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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2414

Ms SAFFIN (7:43 PM) —When we came to government three years ago, we inherited a situation where the statistics showed that Australia had fallen behind other developed countries on broadband, and that was just not acceptable. Australia was ranked 17 out of 31 developed countries on broadband penetration. Its broadband prices were the fifth most expensive out of 30 developed countries and it ranked 50th on broadband speeds, which is pretty slow. Australia ranked equal last on deployment of optic fibre broadband and, at 2.6 megabits per second, 29th out of countries on average connection speed.

That really is an unacceptable situation. The government set out to change that so that, right across this country, Australians would have proper access to broadband or an equivalent. The NBN is the solution. It is a major infrastructure program. When I listen to members opposite talking, what astounds me is that there is no appreciation of the government’s role in the provision of public infrastructure. If we look at every piece of public infrastructure that has been provided in Australia under coalition governments, it has not been a lot. They say that this infrastructure requires a business case and so on, but if we followed the coalition’s suggestions it just would not happen. It is the role of government to provide public infrastructure. Some of those costs have to be borne; otherwise we do not progress as a nation. It just astounds me—it is another excuse for delay.

What does the NBN mean for jobs? The NBN will support 25,000 jobs every year on average over the life of the eight-year project, peaking at about 37,000 jobs. That is not insignificant; that is huge. The Australian Local Government Association estimated in its 2007-08 State of the regions report that $3.2 billion and 33,000 jobs were lost to Australian businesses in 12 months due to inadequate broadband infrastructure. The NBN will fix this. The many benefits of the high-speed broadband to be delivered by the NBN will be felt particularly in small business. In my electorate, Page, there are over 11,000 registered small businesses—and they are the ones that we know of; there are more. They are the backbone of our local economy. High-speed broadband is one of the big items that they need, from the smallest small business to larger small businesses. The NBN is critical for small business.

It is also critical for future healthcare delivery, the education of our young and education generally, and our ability to work cleaner, smarter and faster. In health, there will be remote diagnosis over high-definition videoconferencing. I have been lucky to be involved in that sort of communication—it works really well. It needs to become the norm, not seen as something that is a bit exotic. Particularly in health, it is just the way that we will communicate in real time in the future. Students living in regional areas will not have to move to the cities to get specialist education. They still may want to—that is fine—but they will be able to receive their education via access to two-way interactive, high-definition, real-time videoconferencing from where they are. In a range of other areas, people will be able to telework from home.

The coalition are seeking to further delay something they were not able to deliver. They had 12 years, but they were not able to deliver anything. There were attempts, stops and starts and failed policies, but they hardly delivered anything, particularly in regional areas. It has to be a national program to make sure that we are plugged into broadband that can access the internet at speeds that are as fast as possible. Otherwise Australia will not progress but will be held behind. This whole nonsense of the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 and a select committee is just another case of delay.