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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2428

Mrs ANDREWS (8:51 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010. With any major project, it is important to understand the need to maintain a sound theoretical approach. Costs, benefits, safety and quality must be paramount, especially in the case of introducing a new technology. It is reasonable for Australians to expect that this occurs not only with the NBN but with all major projects. Listening to the speakers on this bill from the government side, it is not clear that the government understands what this bill is about. The government speakers have focused on the need for high-speed internet and its broad accessibility and adoption. The opposition do not disagree, but we on this side of the chamber know that a successful implementation of any major project depends on thorough analysis.

The National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 will require the publication of a 10-year business plan for the NBN and refer the NBN project to the Productivity Commission for a thorough cost-benefit analysis. This is the largest investment of taxpayers’ dollars in our history. We must ensure that taxpayers receive value for money; to simply guess that they will be receiving good value without the figures in front of us is irresponsible and a dereliction of our duty as their representatives. The largest investment that most private investors make is the family home. As individuals we would quite rightly be critical of someone making such an investment without due diligence, and we would be unsurprised and perhaps unsympathetic if things did not work out as they expected. We must hold ourselves to the same standard as individuals themselves would, or should, with their own hard earned funds. Taxpayers’ funds are not to be experimented with; expenditure on their behalf is not to be rushed.

The NBN is the single largest infrastructure investment in Australia’s history. This extraordinary outlay has been justified on the basis of its contribution to our economic future. But where is the evidence of this future economic contribution? The government has repeatedly justified the enormous cost on the basis of the project’s claimed contribution to our economic growth—and does so without real evidence, without examples and without the analysis behind them to back up its claims. The government cannot point to its own success in the small rollout in Tasmania as an example. If the Tasmanian experience is a microcosm of a nationwide rollout then it is hard to argue that further investigation is not required. This project is full of unanswered questions. It is not clear how the project will be commercially viable and the costs for the consumer are unclear.

We have seen this government’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of governance many times before. Their failed projects, which were much less extravagant than the NBN, failed partly because they were designed with haste, without due diligence and without proper consultation. The Green Loans scheme has left individual’s dreams in tatters, with their faith in this government irreparably damaged and no tangible evidence of improvement to our environment. The school halls that had to be built right now, whether the schools really wanted them or not, suffered from cost blow-out after cost blow-out. Worst of all was the roof insulation scheme, which resulted in true tragedy for several Australian families.

It seems ludicrous that the government would make the case that cost is one of the prohibitive factors in delivering a proper investigation into the NBN. We are looking at a $43 billion project here. Surely the government would acknowledge that, in a project of this size, there is the potential for costs to blow out. When a cost blow-out of as little as one per cent places a half billion dollar impost on the Australian taxpayer, there is no excuse for lack of proper planning and research. A figure of one per cent of the estimated outlay for the NBN resembles a figure not unlike that committed to the expansion of the Pacific Motorway in my electorate of McPherson, firstly by the Howard government and then matched by the then opposition.

The economic impact of these funds was quantifiable—and easily so. It meant doubling the capacity of the M1 in the south of the electorate right through to the New South Wales border. It would have meant faster and therefore less costly transport as semi-trailers entered Queensland. The impact on the lifestyle of residents may not be as easily quantifiable but it is easily identified, especially by those who sit daily in slow-moving traffic. This is but one example of the opportunity cost of the outlay on a project such as this. The government must justify the opportunity cost of the NBN—not only the already outlayed expenditure but also the possible differential from the budgeted figure. No project of this size should ever occur without oversight. We owe the Australian taxpayer the greatest care with their dollars and I urge the House to support this bill.