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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2410

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services) (7:23 PM) —As the member for Wentworth has acknowledged, there are many ways to skin a cat—and what we are seeing in this process by the opposition is essentially an attempt, through a supposed inquiry by the Productivity Commission, to delay action. We all know the mandate the member for Wentworth was given by the Leader of the Opposition—that is, to destroy the concept of the NBN. His mission was not to promote it, to help it or to facilitate it; it was to destroy it. When we look at why this is being put forward, this supposed need for an inquiry, this grave concern for the taxpayers’ interests, we need to recognise that what is really behind this is yet another delaying mechanism. Were a Productivity Commission inquiry to occur, there is no guarantee from the member for Wentworth that its recommendations would be supported. So we really know what this is all about.

But there has been a lot confusion in the parallel debate that has been occurring in the House. There, I heard the member for Bradfield extolling Optus, his former employer. He was promoting his book, I must admit. He must feel that Lazarus Rising and Faceless Man are not much competition in the lead-up to Christmas, because he was certainly promoting his own published works in the House. His whole lament was around the question of how Optus had been mistreated, how evil Telstra was and how that had led to such a difficult telecommunications structure in this country. He was soon followed by the member for Moncrieff, who spent his contribution lamenting the way in which Telstra shareholders’ interests might be undermined. He seemed to be very concerned with Telstra and its interest. So there are quite a few pipers calling tunes on that side of the House.

What we see here is a manifest effort by the opposition to delay action on this front. They seek to delay action in the context of a situation in which this country is 17th out of 31 developed countries on broadband penetration. They seek delay in a nation where no Australian city is in the top 100 of urban concentrations for average internet connection speed. They seek to hamper change where Australia ranks only 23rd out of 50 countries on the percentage of connections of more than five megabits per second.

We have a situation where their legacy is not very impressive. The legacy of what they managed to accomplish is not something that one would go to the rooftops about. Yet they seek again, by the contrivance of a supposedly necessary inquiry, to delay very necessary, overdue action to rectify a manifest problem. It is not only the Labor Party saying this is a very urgent need. Also the United Nations has recently commented:

Broadband is the next tipping point, the next truly transformational technology. It can generate jobs, drive growth and productivity and underpin long-term economic competitiveness.

Admittedly we are the most urbanised nation on this earth, but we still have significant numbers of people whose very existence and future is around the question of distance education. We have very obvious gains to be made in regard to their situation. We have very obvious gains to be made in regard to medical accessibility, for people to be able to have swift assessments of their condition.

We have a situation where much can be accomplished in the context of failure. In Tasmania we can already see the beginnings of some success in delivery. A number of concentrated areas down there where there have been manifest problems over many years in gaining access are now having delivery of services, and the next string of Tasmanian areas is coming on-stream.

As I said earlier, we know that Access Economics can identify that Australia could save between $1.4 billion and $1.9 billion a year if 10 per cent of the work force tele-worked half the time. We know that the OECD, as well as Access Economics, sees a need for urgent action. It has commented that the effective use of high-speed broadband can provide significant improvements in productivity and efficiency across a number of sectors such as energy, heath, education and transport. It is time that the opposition got out of the way on this matter. Action is overdue. There is no need for procrastination and politically motivated delays on an important national enterprise.