members! Exetel have already announced publicly—it is on their website if you bother to click on it—that their entry-level prices are about $35 for 12-meg speeds down. That is very, very competitive and in terms of the speeds received it is better than most Australians get today. For $37 or $38, they are offering 25 megabits down and, I think, five up. That is better than any existing copper speed, unless you live in the house next door to the exchange. And it is better than that because those ADSL connections even next door cannot do that sort of uplink speed.

Senator Ian Macdonald: This is Exetel.

Senator CONROY: Exetel—you can look them up. They are not fans of mine. They are not fans of yours, apparently. Mr Fletcher decided to attack them because they dared to put out a price that did not agree with your claims about increased prices. In that other place, Mr Fletcher actually attacked them because they dared to offer a very cheap price. You come into this chamber and attack Internode and quote their prices as being too expensive. So, on the one hand, one company is attacked for offering prices that are too cheap—an NBN price—and, on the other hand, you come into this chamber and attack a company known as a premium provider, an excellent provider, Internode, and attack them for being too expensive. You cannot have it both ways—but actually you can. You can get one of you to talk out of one side of your mouth and attack a company. And then there is Dodo, whose chief executive has indicated that they will be offering prices below $40. What happened? Mr Fletcher attacked Dodo. Two companies have proved what a deliberately deceitful campaign is being run by those opposite.

Senator Ian Macdonald: Tell me about Dodo. Tell me about them.

Senator CONROY: Yes, Dodo. It is a deliberately deceitful campaign. But what did those opposite do? They went into the chamber and, under parliamentary privilege, attacked two companies—

Senator Kroger interjecting

Senator CONROY: Yes, I know, shocking, Senator Kroger. It is almost as shocking as that football result was for you on the weekend. Shocking! They attacked two Australian companies for daring to disprove the deliberately misleading campaign. But then you come in here and cry crocodile tears and criticise it for being too pricy. Let me be clear: Exetel—in the marketplace today and available on NBN fibre today—$35 for 12 down and one up and $37 for 25 down and five up. That is better than anybody can get on a piece of copper in this country today. It is better than anything. So you are not comparing apples with apples when you talk about copper ADSL doing 24 down, if you are lucky, and you live in the house next to the exchange. Never bother to discuss what you can get up. Your claims about pricing are completely unfounded and should be viewed as deliberately misleading. But let the message be very clear: any company that dares to disprove Mr Turnbull or Senator Macdonald's claims that people cannot afford the National Broadband Network will be attacked under parliamentary privilege. They will be attacked and criticised because they have dared to prove that Mr Turnbull's claims—those opposite's claims—are completely, deliberately misleading.