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Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Page: 5876

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (13:35): I will be very brief. The minister seems determined to carry on this debate. I do not know what his thinking is in trying to filibuster this bill. I can only assume that he has not done the proper deal with the Greens yet. For some reason he is trying to delay the bill. I do not want to be part of that, so I will be very brief and very specific in my question.

Minister, the questions Senator Birmingham and I have been asking all deal with the cost to consumers of the NBN. Is it correct that early NBN prices published by retail service providers indicate that, while the prices for a basic ADSL2 equivalent package are, according to my research, slightly above plans that are currently available to consumers of the internet, the RSPs have factored in significant price premiums to upgrade to faster speeds? Currently, you can get a 12-megabit package for around $50 to $60. I understand that under the NBN you are going to be able to get about the same—no great benefit—for 12 megabits per second. There is no great difference but perhaps a clearer signal. With the $55 billion price for the NBN that taxpayers are putting in, the average Australian consumer will get about the same service of 12 megabits per second from the NBN as they are currently getting through ADSL2. If you want to take advantage of what the minister tells us is the benefit of fibre to the home and upgrade to 100 megabits per second, then you will pay a premium on that of anywhere from $40 extra, making your total bill per month something like close to $100 or, depending on the provider, I have seen published prices taking it up to $150 to $200 per month.

This has always been my very great concern about this whole NBN fiasco: whilst everybody in Australia wants a faster broadband service, can the ordinary Australian afford it? I do not want to labour this point but that is bearing in mind, as I said before, that we are going to have a carbon tax shortly—in spite of the Prime Minister's promise a year ago that there would be no carbon tax, we are going to get it—and everybody acknowledges that it is going to increase the cost of living, so everybody's prices will increase. Yet when you come to look at the broadband service you need, will you not take the service that has done you well to date, ADSL2? Perhaps there will be a little bit sharper focus. Perhaps it will be a little bit clearer. But the speed will be much the same for much the same price, albeit $55 billion of taxpayers' money has been paid for no great service. If you want to increase to 100 megabits per second, then fibre to your home will be very good. But will most Australians be able to afford the extra $40, $50, $60 or $70 on top of the basic price? Will they be able to afford that, bearing in mind that the cost of living is already going to go up in the next few years because of Ms Gillard's carbon tax that she promised we would not be having?

So, with the cost of living already going up, will the average Australian, already under pressure from cost increases, be able to afford this? Minister, that is relevant to this bill because the scenarios that Senator Birmingham and I have been asking you about are really, at the bottom line, all about the cost of the NBN and adding it to it. You are saying, as I understand you, that if NBN put it in for free they are going to recover it later, which I can only assume is an increase of the price that it will charge retail service providers. That is the only assumption that I can make from your answer before. The alternative is that you will get a private contractor to do it at these greenfield sites, which is at an additional cost which will also be added onto the price of the land that you are buying and therefore onto the price of your mortgage, so it will increase your payments. Again, that will put pressure on Australians who are already struggling with cost-of-living increases and who are going to struggle even more with the carbon tax that Ms Gillard promised she would not be introducing. So it is relevant to that, minister. I see you get excited when we talk about the prices but I would be delighted to hear your response to those questions I have put to you about the price and the service that you get for that and why Australians, already under cost pressures, will be prepared to pay that additional cost to get this service that you indicate everyone is just waiting for.