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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2411

Mr JOHN COBB (7:28 PM) —The National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 requires the government to publish a business case for the NBN and to refer that project to the Productivity Commission to produce a cost-benefit analysis. Labor’s broadband policy is poorly thought out and hardly planned. The government spent $25 million trying to justify its position in a 546-page McKinsey and KPMG implementation study, which I think works out at $46,000 a page, without evaluating the objectives or doing an objective cost-benefit analysis. It is re-establishing a gigantic monopoly that is so anti-competitive that the proposed telecommunications legislation explicitly exempts it from the provisions of the Trade Practices Act. When you talk to the telecommunications industry around Australia, they cannot believe it is happening. They may not be saying so in public but they cannot believe that this proposal can go ahead.

Let me tell you for rural and regional Australia there is not much going for it. My electorate of Calare admittedly is smaller compared to what I have been used to. It is 30,000 square kilometres, it has eight local government areas, but in shires like Oberon there will be no funds to improve mobile coverage, which is probably inhibiting the current and future strategic growth of the shire more than anything. And while NBN may provide better speeds within the town of Oberon itself, it will not improve broadband communication in the areas within the local government area, and that is true of almost every one of the local government areas within the electorate of Calare.

Let us remember they are not even pretending this is going to help eight per cent, it is only a 92 per cent target we are talking about here. Instead of wasting money updating sitting services where competition and natural growth are working, the money should be spent in rural and regional Australia—and I do not mean $43 billion—which needs reliable access to broadband so that it can also benefit from the technology improvements. And while it is probably the only technology to which nobody has a clue as to how far it can go, it has a long way to go.

As members of this House, we have a responsibility to use taxpayers’ money in the most cost-effective way, and that brings me back to this bill. I know that Labor want to run away from this bill as fast as possible. Why? Because they have to come up with a business case. They have to look at what are the business and financial rewards for the taxpayers, for Australians in general, and that is not going to stand up well. If it was, they would not be objecting to it in the way they are.

The government claims it is because the coalition will never support this project that they are not undertaking a cost-benefit analysis. I think we all know, and I can certainly assure you the communications industry knows, the reason they do not want to do a cost-benefit analysis. It just does not or will not stack up. The bill requires the government to publish a business case for the NBN, the biggest infrastructure project in Australia’s history. The reason it is so big is that it is going to deal with every major city which is already going there as fast as it can. Why? Because private enterprise has every reason to take it there. It proposes a sensible approach that underpins good governance. I strongly support this bill, as I think any Australian who pays his tax should. If you say $43 billion quickly it might not sound like much, but to me it does no matter how fast you say it. This is a huge thing to throw taxpayers’ money into at a time when only a fool thinks we are going to end up in surplus in 2013. I think the Treasurer was even talking earlier than that the other day. We will believe that when we see it. Rural and regional Australia are not being well served here; nor are the taxpayers of Australia. I support this bill.