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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2421

Mr HUNT (8:21 PM) —I am delighted to address the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010. Let me start by making it clear that this is not about one vision versus nothing; it is about a choice between two different visions facing Australia. The first is the monopolisation and return to a state owned enterprise using the same structure that was the old Telecom Australia. It is extraordinary that in the 21st century we are having put before Australia—as the OECD pointed out only in the last 24 hours—the return to a grand telecommunications state-owned monopoly.

The alternative view is about technology which moves with time. It is about making sure that we are not adopting a single frozen, static form of technology. We know that we have seen an erosion in fixed-line services throughout Australia in the last 18 months, in the last 36 months, in the last five years, and that the pace of that change is gathering exponentially—and what does this mean? It means that the technology of the future is wireless and our vision is, amongst other things, of the world’s best wireless network.

So we have two visions in play here: firstly, the return to a state owned monopoly, which is an extraordinary thing in a Western democracy in the 21st century; and, secondly, a competitive regime such as has been taken on board in Malaysia, for example. We aim to provide incentives to ensure that we have the world’s best wireless technology, which fits with the very fact that every day the proportion of fixed lines in Australian homes and Australian businesses is beginning to collapse. History is already beginning to bypass that which is being proposed by the government at this moment. So that is the set of visions.

This bill in particular is about truth and transparency, and there are two fundamental elements to it. Firstly, there is the notion that we must have a genuine business case. I know about the work of McKinsey. I am from McKinsey, and their work is good work but the constraints they were given in the scoping study were: how would you make something like this work? They were not asked to determine what would be the best model. They were not even asked to determine whether this model could work; they were only given the constraints: what assumptions would you have to make in order for the NBN to function? The assumptions they made were heroic in relation to, firstly, the take-up rate; secondly, the charge-out rate; thirdly, the ongoing costs; and, fourthly, the costs in relation to capital structure. So it is absolutely clear that in terms of truthfulness we must know the genuine business case and be able to compare it with an alternative use of the same amount of capital.

We must also be in a position to put this before the Productivity Commission in order to do just as the government has done today—that is, to ensure that we look at the most efficient way to deliver abatement of greenhouse gases within Australia. That is the principal of ensuring there is truthfulness. And we know, having met just this day with the CEO of the National Electrical and Communications Association, that the likely cost to homeowners will be anywhere between $2,000 and $3,000, or even up to $4,000, for wiring because when the box stops at the door that is not it; the home still has to be wired. In order to maintain parity of speed, it will cost between $2,000 and $3,000, and even $4,000, per home.

This brings me to the last issue. I have lived through the Home Insulation Program and the Green Loans program, and now we have the unfolding cash-for-clunkers program—witness the waste of those programs on a monumental scale. What we are beginning to witness here is the unfolding of a level of waste which will have an additional zero on the level of cost. This will freeze Australia’s telecommunications in a static format at a time when the world is moving to wireless. It is a structure that is frozen. It is a structure that has not been adopted in any other equivalent way. I know that in the United States they are moving increasingly to a wireless and satellite based network. That is the way of the future. There is no competition here in the technology or the provider. This bill is a start down the path to both those.