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Wednesday, 9 February 2011
Page: 263

Ms HALL (6:32 PM) —I rise to oppose the amendments and support theNational Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010. I do understand that the member for Ryan was not a member of the parliament when the Howard government was in power, but I would like to remind her that the proposal that was put out by the then Howard government would have totally and absolutely disadvantaged the people of my electorate of Shortland and condemned them to second-class broadband internet access. The member for Ryan has put forward quite a misleading contribution in this debate and does not tell the full story. This is very much in line with a lot of the propaganda that has been put out by the coalition on this legislation. I think it is really important to state that the NBN, high-speed broadband, is absolutely about the future. The countries and communities that have it will be the countries and communities that have the opportunities of the future. It is the same as electricity was when it was first introduced. It is groundbreaking technology and something that each and every community should be fighting very hard to have access to.

The legislation before us today limits the focus of NBN Co. to wholesale-only telecommunications activity, consistent with its mandate, sets out the Commonwealth ownership arrangements and provides for the eventual sale of the Commonwealth stake in the NBN. The bill delivers on the government’s commitment to regulate the NBN so that it operates according to the principles that the government has set for it. It will be wholesale only, offering access on open and equivalent terms, and be subject to transparency requirements and ACCC oversight—something that the previous member did not share with the parliament. As a wholesale-only operator, it will not be conflicted by selling downstream retail services in competition with its customers, as has been the case with Telstra. As such, it will provide a fair and stable platform for retail competition. The eventual sale of NBN Co. will be subject to processes that will give the Productivity Commission and the parliament an ability to look into the impact of the sale and the appropriate regulatory framework needed for it to proceed. There will be scope for the parliament to disallow the sale of the company.

I have been associated with a joint Hunter-Central Coast RDA NBN priority rollout project. This joint project has been working with the business communities of the Hunter and the Central Coast and 13 local government areas—two on the Central Coast and 11 in the Hunter—to develop a cooperative approach to NBN Co. and its rollout contractors. The two Central Coast councils have all passed resolutions in their council chambers supporting the proposal, and it is my understanding that Lake Macquarie Council, which is the other council that falls within the Shortland electorate, will be passing a motion next Monday evening putting its support behind the project. This is about local councils working together cooperatively to identify appropriate corridors for cable rollout; to identify new developments for inclusion in the NBN infrastructure; to assist contractors to minimise and manage the disruption to local communities; and to develop the capacity of the regions to provide the skilled labour required to carry out the rollout functions.

There have been meetings of all Hunter and Central Coast members. In addition, there have been meetings that I have been involved in with Central Coast members and some of my Hunter colleagues. This is about a cooperative approach, which I think in itself is unique. It is about the two regions of the Hunter and the Central Coast working together to see that our regions benefit from the NBN rollout. It is all about being prepared for that. It is about having the capacity and it is about cooperation. It is very important.

I will lay on the table the importance of the NBN to the Shortland electorate. The Shortland electorate takes in part of the Central Coast and part of Lake Macquarie. They are areas where most people have to travel to work. It is an area of some size and the NBN will be such an advantage to the people of the area. People will be able to work from home. It will make that distance factor negligible. It will help with education. Another important factor is that the people of the Shortland electorate have the skills and the expertise to embrace the NBN rollout. As part of the joint Hunter-Central Coast NBN priority rollout, the people of the Shortland electorate are ready to go and are asking that their proposal be viewed sympathetically.

Another aspect that makes it a very important region to be looked at favourably for the NBN rollout is the Smart Grid, Smart City project based in Newcastle. There has been an investment of $100 million by the government in that trial project. One important aspect of that project is to have fast-speed broadband. When it is developed to its fullest and is available to communities throughout Australia—and I know there is a trial project in Newington in Sydney—people on the other side of the world will be able to operate their appliances and will be able to turn their security lights on and off. It is giving people access to utilities that they have not had in the past. This is energy efficient and cost saving and is something that should be embraced not only in the Hunter, Central Coast and Sydney areas but throughout Australia. All Australians should have access to this facility and fast-speed broadband will deliver it to Australians.

With the Hunter-Central Coast project, the RDA is focused on providing data that will be relevant to the NBN. It will play a vital role in ensuring that the region’s approach is consistent. I think that is really important when we are looking at the NBN rollout. It is also important to note the expertise in both areas. What I feel is very special about this joint RDA Central Coast-Newcastle project is the way businesses on the Central Coast have hopped on board and made such an enormous commitment to it. They have a coordinating broadband group, which includes members from Gosford, Wyong, the Hunter and the Central Coast, and there is business and community representation. Businesses on the Central Coast have joined together and have been extremely supportive of the proposal. Businesses on the Central Coast have given me the strong message that they are ready—they are NBN-ready—and they are very keen to see the NBN rolled out through the Central Coast and through the Hunter. They are committed to the joint approach. On the other hand, the Central Coast is putting together and making sure that business and the Central Coast community are on board, and I have been overwhelmed by the way the community there has come together to support the project.

Similarly, the Lake Macquarie Council, as with the Wyong Council, has offered to open up its infrastructure plans and to work constructively with NBN Co. to ensure that rollout in that area proceeds smoothly and that there are absolutely no hiccups along the way. It is a highly skilled council which has excellent knowledge in the area of data transfer. The council is committed to working as part of this joint RBA rollout to ensure that the area and the people of Lake Macquarie can benefit from this joint project.

The project across the Hunter and the Central Coast has now been going for over 12 months. As I said earlier, it is about cooperation, capability and ensuring that the ministers and NBN Co. are aware of just how ready our areas on the Central Coast and in the Hunter are for the rollout to take place. On the Central Coast, David Abrahams led the push from the business community. He worked with councils across the Central Coast, meeting regularly to discuss how our area could benefit from and be ready for the next round of the broadband rollout. Being NBN-ready is really important, and the Hunter and the Central Coast are.

Another proposal that the Hunter and the Central Coast link into is the National Broadband Network, spanning Australia’s eastern regional corridor. I would encourage people to have a look at the proposal the Southern Cross University put together. I congratulate the member for Page, who was involved in that as well. It talks about the benefit of creating a spine along the eastern coast of Australia and about the reasons that area should be a priority. Once again, it talks about the Hunter and the Central Coast joint proposal.

This is good legislation. This is legislation about the future; not legislation about the past. This is legislation that will deliver not to a few Australians but to all Australians, and it is legislation that should be supported by all members of the House.