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Monday, 4 July 2011
Page: 7392

Mrs D'ATH (Petrie) (19:41): I rise to speak in support of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2011. This bill was first introduced into the House in March 2011 and was referred to the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network in May 2011. The committee sought to conduct an inquiry into this bill within a responsible time frame, considering the circumstances of the bill. This bill has been some time in the making. As noted in paragraph 1.1 of the committee's report on this bill, the bill:

… was preceded by a similar bill which was introduced into the Senate in March 2010, but lapsed on the proroguing of the 42nd Parliament. The Fibre Deployment Bill 2010 shared a similar purpose to the Bill under inquiry, that is, to ‘ensure fibre-ready and fibre infrastructure installation in new developments.’ This Bill differs from its predecessor in that the Fibre Deployment Bill 2010 ‘was more dependent on subordinate legislation for activation of the key provisions in the Bill’, while the current Bill includes those key provisions.

The government undertook extensive consultation on this bill now before the House, including releasing discussion papers and draft legislation. The government also considered the recommendations of the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications report on the Telecom­munications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2010. Based on that history, the industry and developers have been seeking certainty for over 12 months. There is no doubt that certainty is important for developers who each and every day are developing new estates and building homes for people across Australia.

It is this imperative for certainty that ensured that the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network dealt with this matter within the timeframe set, thus allowing this bill to be debated before this House this week. When looking at the history of this bill, at the questions put to the witnesses by the opposition and the submissions put to the committee by various providers, the fact is that the issues raised do not fundamentally go to this bill. They go to the Liberal Party's opposition to the National Broadband Network and the government's policy to deliver a national broadband network.

The main purpose of this bill is to require developers of new estates to put in passive infrastructure like underground pipes into which a fibre provider can later put fibre. It is not concerned with putting an obligation on NBN Co. or anyone else to put in active infrastructure, fibre or, in limited cases, copper lines or wireless. The majority of submissions by the witnesses and the questions by the opposition during the inqu­iry into this bill went to active infrastructure. It was acknowledged by witnesses that the purpose of this bill is to legislate for fibre-ready infrastructure, not active infrastructure.

The committee's report also acknowledged that much of the evidence was outside the scope of the bill. The opposition also concentrated most of its time on issues not relating to this bill, and it continues to do so in this debate. This is predominately because the opposition is more interested in finding ways to oppose the government's policy than being opposed to the practical application of the rollout of fast broadband.

I will come to the Liberal Party's position shortly but, importantly, this bill amends the Telecommunications Act 1997 to support the government's policy that fibre-to-the-premises infrastructure should be installed in new developments. This bill is another step forward to delivering on the Labor govern­ment's commitment to roll out the National Broadband Network. As stated by the minister in his second reading speech on 7 April 2009, the Australian government announced its historic decision to establish a new company, NBN Co. Limited, to build and operate a new superfast national broadband network.

The NBN has an objective of connecting up to 93 per cent of all Australian homes, schools and workplaces with fibre based broadband services and connecting other premises in Australia with next-generation wireless and satellite broadband services. This bill in effect requires developers that are constitutional corporations to install fibre-ready passive infrastructure—that is, pit and pipe. It requires passive infrastructure installed in new developments in the long-term NBN fibre footprint to be fibre ready; it allows carriers to access fibre-ready passive infrastructure that is owned by non carriers, and provides for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to have a role as the default arbitrator.

It creates a power for the minister to specify by legislative instrument develop­ments in which fixed lines must be optical fibre and provides for exemptions from the requirements to install fibre-ready facilities or optical fibre lines. It also provides for the Australian Communications and Media Authority to develop technical standards to cover interoperability, performance stand­ards and design features for superfast broadband rollout on its own initiative or, if directed, by the minister, and makes other technical and administrative amendments. The bill will take effect on the later of the date of royal assent or 1 July 2011, which unfortunately has passed.

I would like to briefly touch on the standards because there has been much debate in relation to standards. Despite evidence from TransACT, OptiComm and Greenfield Fibre Operators of Australia of them being opposed to ministerial authority to set standards and specifications, and comments made that this should be left to the Australian Communications and Media Authority, there appears to be no real enthusiasm to do so.

There does appear to be some double standards, however, when TransACT in evidence stated that it would expect subcontractors to apply TransACT's standar­ds but it would not be acceptable for NBN Co. to expect the same. Firstly, it is important to note that this bill does not set out technical specifications for fibre infrastructure in new developments. What the bill does do is give the minister some powers to make instruments to do so with regard to passive infrastructure and to optical fibre lines in specified developments if necessary.

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy stated in its evidence that for fibre infrastructure to serve its purpose, for example to allow the ready deployment of fibre, and operate on an appropriate level in terms of speeds across the many new developments constructed in Australia each year, some degree of standardisation may be required. These provisions provide a reserve power to fast track this standardisation process if required, noting that normal standardisation can sometimes be time consuming and subject to gaming. The department went on to say:

The government's policy in relation to specifications was set out in the 9 December 2010 policy statement. NBN Co. will provide specifications for use where a developer wishes to use NBN Co. The specifications will also be provided to the Communications Alliance with a view to having these specifications endorsed for general use by industry as soon as possible.

This policy was also reflected in the government's statement of expectations for the NBN and NBN Co. It is clear that this bill and the government's policy, as reflected in the statement of expectations, is flexible. It does not impose specifications without consultation. However, it is reasonable if the industry itself does not develop a standard and it is considered appropriate to do so, that the minister has such powers.

The NBN is already being rolled out in Tasmania and we recently saw the start-up on the mainland of Australia. With the rollout of the NBN continuing to expand across the country over coming months and years, it is important that certain areas do not get left behind. Importantly, it is necessary to ensure that unnecessary costs are not incurred due to lack of planning. That is why greenfields sites are being addressed through this bill. It is important, as the NBN goes through our older suburbs and provides fast broadband, that new suburbs being built are not using pits and pipes which would not be suitable for smooth transition to fibre. That is why this bill is being introduced—to ensure our new developments are fibre ready.

I also note the comments from the members for Greenway and Chifley, who have much experience in this area, in particular the comments of the member for Chifley on the unremarkable nature of this bill. It is true that much attention has been paid to this bill and, as I outlined earlier, it has a history going back more than 12 months. However, what is being achieved through this bill is in no way unique. Just as developers ensure the infrastructure for water, electricity and roads in new estates, they will ensure infrastructure for fast broadband.

The Liberal Party has stated this is not their preferred model. It is clear from comments made by the shadow minister for communications and broadband, the member for Wentworth, that the opposition's policy is for a hybrid system of fibre, copper, wireless and satellite, with no particular strategy. It appears that the Liberal Party's policy is that they can provide faster broadband than people have now but not as fast as Labor's NBN policy, not as efficient, not a network which will be Australia wide and which will expand services across health, education, businesses and households, both rural and city. The selling point for the Liberal Party is: 'But it won't cost as much'. Well of course it will not cost as much, because it is not delivering an efficient fast broadband system which would be internationally competitive. It will still see many suburbs struggle to get any connection or work at a speed suitable for basic household use.

If the Australian public were listening to various opposition members in this debate, I think they would go away very confused. The member for Moncrieff was stating that we do not need NBN—that health services over fast broadband are happening now. At the same time, the member for Ryan is saying that there is no doubt that the country will benefit from the rollout of fibre across the country to deliver fast broadband but that, overall, it is bad for the country because it will cost money. The shadow minister is outlining proposed amendments, yet to be tendered, which allegedly seek to provide for competition because the providers do not want to miss out on the opportunities that come from the demand for fast broadband. At the same time, other opposition members are criticising the NBN rollout as a white elephant because apparently no householders are going to take up the option of connecting fast broadband to their premises. So on one hand providers are missing out and, on the other, nobody is going to take up broadband.

Then of course we have the shadow minister continually using South Korea as an alternative example of a country that is rolling out fast broadband but only to the basement. There are many similarities between Australia and South Korea—they are celebrating this year, as is Australia, Australian-Korean diplomatic relationships over the past 50 years. But when we compare the size of the countries and when we compare the living styles—the majority of their population live in high-rise apartments; the majority in Australia live in stand-alone houses—it is clear that the statements being relied on are just incorrect. The arguments are flawed.

In fact, when the shadow minister was asking questions about South Korea of Mr Harris, the Secretary of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Mr Harris said:

On the Korean issue, we had the Korea-Australia-New Zealand Broadband Summit in Hobart a few weeks ago. I asked the Korean communications commissioner about these issues … I asked the CEO of the Korean Communications Com­mission. He is a senior representative in creating the plans by which the Koreans are doing these investments.

He went on to state:

Korea has a Fibre-To-The-Home Council and is clearly running, in their advice to us, fibre-to-the-home network planning. They are doing fibre to the home. They are just sequencing it as we have done, fibre to the basement, as you have said, we have done some fibre to the node and we are keeping on going and now doing fibre to the home. It has not stopped. Their program continues and their objective is fibre to the home.

By all means we should look at international examples and learn from their experiences, but it is important that we do not get distracted by flawed arguments, such as that from the shadow minister. Although the opposition clearly do not understand the importance of a national fast broadband network and the benefits it can and will bring to many aspects of our economy and people's lives, the Labor Party and this Labor government do understand. That is why this Gillard Labor government is committed to passing this bill, committed to ensuring that fibre-ready infrastructure in our new developments and committed to seeing the rollout of the National Broadband Network. People in my electorate of Petrie understand the importance of such infrastructure. We have many black spots, even though we are metropolitan and outer metropolitan, where people cannot get broadband at all. People in my electorate understand the importance of the National Broadband Network. The Australian people understand the importance of such infrastructure. That is why this government is delivering on its promise to the Australian people and it is for this reason that I commend the bill to the House.