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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2162

Ms ROWLAND (11:06 AM) —Let us be clear about one thing. This National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 is not about accountability. The opposition cannot come into this House and say they support universal broadband, that they support equality of opportunity, when all that is being done here is simply a deliberate attempt to make sure that the NBN is not delivered to people in Riverstone in my electorate, is not delivered to people who have never had any proper access to internet in their own homes. You cannot come into this place and say that you support these objectives but you do not support the NBN. Why is that? Let us look at the other countries in the world and in our region who are doing this, let us look at how ICT is transforming people’s lives and their economies. I will talk in a few minutes about examples such as Korea. This is the model, this is the 21st century solution—not some 20th century solution for a problem that has not been fixed after 18 attempts by the opposition when in government. I also point out that the member for Wentworth mentioned the OECD report. The day that I take advice from an OECD report that tells us we should increase the GST will be a long day indeed. I also note that during the commentary on this debate we have had a lot of agreement with people like Carlos Slim. We had the richest telco bloke in the world come out and tell us he could build it for a lot less. I am not about to take advice from Carlos Slim, who ran Telmex, which is the only case that went to the WTO for anticompetitive conduct. I am not about to take advice on this point from either the OECD, which advises we increase the GST, or from people who have form in delivering anticompetitive conduct.

Mr Turnbull —What about Ken Henry? Put the boot into Ken!

Ms ROWLAND —The member for Wentworth interjects. He talked about the affordability gulf. I will tell you what that affordability gulf is. For the regional members here, let us talk about your gulf. Look at the electoral divisions ranked by the proportion of households with a broadband internet connection. I know I have brought this up before, but for the benefit of the member for Cowper, he is still the 20th worst since we were last here. You talk about the affordability gulf. Why is that? It is because the regulatory system in Australia is busted, and it is not going to get better unless we develop a wholesale only, access network—surprise!—which is what the NBN will be. It will be delivering competitive retail prices on a real level playing field that has only been talked about but never done before. This is what will destroy the affordability gulf. This is what will make sure that the member for Lyne does not have the 18th worst electoral division ranking for broadband internet connection. It will make sure that the member for New England does not have the 13th worst. The member for Wentworth has number 144 out of 150. That is one thing I can definitely see—he would certainly be an expert on this because he is the sixth best. We also have the member for Bradfield, who will contribute here; he is, as I have said previously, the best of all.

We come here today talking about what belief we have. The member for Wentworth says that we all believe in the same thing. I do not think we do. I believe in something that those opposite do not. I believe in the transformational power of ICT to drive total factor productivity, to increase educational opportunities and jobs and to actually benefit the lives of individuals. That is the reality of the information age. ICT around the world is driving growth. ICT capital has seven times the impact on productivity than non-ICT capital in nations with lower levels of ICT usage and around three times more in other nations. ICT leads to jobs growth. Firms in low- and middle-income countries that use more ICT have faster sales and jobs growth as well as higher productivity growth. Most telling of all is that, of all telecommunications infrastructures, broadband has the highest impact on economic growth. Where does that leave us? Where is Australia standing today? We are in the bottom half of the OECD countries in terms of broadband take-up. We are paying more for broadband than most OECD countries. We are 35th for quality of competition in internet service provision. We have to do better.

What is the option? The option is to do nothing, according to the opposition. It is a do nothing option. We have not seen any other constructive analysis or constructive plans from the opposition about what they would do to remedy this. I will address at this point the fact that the member for Wentworth talks about the amount of investment. Let us look at the amount of investment in a few comparative telco infrastructure developments in Australia. The estimated cost to the public purse in today’s dollars of the 1870 Overland Telegraph is $0.9 billion. What does that equate to? It actually equates to $5,365 per person. In 1950, the customer access network, the CAN, was built. The estimated cost today of that is $10 billion. The estimated cost per head of population in today’s figures is $1,222. In 2010 the estimated cost to the public purse of the NBN in today’s dollars is $27 billion. That is the public contribution. With an Australian population of 22.4 million, guess what it comes out as? The estimated cost per head of population is actually the lowest—$1,204 per person. So how anyone can come in here and say that this is the biggest expenditure and yet we are not going to get a return on it, simply defies belief. What has been so disappointing in this debate is the campaign of uninformed armchair commentary that we have had about this. No answers and limited analysis. I will point out this: I went to the Liberal Party website today to see whether they had any plan, just to see whether they were going to come out with something new this week in their debate. But no, we still have the same policy—the coalition will cancel the NBN regardless of what happens in any cost-benefit analysis, regardless of what happens with any study. These people will oppose it. It simply will not happen under these people.

This is not about transparency. The opposition has no right to come in here and take the high moral ground. I think it is the ultimate insult to the Australian people, and to future Australians who are going to read these proceedings and write theses on this issue, that this debate about the most significant infrastructure project in Australia’s history has been so lacking and so fixated on 12 megabits per second. The commentary is so fixated on people being asked whether they want faster email or faster YouTube downloads. During the break there was a significant announcement on e-health about technologies and how this government is going to be utilising the NBN to drive the treatment of diseases in people’s homes. They are actually going to be able to deliver health services that simply cannot be delivered any other way. Does this appear on anyone’s radar here? No, it does not.

I also ask those opposite this: how much have they been speaking and listening to young people in their electorates? Well, during the break I did, and I will give one example. I went to St Joseph’s Primary School in Schofields during the break. I went and talked to years 5 and 6. They asked me about the NBN more than any other series of questions. They asked when they were going to get it at home, because they know that Riverstone is the site of the first rollout. They were full of questions about download speeds and how much better it is going to be when they get the NBN. I even had someone ask a question on net neutrality, which is one of the most complex regulatory issues that every regulator in the world is dealing with. I was asked about net neutrality by these young people.

Mr Fletcher interjecting—

Ms ROWLAND —Now if the member for Bradfield does not listen to young people, that is fine, but I have been listening to these people and I can go back to my electorate and look these people in the eye and say: ‘Yes, I do want to get this delivered for you. Yes, I do believe that you have a right to have the highest quality broadband services.’ I will also point out the importance of broadband for inclusion and the importance of broadband, through a ubiquitous network such as the NBN, for people with a disability. I quote Kip Meek of the Broadband Stakeholder Group in the UK—and anyone who has met Kip Meek would know of his intelligence in this area—who says that next generation broadband would improve the potential for videocommunication to compensate for reduced mobility and enhance communication for those who are deaf or hard of hearing by providing facial cues and sign language which require high definition and high frame rates. These are things which can only be delivered through a ubiquitous fibre broadband network. For those opposite who think that wireless is the solution, I say it is Physics 101 that nothing is faster than the speed of light and the only thing that is going to carry that is a fibre network. Wireless networks, by contrast, are shared resources with shared spectrum. You will never be able to deliver through wireless the benefits that you will be able to deliver through the NBN. To those who come here and say that this is about transparency and holding the government to account, I say it is not about that at all. If you support jobs, if you support productivity and if you support a 21st century solution for problems that will not go away, then you will reject this bill and let the NBN proceed.