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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2173

Ms O’NEILL (11:52 AM) —It occurs to me that getting a bill from the member for Wentworth is something not many people would relish. I can understand why on a number of counts. Nevertheless I am glad to be able to join others today in speaking to this very craftily titled private member’s bill—the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010. That sounds like something that would be hard to argue against, doesn’t it? How could anyone disagree with financial transparency? I am afraid I do, in this case, because what the member for Wentworth is actually trying to do is to build a straw man out of the NBN. He wants to define the success of the NBN in his own terms, terms that would be quite different to those defined by people who live in regional areas like mine—the people who are the big winners under the National Broadband Network.

In his bill, the member for Wentworth says, ‘Give us a business case with a 10-year forecast and give it to us by Friday.’ Then he wants the Productivity Commission to do a cost-benefit analysis and publish it by the end of May next year. It is all deceptively simple. Actually, it is simply deceptive. This is a cynical spoiling tactic designed to delay the rollout. Before you know it, the great hope of regional Australia, the great equaliser of opportunity and access, will have gone up in smoke. And gone with it will be the hopes and dreams of hundreds of thousands of regional Australians.

James Riley, writing for the iTWire website, has belled the cat. Last month after the member for Wentworth introduced his legislation, James wrote that the member for Wentworth:

… is disingenuous—disarmingly disingenuous—when he says he won’t stand in the way of the NBN if it is given a “big tick” by the Productivity Council through a cost-benefit analysis. He will stand in the way because he knows this is a rigged game. And because he opposes the NBN roll-out at the most fundamental philosophical level.

Hard-wired into the Turnbull DNA is the rock-solid, unshakeable belief that Government has no business getting directly involved in a broadband roll-out. That the delivery of such infrastructure is best left to the market, to the private sector …

I am certain this goes to the heart of the member for Wentworth’s problem with the NBN. He is ideologically opposed to the government funding NBN Co. That is despite the abject failure of the coalition’s 18 broadband policies, policies which have seen prolonged lack of access for regional customers in seats such as mine of Robertson. Still the member for Wentworth stubbornly clings to his belief that we are better off leaving things to the big end of town. I am certainly not ready to consign Australia to the digital dark ages by abandoning our future to the market. I am not surprised to hear free market fanaticism from the member for Wentworth or from the member for Bradfield, who, I believe, was a high flyer in the telco world before coming to this place.

But frankly I expect better from those on the other side who come from regional New South Wales. It shocks me to sit here and listen to the member for Gilmore and the member for Cowper parroting their colleagues’ petty quibbles. Why do they not get it? The NBN is the great equaliser. It is the rising tide that floats all the boats, the technological advance that will break down the tyranny of distance for people living in regional Australia. The NBN will finally allow regional Australia to fulfil its promise, to provide services on par to those provided to our metropolitan areas while offering the kind of lifestyle only our regions can.

Last week I caught up with one of the NBN’s biggest supporters on the Central Coast: the chair of Central Coast Youth Connections, Dave Abrahams. Dave and the publisher of the Central Coast Business Review, Edgar Adams, who my fellow member from the Central Coast, the member for Dobell, has mentioned, are together making a comprehensive business case for the introduction of NBN to our region. I am really looking forward to their first business case event later this month. Surely and relentlessly, we are ready to push ahead.

So, what should happen with this bill? I think it is time for some plain speaking. This bill is just a tricky, self-serving bit of argument. It is put forward as a delaying tactic by an opposition that is bereft of vision and is still smarting from the NBN’s role in the formation of this Labor government. We know that the Leader of the Opposition gave the member for Wentworth the job of demolishing the NBN. This bill has nothing to do with public interest or financial transparency. It has everything to do with trying to bring down one of this country’s most significant pieces of nation-building infrastructure. This opposition has no plan and no policy other than to nitpick and find fault with Labor’s nation-building achievements. It does this without pausing for a moment to reflect on its lost decade in office, a decade in which it stunted our productivity growth through a miserly approach to infrastructure. I oppose the bill and encourage others to do the same. (Time expired)