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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2413


Mr HAWKE (7:38 PM) —I want to thank the member for Braddon for raising the trifecta of reasons as to why we ought to have a cost-benefit analysis of the National Broadband Network. The insulation scheme is a fantastic reason why we should think, pause and carefully consider the impact of government decisions before we take them. The Building the Education Revolution scheme and the absolute rush to get projects out and handed to the New South Wales government meant that, in my electorate of Mitchell, we had two libraries built for a school of 90 pupils at the cost of $900,000. That could have been prevented by a cost-benefit analysis, by rationally examining how we were going to deliver those services.

The cost of the National Broadband Network represents the single biggest expenditure of any project in Australian history, so the member for Braddon has really raised the trifecta about why we are here today. If it were the case that, as those on the government side are consistently stating this place, the member for Wentworth’s objective was to delay or even to destroy the National Broadband Network, why would he be urging the government to do a cost-benefit analysis to consider the benefits versus the costs of implementing this program responsibly? If that were the case, the member for Wentworth would not be suggesting a deal which said, ‘Let’s pause and reflect, from a serious perspective such as that of the Productivity Commission, on how this could work, how it could be delivered and how we could best provide this broadband service to Australians.’

The experience of the member for Wentworth in business and investing leads him to understand that we need to spend taxpayers’ money wisely. We need to pause at these junctures when we have such a massive expenditure plan and say, ‘Let’s have a look at what we will get for that investment, because otherwise we will end up with a government program just like the insulation scheme or the BER where money is needlessly wasted and time and effort is spent delivering services that could have been delivered in a much better way.’ We have heard from our rural members here today that rural areas will not get the services they need even with an expenditure of $43 billion—the member for Calare is exactly right.

Why are we doing that? I come from an inner-city electorate, and there is pair gain in my electorate. I heard the member for Wakefield talking about pair gain, and of course that needs improving. Yet many inner-city areas are well serviced—there are people who do not need 100 megabits per second—while there are rural and regional areas that definitely need those services, and I endorse the remarks of those who say, ‘Why would we spend $43 billion and not service those areas of Australia where it is very difficult to provide these services in the free market?’

There is a large role for the market in the provision of broadband and telecommunications. In fact, the truth is exactly the opposite of the experience of the member for Braddon that telecommunications in this country have been progressing in a fashion that has allowed people to better afford goods and services from telecommunications companies over time. It is not the case that the market is failing so badly that we need a massive government monopoly through an injection of money of $43 billion, a sum beyond the wildest dreams of any single investor or other provider of services in this country’s history. That is not just my view; we have heard in question time about the views of the OECD, but we have not heard about the fact that the OECD has this week criticised the NBN monopoly and called for a rigorous analysis of this $43 billion. Why wouldn’t they? The sum of $43 billion is a lot of money in anybody’s language, and it is very unusual for the OECD to call for such an analysis of a domestic policy.

The Alliance for Affordable Broadband, the AAB—which represents a cross-section of the telecommunications industry and includes in its membership infrastructure based carriers, fibre, wireless and carriage service providers, all of whom have things to gain and lose through the National Broadband Network—has written an open letter today begging the government to consider the cost-benefit of the NBN. The AAB’s members say that they can provide services in a reasonable and cost-effective way to much of Australia. In addition, the Mayor of Brisbane, Campbell Newman, has proposed an innovative scheme that has been tried in other major cities around the world.

So there are plenty of options here; there are plenty of reasons to pause and consider. The member for Wentworth’s objective in suggesting we do so is not to destroy the NBN. If a cost-benefit analysis would destroy the National Broadband Network, perhaps we ought not to be proceeding with the NBN. Perhaps the government ought to pause and think about that. Doing a cost-benefit analysis is a worthy task. The Productivity Commission can do a thorough cost-benefit analysis, and taxpayers can get the peace of mind that they deserve.