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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 258

Mr HUNT (Flinders) (13:12): The Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011 and related bills come in the context of a great national debate about economic responsibility and how we prepare for the future in telecommunications. We have on the table today from the government a system that does not represent the future. The future is the hand-held device. The future is the mobile phone, the iPad, the tablet and all of the successors with which we are each increasingly familiar. For political reasons, a hard wire system was conjured and imposed upon the Australian public at a cost that will be somewhere in the vicinity of $50 billion once all is said and done. It will be based upon money borrowed from future generations and it will rely upon the destruction of hard existing assets—the Telstra copper network as a functioning enterprise—and it will rely upon the destruction of competition through the most extraordinary effective renationalisation and removal of competition in the telecommunications sector in the developed world since the Second World War. It is a retrograde step in economic efficiency, competition and, above all else, in the planning of the right services for the future.

This bill in part responds to one element of what the government has proposed for telecommunications and the National Broadband Network. We are not opposed to the elements here because they maintain the universal service obligation by essentially transferring it from a regulatory arrangement to a contractual arrangement. What is fundamental here is that for the interim, until the Australian people have decided, there will be the preservation and maintenance of the universal service obligation. If we are successful it will remain there under us for the next hundred years and beyond, I imagine, to the point where we cannot even imagine the telecommunications and communication devices and networks that will be with us. This is simply reaffirming but transforming the means of delivery of the universal service obligation. That is a given, a foundation, a recognition of something that is fundamental to equity and to the prosperity of rural and regional Australia in the 21st century. Those points we accept. I want to put that on the record, as one of a number of opposition members who are speaking and representing either rural or regional electorates—mine includes the Mornington Peninsula, Western Port and Bass Coast as the constituent parts of Flinders, which is officially recognised by the Australian Electoral Commission as a regional electorate.

Having said that, I now move to the real delivery of services in the electorate of Flinders. Against that background, in 2007, when the OPEL network was being prepared, we set out a map of all those changes that would extend the service within the coming two to three years to those areas beyond the regional full broadband services within the electorate of Flinders. Essentially, almost overwhelmingly, we would have had coverage for those who missed out. I will not make a universal pledge, but it would have been extraordinarily close to universal within the electorate. Nothing has happened since. The OPEL contract was destroyed. The promised mobile services and the mobile broadband were crushed and there has been no replacement.

Let me give a simple example. Only in the last week we received a letter back from Senator Conroy, the relevant minister for communications, about a desperate need in Rosebud for extra broadband communications for those premises beyond the reach of the local exchange. No date, no time, no pledge, no commitment, no hope and no imminent prospect for the future was given. So we are looking at it being more than a decade on from the period in which they otherwise would have received services before there is an imminent and reasonable prospect of the outer lying areas of Rosebud, through Waterfall Gully and the areas out towards Boneo and out past the Rosebud Country Club estate receiving adequate and appropriate services.

Peninsula Sands in Rosebud South has poor internet access. It has poor mobile phone coverage. Four hundred residents have to date signed a petition calling for the situation to be remedied. It should have already been resolved, not recently but two or three years ago, and it would have been under the system proposed, pledged, committed to and contracted for by the previous government. That system was abolished and destroyed and the services are yet to arrive. Rosebud South, Waterfall Gully, Peninsula Sands, the areas out towards Boneo, parts of Red Hill, parts of Main Ridge and parts of the Korumburra Hills, so many different areas within the electorate of Flinders, are living testimony to the fact that they will receive the appropriate services—under the National Broadband Network, if they ever get it—more than a decade later than would otherwise have been the case. That is a failure of public policy. It is a failure of a practical system. That is before you even get to the massive cost of the NBN, the massive cost to consumers and the massive cost for the public debt, which will have so many other implications in terms of public borrowing and pressure on interest rates and will therefore impact on other elements of mainstream life in Australia.

There is, of course, a better way. The better way is a plan that does not try to create a system that would have been an advance in the 20th century but has missed the telecommunications leaps of the 21st century. We should be working towards the world's best wireless network using the existing urban cabling systems of Telstra and Optus and the wireless communications systems with which the United States and so many other parts of the world are leaping ahead. Whether it is through microwaves, wireless or satellite, these are the systems of the future, when combined with a fibre-to-the node concept.

I am fortunate to have worked in this space during my time with McKinsey. A decade ago it was obvious which way the world was trending. A decade ago it was obvious we were moving towards a wireless world. That was before the iPad and the tablet were imagined. These trends will only accelerate and it will be the compaction of data through wireless systems that represents the real future. That is the future and it is being completely and utterly ignored in the essential role of government and what it should and should not be doing.

Having said that, I want to finish with the notion that the same problem is replicated in Botanic Ridge in my electorate. They have ongoing issues to do with their lack of ADSL capacity. We have made representations on behalf of residents. I am pleased that Telstra recently confirmed that homes in the southern portion of Botanic Ridge will get upgraded ADSL this year. It will not be the National Broadband Network, to the best of my knowledge, but they will get ADSL. We will continue to push until homes in the northern part of Botanic Ridge also have access to ADSL.

In short, we should have solved this problem. We could have solved this problem. Instead, we are going to be wasting an enormous amount of money on a system that fails to imagine the future and provide flexibility for one of the fastest moving sectors in all of industrial and civilised history. This is the moment when the government should step back and recognise that what should be proposed is a flexible system focused on the world's best wireless rather than a system from last century that fails to recognise that we live in the world of the iPhone, the iPad and the tablet.