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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2426


Mr NEVILLE (8:41 PM) —I am just gobsmacked at the attitude of the government to the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010. I have a great deal of respect for the new member for Canberra, but how can she say that this is all about Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, trying to destroy the bill? Why would a study by the Productivity Commission destroy the bill, unless it is flawed?

Let’s have a quick look at the history of this bill. Before the election before last, Labor promised us a telecommunications system for the whole of this country for $4.7 billion. That was reasonable, I suppose, in the circumstances. We were offering a scheme at $2 billion. When they got into power, it suddenly became $43 billion. How can you get a cost that multiplies nine times and not be a bit suspicious about its integrity? If any reasonable person wanted to have a house built and the builder said, ‘Look, it’s going to cost you nine times that,’ they would say, ‘Jeez, I want to have a look at the figures.’ That is the first thing they would ask for.

Compare that with what we offered: first, OPEL. If OPEL had gone ahead back then, 90 per cent of Australia would now have 12 megabits of wireless coverage. It might not be the flashest, the biggest or the longest network, but how many people in Australia at that stage were getting more than three, two or one megabits, or half a megabit? The answer is 12 per cent. In the interregnum between the last election and when the government was formed, five telecommunications companies told the Independents they could do it for $3 billion—not $43 billion but $3 billion.

When you have variations of that magnitude, isn’t testing the right thing to do? Does the government want the system tested? Oh, no—it cannot be submitted to the government’s own Infrastructure Australia, which they lauded as begin the great testing model for all the big, national projects! Is there a bigger national project than this? ‘Oh, no, we can’t subject it to that.’ In the government’s bill, we find that the Public Works Committee is specifically precluded from examining it. Why would the government cut out Infrastructure Australia and their own Public Works Committee unless they had something to hide, something that was really wrong with this thing?

With what the government has offered, we will get about 93 per cent coverage. There is no mention of the other seven per cent, the people out in the bush. When will we get there? In eight years—assuming it stays on target and the costs do not blow out. Lots of people think the cost will not stop at $43 billion. Some estimate it might get to $60 billion.

What I like about the Turnbull bill is that in clause 5 of the bill you can see some of the things he wants to look at. One of the interesting things is in paragraph (b) to look at different options for broadband services at particular speeds across Australia. Would you not think that was fundamental? And then in paragraph (f) a consideration of what the likely realisable value of the NBN would be if you sell it. The test of whether $43 billion is the right figure is when someone like the Productivity Commission, expert in this field, is able to tell you whether or not you can get $43 billion or better when you want to sell it in five years time. Why would you not want to have that information? Then in paragraph (g) an examination of the design, construction and operating arrangements of the project. I remember them stringing the cables for pay TV and half Australia was up in arms about it. Now we are going to string the fibre-optic cable from telegraph pole to telegraph pole in hot weather, in cyclones, in storms—how long is that fibre-optic cable going to last? That is something else that could be examined under this Productivity Commission inquiry. The government has been caught out. This scheme that the government is putting up is a fraud. The examination bill should be considered.