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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2172

Mrs PRENTICE (11:47 AM) —I speak in support of the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010. It is about time the facts and fiction of broadband and NBN Co. were set out for the Australian people because the NBN Co. proposal is a charade borne out of politics and spin, borne out of a populist government determined to promise whatever it takes to hold on to power—a grand promise produced to generate votes, regardless of the real cost to the Australian people.

Fact: Australia will benefit from the provision of high-speed broadband across the nation. Nobody disputes this. We support it on our side of the House. That is the policy objective. Fiction: high-speed broadband can only be produced by an outdated monopoly telco model such as NBN Co.

Fact: high-speed broadband can be introduced to Australia’s major cities by private enterprise at little or no cost to the taxpayers of Australia. Just look at the current i3 project in Brisbane, with high-speed broadband up and down and, importantly, open access. And the Brisbane City Council rollout is at no cost to the ratepayers, but still what was Minister Conroy’s first comment? He wanted ‘to see a cost-benefit analysis’. Fiction: high-speed broadband can only be delivered to rural Australia as part of this national monopoly NBN Co.

Fact: the NBN Co. model will involve an increased charge on all city users to fund less profitable centres—cross subsidisation. Fact: responsible government should be prepared to subsidise the delivery of high-speed broadband to rural and regional Australia. We have no fear of supporting those great Australians in rural and regional Australia. They deserve it. It is simply a matter of being honest with Australians, not hiding this subsidy in the spin of promoting NBN Co. Fiction: only by exempting NBN Co. from the competition requirements of the Trade Practices Act can it succeed.

Fact: successive governments—Liberal and Labor—have acknowledged and supported the importance of encouraging competition. This is plain common sense and almost universally accepted, yet this government wants to take Australia back to the dead hand of government monopoly. It is the Gillard government who are the real Luddites in this debate—building an enormously expensive, outdated telco monopoly model that will lack the flexibility and management capacity to adapt to changing times and changing technologies. They do not care. Their eyes are wilfully closed to sensible market driven alternatives. Why? Because their politics get in the way.

This government is in crisis mode. As their promises are broken one by one, sheer obstinate pride prevents them from acknowledging that there are genuine alternatives that will work better and reduce the cost to Australia. This government says to the people of Australia, ‘Trust us,’ but their track record of financial disasters, from insulation to the BER, tells the Australian people that there are very good reasons to be very worried—not just alert but alarmed. When this government says ‘Trust us’ and there is taxpayers’ money involved, the Australian people know that there is something very wrong. The Australian people trusted the Labor government and they have been not just let down but betrayed in every instance—betrayed with waste on a gargantuan scale. And now the Australian people simply ask for, and deserve, some financial transparency. How better to do this than through the Labor government being required to publish a business case for the NBN, to refer the NBN to the Productivity Commission to produce a cost-benefit analysis and to see the establishment of a joint select committee to ensure there is at least some parliamentary scrutiny. Given the Gillard government’s track record, this is not unreasonable. But this arrogant, dangerously spendthrift, government say no! They have grand plans, with other people’s money. That sums up this Labor government.

So the coalition brings forward this simple bill. It does so to answer the very real concerns in the Australian community. It does so to address the very real concerns of the ICT community. It seeks sensible assessment of an extraordinary expenditure of $43 billion. If the Gillard Labor government are afraid of this proposal put forward by the member for Wentworth one can only wonder how bad the project must be. This bill provides for an independent review of one of the largest expenditures in our history against a background of real questions about the wisdom of this expenditure. What could be wrong with that?