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Monday, 17 June 2013
Page: 5766


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (11:57): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, I present the committee's final report, incorporating a dissenting report, entitled Review of the rollout of the National Broadband Network (Fifth report), together with the minutes of proceedings.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr OAKESHOTT: by leave—I present the fifth report of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, entitled Review of the rollout of the National Broadband Network, covering 1 July to 31 December 2012 as well as other issues reported after this period. During its fifth review, the committee examined the ongoing National Broadband Network rollout of fibre, fixed-wireless and satellite services, performance reporting, the potential of private equity to fund the NBN, and Telstra workforce issues associated with the retraining funding deed under the Telstra agreement. The committee made five recommendations.

During this period, NBN Co. informed the oversight committee that it would revise its corporate plan targets shortly for the fibre rollout to take into account around a 12-week delay. The delay has been attributed to a slower rate of rollout progress on the ground by contractors than was originally forecast and is not expected to delay the overall time frame nor affect the total cost of the project. It is important to repeat that, despite in the short term a 12-week delay, it is not expected to delay the overall time frame nor affect the total cost of the project.

In terms of the NBN rollout KPIs, the findings reported were similar to those already included in previous review report—namely, that information provided in the shareholder ministers' report is again presented in a way which does not enable comparison with corporate plan targets without checking against those targets separately. This is proving frustrating for proper oversight and scrutiny. In addition, with the changing KPI categories and the possibility of changes to corporate plan targets without notice, tracking the progress of the NBN rollout is made more complex and reliance is placed on qualitative statements made in the public domain about NBN progress rather than on published quantitative data. Again, for proper oversight and scrutiny this is proving more frustrating than is necessary.

Overall, the committee found that, given that the NBN is the largest ever infrastructure project undertaken in Australia, at this early stage of the NBN rollout it is timely that there be greater rigour placed on the public reporting of the financial and physical aspects of the NBN rollout. The NBN Co. stated that it is investing $9.8 billion to connect multidwelling units to the NBN, with the individual cost of connection having fallen to $1,100. The NBN Co. also stated that it investigated making use of the existing copper network to connect MDUs, multidwelling units, but that this approach was not taken as it presented issues in ensuring a high-speed connection and analog voice services for customers.

This report also includes commentary on costing alternative NBN models. The committee found that the NBN Co. is best placed to undertake this kind of costing within the framework of its corporate plan and has recommended accordingly. This is important in light of what is still a policy dispute in this parliament and with reports from organisations such as Cisco and Dr Pepper, the vice-president internationally, only recently commenting on issues of policy in regard to the rollout in Australia and internationally. So I would encourage government and this parliament to consider that recommendation closely.

The committee's report also looks at the NBN rollout in regional and remote Australia. A combination of the three NBN technologies, fibre, fixed wireless and satellite, is being rolled out now to regional and remote communities. Both major parties in the policy sense have committed to satellite and wireless on exactly the same terms. This is welcome. However, the committee is seeking more from NBN Co. to talk about their work in communities in regional Australia. The committee is interested in how NBN Co. is balancing construction of the network across both metropolitan and regional locations. The committee felt it would be useful to hear more about the regional aspects and made a recommendation to that effect. The committee was also interested in the rollout of the fixed wireless and satellite networks. It noted that in February 2013 NBN Co. announced plans for a new, faster speed tier for its fixed wireless and long-term satellite services for regional and remote communities. It also noted that the take-up rate for NBN Co.'s interim satellite service is challenging in regard to the long-term satellite service to be introduced in 2015 by both sides of the parliament. So the question of the interim service and the provision of its customer cap predicted to be reached in 2014 does not at the moment align with the launch of the long-term satellite service in 2015. The committee has therefore made recommendations on the best ways to deal with that timetabling and transition issue.

The report also considered two matters determined by the committee to be of significance at this stage of the NBN rollout: private equity engagement and workforce issues. The committee has investigated the points of entry for private investment in the NBN in all five of its reports to date. The discussion has been in the interests of ensuring the most efficient build of the NBN. The committee recommended that the government continue to consider investor interest in the NBN and the optimum capital structure for NBN Co. This is all about the rate of return for taxpayers. At the moment the current rate of return is over seven per cent. Other options are unknown, including policy changes that NBN Co. themselves may make at any change stage, and a focus on that rate of return on investment to the taxpayer is the guiding light that I hope with the investment of public and private dollars the NBN Co. and government can maintain a focus on.

On the matter of NBN workforce issues, the committee continues to be interested in progress under the Telstra retraining funding deed. Under this deed the government as committed to provide $100 million to Telstra to support the availability of an appropriately trained workforce for the NBN and retrain Telstra staff affected by the NBN rollout. The committee also heard that NBN Co. and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has undertaken a number of initiatives to ensure an appropriately skilled workforce to support the NBN rollout. In this important area the committee recommended that NBN Co. continue to work with contractors to ensure sufficient mobilisation of skilled labour to meet NBN rollout targets. It also recommended that NBN Co. continue to update NBN workforce modelling data to assist with planning for changing NBN training needs and workforce demands.

For all the challenges of the largest infrastructure build in our nation's history as well as the policy risks to manage at the September 2013 election, Australians can now be confident the NBN will be completed in some form. It will make a big difference in many lives; it will strengthen our economy; it will promote our cultural identity in a flattening global culture. Overall it will create opportunity and deliver equity for all Australians.

The NBN remains on track to deliver a rate of return to the taxpayer of over seven per cent per annum. The NBN in its current form assists greatly in delivering industry restructuring in telecommunications, which many have identified as a historic problem in Australia. On the politics of the moment, part of this upgrade is Telstra management and shareholders improving their pits and pipes, including removing asbestos from old infrastructure; and may they do that safely.

The NBN does deliver ubiquity. This means the wholesale platform being built does not discriminate by location. Wherever you live and in no matter what style of residence—whether farm or flat—the speed, reliability and wholesale pricing will have equivalence. The principle of consumer equity is finally alive in Australian telecommunications.

All of this is before we explore the personal and business benefits of improved speed and reliability with a technology that is open to higher and higher speeds. It is human capacity, not the technology's capacity, that holds us back on even faster transfers of data. Once it is built, the advancement of its speed will be an exciting challenge for the innovators. I make particular reference to the excellent report commissioned by Google, Culture boom: how digital media are invigorating Australia, which is publicly available online. The cultural boom happening in Australia today, contributing $26 billion per year in export value to our economy, is important and should not be dismissed as merely a platform to access episodes of the television series Game of Thrones.

It is an export market. As the report identifies, more Americans today are digesting Australian content than Australians are today with existing poor telecommunications. What an opportunity to promote Australia and expand our export economy by getting this build right. By building the NBN we can unlock this even more than the current cultural boom allows. We promote Australian culture to the world. We show respect to sectors like education as our second-biggest export market and invite it to grow. We play to our strengths by unlocking entrepreneurship in this country.

I have personally done what I can to see the NBN completed to the best standard possible. It is, in my view, real nation building. I certainly invite the 44th Parliament and its NBN oversight committee to commit to doing likewise. As this is the final report of the oversight committee, I thank all 60 committee members—there are many here at the moment—in particular, the 15 voting members. We have all got to know each other better through some difficult but important policy discussions.

Finally I thank the secretariat. I have often watched them and wondered what they are really thinking when committee members, including me, drift off track, ask a silly question or demonstrate forgetfulness. The secretariat has been a group of quality professionals and the engine room of true oversight. On behalf of all committee members I sincerely thank them. I commend the report to the House and I move:

That the House take note of the report.

The SPEAKER: In accordance with standing order 39, the debate is adjourned. The resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour.