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Thursday, 5 June 2014
Page: 5847

Mr TURNBULL (WentworthMinister for Communications) (12:04): What I will do, to gratify the wishes of the courageous gentleman opposite, is answer all of his questions, which will mean that more time will be taken up with me on my feet and he will have less opportunity to ask questions—the usual self-defeating approach.

The answer to the question is as follows: the previous government, in entering into its arrangements with Telstra, and a similar deal with Optus, basically agreed to pay a gigantic sum—tens and tens of billions of dollars—over a long period to Telstra in return for switching off, decommissioning its copper network and its hybrid fibre coax network insofar as it was used for broadband data or voice, and similar arrangements with Optus. In entering into those arrangements, the previous government, in what can only be described as one of the most self-wounding, stupid political betrayals of the public interest, chose to take no option over the legacy infrastructure they were paying Telstra to switch over. If you were going to pay billions and billions of dollars to Telstra to switch off its copper, you would think that you would say, 'And by the way, I want to have the option to use some or all of it myself if I choose to do so.' That is what any rational businessperson would do. But they did not do that. Instead they ran this project politically; they turned fibre to the premises, which is just one access technology, into an ideological cult and they were determined to make it as hard as possible for any subsequent government to take a more rational approach.

Opposition members interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Members to my left: you have asked a question; the minister is answering it.

Mr TURNBULL: I am confident we can achieve the objectives described in the quote the honourable member for Blaxland gave, but we are in negotiations with Telstra about it. The negotiations are progressing well, but these things are only—you can only say they will be completed when they are over. That is the reality, but they are progressing well. All I can say is this: the culpable recklessness of the previous government in not taking an option over those legacy assets was extraordinary. It was a political decision, it was designed to hamper any future government in its flexibility, and it was a classic case, yet again, of politics—Labor Party politics in this case—putting the financial future of this country at risk. Yet another reckless, wasteful decision that was a completely unbusinesslike decision.

The simple truth is this: in every other jurisdiction of comparable countries, what telcos are doing, what carriers are doing, is upgrading their broadband networks—that is happening everywhere—and they are using a mix of technologies and they are using whatever is cost-effective. And new hybrid technologies are becoming more effective: vectored VDSL can now deliver 100 megs—who would have thought that five or six years ago? G.Fast is delivering a gig—who would have imagined that was possible over a hybrid network? All of these technologies are becoming available and they are all being deployed in a rational way. The crazy Labor government, which was thrown out of office last year, did its utmost to ensure that the NBN could not be completed in a rational way and we are hard at work to ensure that it is completed rationally, prudently and in the best interests both of the taxpayers and the consumers.