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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1625

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (6:05 PM) —It is clear that there is no issue that escapes an opposition scare campaign. Even the NBN is now subject to a scare campaign. It is an interesting and different tack that we are hearing from the member for Forrest. She is actually complaining that there are risks with this that do not exist with wireless. She is also complaining that too many people are going to use the NBN—there are going to be 13 million—and therefore there will be all these additional security risks. Some of her colleagues have said that the NBN is not going to be used by many people. One thing is very consistent with those on the other side, and that is the absolute inconsistencies in the way in which they approach the NBN. But that should not be a surprise to anyone here. In their 11 years in government they were very good at coming up with plans—they came up with 19 plans in 11 years—but unfortunately they were not able to implement, roll out or start any of them.

It appears that what those opposite are trying to do in relation to the NBN is what they do with every issue—that is, just oppose. The thing that they must talk about in their party room meetings is, ‘We don’t have a position so let’s just oppose anything that the government is looking at doing.’ The NBN is a classic example of that.

I would like to talk a little bit about my electorate and why it is so essential that we have the NBN. We are a community that has identified that we really do need the NBN and fast broadband. Thirty-five per cent of the people who work in my electorate commute to Sydney every day. We have communications difficulties even in our technology parks. Businesses are looking at moving out of the metropolitan area to the beautiful Central Coast because of the cheaper land and to employ people, but the technology base is not there to enable that to happen properly. So, if you are looking at areas that are going to benefit from the NBN, it is those outer metropolitan areas in the big cities which do not have the infrastructure, that have a large commuting community who spend hours commuting that need it most. It is a round trip to Sydney for commuters in my electorate of about four hours every day, and they do that because we do not have the technology that will create the jobs on the Central Coast. So we need the NBN more than most.

It is little wonder that the NBN is universally supported on the Central Coast. There is no political divide in relation to this. Liberal Party members, businesses, community groups, welfare groups, education groups, health groups—they all say the same thing: ‘We need the NBN and we want it fast. We want it as quickly as we can get it.’ When I was talking to the minister about this, he said it was not that he was having people say, ‘Don’t bring the NBN to my area’; He has a huge queue outside his door with communities right around Australia, communities like mine on the Central Coast, knocking down the door saying, ‘We want the NBN now. We can see the benefits. We need it now.’

One of the groups on the Central Coast that has been formed to campaign around this issue is a business group led by Dave Abrahams and Edgar Adams. Edgar Adams is the editor of the Central Coast Business Review. Edgar Adams has been very direct in his criticism of those opposite in his magazine for, in his words ‘simply not understanding the difference between fibre and wireless’. He has made the point in his magazine on numerous occasions that in his view this was the single issue that cost them the election last time. I do not agree with Edgar on many things, but I do agree with him on the need to have the NBN rolled out, especially to areas like mine on the Central Coast.

This business group has identified a number of issues. They have said that the National Broadband Network will drastically boost regional productivity, that it will boost participation and new market activities, employment and innovation opportunities and that it is the only serious broadband plan that can be supported by the business community. They are unequivocal in their support for the NBN. Mr Abrahams and his group say the NBN will drastically improve productivity that has been stagnant or negative for over a decade. Current copper and wireless broadband networks cannot cope with Australia’s 34 per cent annual bandwidth growth, and these legacy networks do not provide upload speeds that can effectively increase productivity. It is in no-one’s interest to have a mum and/or dad commute for two to five hours a day to sit in an office in northern Sydney to utilise the CBD-grade broadband infrastructure required to do their work simply because the National Broadband Network has not been available or is going to be opposed by those opposite.

This expert group also points out that the NBN will boost participation in new market activities, as well as boosting opportunities in employment and innovation, particularly for youth. In fact, one of the groups involved in this committee is Youth Connections. Youth Connections is a fine group, which aims to reduce youth unemployment on the Central Coast, so it is only natural that they would gravitate to and support this initiative which is providing technology that is clearly going to make it easier for young people to get jobs locally.

The expert groups have said that the dotcom mark II boom is taking off now, led by the likes of Google, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—each stimulating massive changes in business and culture. They have said:

There are very real opportunities in the new frontiers of business and cultural development that the NBN will provide premium world-class access to.

Youth unemployment in regional Australia is stubbornly high, including on the Central Coast, where youth unemployment has hovered between 30 and 40 per cent for over a decade and is only now slowly coming down. Our expert communications and information technology group also believes that the NBN is the only serious broadband plan on the table. There are simply no costed alternatives to the NBN. There has been much talk about options but no-one has produced an engineering plan, a business case or any real options ready to go. The telecommunications industry knows this and realises a collective investment in infrastructure like the NBN will grow everybody’s market significantly and stimulate employment and service developments in health, education and business. The industry estimates that the investment on the Central Coast alone from the NBN will be in the vicinity of $400 million. The direct investment and spin-off economic benefits to the region, including employment, will be significant.

Not only will the communication and information technology infrastructure be vastly upgraded and improved, but businesses which depend on technology will have opportunities to start up. On the Central Coast, most of the businesses are small businesses. This is not unusual for Australia, but on the Central Coast in particular most businesses are small businesses and a lot of them are mum-and-dad businesses. The NBN provides that opportunity for them to compete on a much larger scale in a much broader market. If every one of those businesses were to employ just one person, then the sorts of youth unemployment levels that we have seen for a long time on the Central Coast will disappear almost overnight.

It is important to address the argument in relation to wireless versus fixed line. The Competitive Carriers’ Coalition has recently said that current discussions about the upgrade of wireless networks and the implications for the National Broadband Network reflect a lack of understanding about the role of wireless and fixed line networks in the future. According to the CCC, wireless and fixed line networks and services are complementary, not substitute, services. Anyone who knows anything about this type of technology would not argue with that point. They said that wireless technology has evolved to deliver fast speeds from the towers to the users but is not likely to ever evolve to a point where wireless mobile networks can replace fixed line networks. Likewise, fixed line networks will never provide the mobility that wireless networks provide, even though the connection within people’s homes may be via wireless modems. These inside-the-home mobile networks—which many people confuse it with—are not the same as mobile wireless networks operated in Australia.

It is also worth noting—it has been much quoted here, but I am going to quote it as well—the endorsement by Eric Schmidt, the former CEO and now executive chairman of Google, who recently said to the Mobile World Congress:

Let me start by saying that Australia is leading the world in understanding the importance of fibre. Your new Prime Minister, as part of her campaign and now as part of her prime ministership, has announced … 93 per cent of Australians … will have gigabit or equivalent service using fibre and the other seven per cent will be handled through wireless services of the nature of LTE. This is leadership, and again from Australia, which I think is wonderful.

Right around the world people know and acknowledge that fibre is the way to go, that fibre is future proof in relation to what it does. No matter what arguments are put up by the opposition they cannot argue with the laws of physics in relation to the way in which the speed will operate with fibre. There is nothing faster than fibre, nor can there be because of the laws of physics.

Instead, what we have from the opposition are arguments for the sake of arguments. They have no position themselves, other than a position of opposition. They had 11 years in which to come up with a plan, and they did a great job in coming up with plans—more than 1½ every year—but that was all they would do. Each year they would change the plan a couple of times, come up with another plan and then say, ‘That’s all we need to do’. Now that there is a real government here that is about changing and improving Australia’s infrastructure, the opposition’s only position is, ‘We’re going to oppose it no matter what they say.’ Not for any rational reason, but just for the sake of opposing the NBN. This is what we have seen from this opposition in relation to every piece of important legislation that this government has put through or has attempted to put through. It is the same response that we had in relation to the global financial crisis. They are now trying to reinvent the history of that, but their position then was, ‘Let’s do nothing; let’s just let the market look after itself.’ We all know where we would be if that had been the case. Australia has come out of that as the envy of all Western countries around the world as we are with our proposed investment in the NBN.

What we ask of the opposition is that if they do not support our legislation, just get out of the way. Let us get on with delivering vitally needed infrastructure to communities like mine that have been crying out for this sort of investment for years and years. It takes a Labor government to build proper infrastructure in Australia. We need the opposition to get out of the way to make sure that we can get on and do the job. I commend the bills to the House.