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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2397

Mr BRUCE SCOTT (6:28 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 because it is an example of why this parliament actually exists—that is, to make sure that legislation and decisions brought forward by this or any government are properly scrutinised and are considered to be the best possible option and solution for the Australian public at the time and, of course, will continue to serve into the future. After all, this bill proposes to appropriate Australian taxpayers’ money. It is not the government’s money; taxpayers’ money would fund the National Broadband Network as proposed by the government.

The coalition, business and industry are not sure if this NBN proposal fits that description. We are not sure if this project is the best option for the Australian public or, for that matter, the Telstra shareholders, who are yet to decide whether they will support the divestment of a whole lot of their infrastructure for a figure of some $11 billion. They are not sure and we are not sure because we as a parliament have not been privy to the financial data associated with the NBN.

The NBN has not been subject to proper scrutiny. We see articles every other day in the newspaper that are critical of the process—and rightly so. It has not been subject to any cost-benefit analysis. Any government project of this magnitude—even 50 per cent of this magnitude—should be subject to a cost-benefit analysis, as it is in the case of road infrastructure. It has not even been referred to this government’s own agency Infrastructure Australia for consideration. We have to ask why. This is the largest single infrastructure investment in Australia’s history and it deserves better scrutiny. It deserves to be referred to Infrastructure Australia. It also deserves to be referred to the Productivity Commission for their analysis, as this bill suggests.

This government does not have a good track record when it comes to rolling out big spending projects. We only have to look at the roof insulation debate and the BER school halls scheme to see that. That is why we as an opposition are concerned about this $43 billion that is to be spent on a nation-building project that has not been submitted to a cost-benefit analysis. That is why this bill has been introduced by the coalition. We are requesting that the NBN Co., which is obviously responsible for the NBN project, release a highly detailed 10-year business plan. That would be a good start. We are also calling on the NBN project to be referred to the Productivity Commission for a cost-benefit analysis. That is what the Australian taxpayers deserve at the very least. It is their money. We need to have an assurance that it is being well spent and not wasted.

An important inclusion in our proposed Productivity Commission inquiry would be an analysis of the current availability of broadband across Australia and consideration of the most cost-effective and speedy options by which fast broadband services can be made available to all Australians, particularly those in rural and remote parts of Australia. This would certainly be welcomed by my constituents of Maranoa, especially those in the far west of my electorate. Many of the shire councils in far western Queensland are working hard to increase their annual tourism market numbers and they have great initiatives and ideas to encourage more domestic and international visitors to their unique outback towns. But to do this they need the necessary infrastructure. If this NBN is truly nation building then the NBN Co. should be focusing on these areas where the market fails. Yet what we have heard from this government is that they are building from the cities to the outback and, as we understand it, the outback may one day get a satellite service. If they want to undertake nation-building projects, they should go to where the market fails with taxpayers’ money and build from the outback to the coast. I can assure you that that would have the support of many of my constituents. A cost-benefit analysis from the Productivity Commission would be a sensible move by this government.

This bill is not about delaying the rollout of the NBN; it is already being rolled out in many parts of Australia. I must say that I have already had grave concerns about the process. Earlier this year in my electorate of Maranoa we had a number of landholders from Dalby contact my office to inform me that Nextgen, the company contracted to roll out the NBN optic fibre cable are trespassing across people’s private property. They are running beside a public highway and they are running alongside the railway line—another public land corridor—but, no, they have to go through private property. Why? Because it is easier and does not require the same sort of— (Time expired)