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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2418

Dr JENSEN (7:59 PM) —The NBN is the single largest infrastructure investment in our nation’s history, yet this government refuses to do a cost-benefit analysis and will not publish any business case. No Australian government has ever been allowed to invest so much money with so little scrutiny or accountability. Given Julia Gillard’s record of rolling out government programs, she should not be allowed to do so now. Senator Conroy claims that the ACCC has carried out an analysis of the NBN and that is enough to argue the government’s case. But this was not a cost-benefit analysis and it has not considered alternative solutions.

Coalition colleagues and government and crossbench members must support Mr Turnbull’s private member’s bill to hold to account Australia’s biggest ever infrastructure project. The shadow minister for communications and broadband has introduced his National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 to ensure the NBN faces rigorous scrutiny. This bill includes a requirement for the production and publication of a detailed 10-year business plan, including key financial and operational indicators. This will force—

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 8.01 pm to 8.13 pm

Dr JENSEN —Is the NBN the most cost-effective way of providing all Australians with fast broadband? Assessment by the Productivity Commission will provide a wide-ranging, independent inquiry of all the claims and counterclaims and will force balanced submissions from all parties. The commission will also be able to explore positive externalities such as productivity gains from faster broadband and negative externalities such as economic losses and vastly diminished competition in the telecommunications sector.

Without any taxpayer funding, the greenfield fibre operators of Australia have already connected over 300,000 homes and businesses with advanced telephony, broadband and other services. The greenfield fibre operators have invited NBN Co. to discuss how it intends to operate as a fibre-to-the-premises, open-access network provider whilst complying with laws protecting fair competition in the market.

The federal government has given their answer loud and clear, with telecommunications legislation reintroduced into parliament which exempts NBN Co. from the provisions of the Trade Practices Act. As well, Telstra will be contractually obligated not to compete with NBN Co. This includes not providing telephone or broadband services across its HFC pay television cables, an existing network that passes almost 30 per cent of the nation’s households and is capable of delivering 100 megabits.

NBN Co. has been nothing but incompetent in its design and deployment. Over-engineering is costing the taxpayer billions. Despite statements to the contrary, there are three fibres to every home. The cost to physically install, terminate and manage this fibre is hugely expensive, as NBN Co. is laying four individual 100 millimetre conduits from the exchange to the fibre distribution housing. This is hundreds of kilometres of excess fibre installed for possible use down the track and four times the amount of conduit required. The optical network terminal will be located inside each premises. At a recent luncheon it was realised that, for NBN Co. to achieve smart grid applications, this terminal must be outside the premises to get connection. Installation of the NBN will not be free to the home, either. It is estimated conservatively that it will cost between $2,000 and $3,000 for contractors to install conduit and fibre to the home, and this cost will fall to the consumer. This will require using approved contractors.

The coalition understands in an information age access to enhanced broadband services is vital to improve the provision of health, education, social inclusion and economic developments around Australia. The coalition is all for advanced technology and new technology, but the casemix must be part fibre, part wireless, part whatever new technologies emerge. We are proponents of a fiscal network that can be adapted and upgraded as technologies improve. Using fibre as a solution for all Australian households, inner city, regional and rural, does not provide the most economic and efficient solution to the problem. Funding a project without a business plan and cost analysis is poor business practice and an irresponsible allocation of taxpayer funds. (Time expired)