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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2167

Mrs GASH (11:26 AM) —Firstly, I would like to commend my colleague the member for Wentworth for his determination in bringing the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 before the House. The NBN, even from its inception, which I suspect was first scribbled on the back of a serviette as a big ticket item for Labor’s 2007 election campaign, has a paucity of detail. For three years, this government and its minister have nailed the lid shut on a project that is said will cost the Australian taxpayer in the vicinity of $43 billion and take a decade to implement. So far all we have is no more than a mud map.

This bill seeks to unlock the book on what started off as a proposition in 2007 that would only cost $4.7 billion. Is NBN destined to go down the same path as the pink batts fiasco, the gross overspending on school halls and libraries, cleverly yet misleadingly described as Building the Education Revolution or BER? Peter Reuhl, writing in the Financial Review on Remembrance Day, said this of the BER:

The BER has been one of those dogs that just won’t hunt but still needs to be fed.

Will the NBN add to the pack? The cost of the NBN is equivalent to half the debt they generated when previously in government. That is one concern. Of greater concern is allowing this government to exploit their role to create a monopoly which they will be in control of. While this government, straight-faced, rails against the oligopoly of the big four banks and the need for greater competition, they are working hard to create their very own monopoly—a monopoly that will control one of the most vital arteries in the nation’s communication network. Yet Labor, in their campaign manifesto, published in March 2007, which they took to the people, and got elected on the strength of their promises, said this—and I quote directly from the policy document:

A Rudd Labor Government will;

Partner with the private sector to deliver the national broad band network over 5 years.

Undertake a competitive assessment of proposals from the private sector to build the network

Ensure competition in the sector through an open access network that provides equivalence of access charges and scope for access seekers to differentiate their product offerings

Put in place regulatory reforms to ensure certainty for investment; and

Make public equity investment of up to $4.7 billion.

The document goes on to say:

… this commitment will be financed from existing government investment in communications, including the $2 billion Communications Fund and through the Future Fund’s 17% share in Telstra, which will earn dividends and be sold down to normal market level after November 2008.

What started off as a ‘you beaut’ idea, the best thing since sliced bread, is now being marketed as something that may turn out to be considerably less than what was first described. The first revelation that greeted us was that not everyone is going to get it. Any community with less than 1,000 is disqualified. That is a real concern to me because, when that little snippet was revealed, I found Gilmore had about 22 little towns and villages that would be left behind. The latest revelation is that rather than being free, the NBN is going to cost each household that gets it somewhere between several hundred and several thousand dollars per household.

They have also refused to refer the NBN to their own, newly created specialist infrastructure agency, Infrastructure Australia. The biggest infrastructure investment in our nation’s history is not being scrutinized by this body. Why is that? The Governor-General signed a decree that exempted the NBN from being overseen by the Public Works Committee. Why is that?

Residents, organisations and businesses alike want a fast, reliable and competitive broadband service. While I am happy for the 74 per cent of homes in Kiama Downs and Minnamurra in the electorate of Gilmore to be among the first to be signed up to the National Broadband Network, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered. As a start point, how much is it going to cost each household? By comparison, broadband upgrade in America will cost the government $7 billion. Why does our scheme have to cost so much more?

In Tasmania, where the government’s NBN scheme was trialled, there has been a low take-up rate. NBN’s response to the Tasmanian experience was that NBN advocated compulsory connection, whether the consumer wanted it or not, and forced people to pay for a product they did not want or did not need. Yesterday’s Sun Herald reported that three towns in Tasmania had a take-up rate of only 11 per cent.

Mike Quigley, CEO of NBN Co., claimed in Senate estimates that the rollout of the NBN in Tasmania was on time and on budget. Yet, when quizzed what the cost had been, Quigley would not reveal any facts. The transition of this bill will allow the whole NBN proposal to be analysed and dissected—factually, objectively, openly and honestly. Let it be said on the record that I welcome the coalition’s push to have a joint standing committee oversee the rollout of the NBN and would certainly put my hand up to be a part of it.

I remind the House again that this government does not have a good track record when it comes to developing good policy or rolling it out. The coalition will not delay the construction of the NBN but simply seeks to ensure this enormous endeavour is carried out with the rigorous analysis it deserves. I commend the bill to the House.