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Tuesday, 26 June 2012
Page: 8127


Mr MITCHELL (McEwen) (17:41): It is a pleasure to rise tonight to speak on the third report of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, entitled Review of the rollout of the National Broadband Network. This report covers the period from 1 July to 31 March 2012. Throughout this period of reporting there has been a number of landmark achievements reached to support the NBN rollout. The achievements in the rollout include NBN Co reaching an agreement and signing contracts for fibre rollout with: Syntheo in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory; Visionstream in Tasmania; Silcar in Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT; and Transfield in my home state of Victoria. NBN has released a three-year national fibre rollout plan which details a list for some 3.5 million homes and businesses where work is underway already or due to begin up to mid-2015. It has also released a 12-month rollout schedule. NBN Co. has commenced its short-term satellite service, which will be of enormous benefit to Australians—particularly those in provincial and remote Australia—in its improvement of high-speed broadband services. This will be coupled with the announcement by NBN Co. that it has entered into an agreement with Space Systems/Loral which will deliver two new satellites to support the long-term satellite service. We have seen housing developments turned on to the NBN in western Sydney, and the member for Chifley was talking about before. We have also seen the final version of the wholesale broadband agreement. This means that we have seen some 40 retail service providers sign the WBA, and this includes Australia's largest ISP providers: Telstra, Optus and iiNet.

Over the same period we have seen a number of regulatory milestones, including the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's consideration and approval of the structural separation of Telstra and the accompanying draft customer migration plan. These are very important steps in delivering a national broadband network to all Australians, no matter where they live. The ACCC's approval of the definitive agreements will also see the NBN able to use existing Telstra pit-and-pipe infrastructure. That is going to allow for cheaper, faster and easier rollout with less overhead cabling and destruction to communities. The ACCC also approved an agreement with Optus for the decommissioning of Optus's HFC network. It should be noted that the NBN Co. special access undertaking which deals with the NBN access terms and conditions, is constantly being improved. It is an evolutionary process that has continued to grow, and it has developed out of feedback from businesses and industry. The ACCC and the committee will monitor this during the next review that we have. The report also notes that the committee is aware that the NBN Co. is still in the early stage of the rollout and that due to delays with the Telstra agreement, a change to the number of points of interconnect and changes to the government's greenfields policy there has been a delay. That happens when you are undertaking a nationally significant piece of infrastructure such as the NBN.

The committee feels that because these targets are not able to be compared between performance reports, it notes that NBN Co. considers it perfectly legitimate to measure its performance against the targets contained in the 12-month and 3-year rollout plans. The committee has recommended that the shareholder minister's report include key performance indicator information for targets in the business plan for homes passed, homes connected and services in operation.

During the time of this reporting we have been out and we have had a look at sites that are already up and running; places like Willunga in South Australia, where we went out and visited and saw cable being put into the ground. We went and saw the nodes being put there and we spoke to the many small businesses who were going to benefit from having a high-speed broadband network, something they have never had in the past. A lot of those businesses were really excited about it. There have been examples— and there are some in the report—that talk about how they had spoken to their providers and got nowhere for a long period of time—got nowhere in being able to access high-speed broadband.

With the NBN coming through it should be noted that the work of member for Kingston, Amanda Rishworth, has been very strong. Amanda took us to a lot of businesses and the local council and the library. The library is now running programs for seniors that are getting them in there and teaching them about the internet and computers and high-speed broadband. They are saying that it is just flat out; they cannot keep up with the amount of people who want to know and want to get onto this 21st century thinking. It was important that we go and see these things happening on the ground.

In my own electorate of McEwen, South Morang started putting the cable into the ground, and one of the fantastic things about this is that we are getting students from Peter Lalor College—kids who were on the cusp of going bad or good—and giving them an opportunity to learn and be part of the fitting of fibre and the laying of fibre out in the streets and to homes. There are some fantastic young kids, all good young blokes, that are out there and learning this sort of stuff—they are learning to splice. It is giving them an opportunity to take a career that they may not have had previously and it may have been pretty tough for them. But these are just some of the small benefits that happen through the NBN as a side thing while we are delivering this fantastic piece of infrastructure.

I want to compare this to what we have heard from those opposite. We have heard again tonight this false figure of $50 billion. They make this figure up and not one person has ever been able to come and back that figure up.

Mr Van Manen: You do not even know what it is going to cost!

Mr MITCHELL: Not one person has backed it up.

Mr Perrett: So, you are admitting you are making it up?

Mr MITCHELL: We will take the interjection there, that it is an admission that it a false claim. It has just been made up for something to do.

I have a look back to the 11 years when they were in government and I remember that Opel, which was plan number 18 or 19 or 20—I cannot remember because they all failed. I remember the maps that were brought out by the then Howard government—those wonderful masters of technology—that had the big Opel plan and the big map saying, 'We are going to service 75 per cent of your electorate'. You think communities would go, 'Wow wee isn't this great? How exciting is this?' The problem was, when you actually had a look at the map it never took into consideration things that we have in country areas like mountains, trees, buildings and lakes. All these things. None of that was taken into consideration. If we had got a great big iron and flattened the earth to dead flat and cut all the trees down then, maybe, the Opel contract they had may have worked. I say 'may have' because even they could not prove that it was going to work. The NBN project will deliver high-speed broadband to places that were never, ever in consideration by those opposite. During all their plans—failed plans, because every single one of them failed—

Mr Robb: Not true.

Mr MITCHELL: The member for Goldstein says that that is not true. I would be happy for you to leave your little inner-city coven and come out to anywhere around the outskirts of Melbourne and say: 'We didn't fail. You haven't got broadband.' Why? Because everything that you did failed. Not one of them worked, and that is why these programs are being delivered now and people are screaming. I am happy for you, member for Goldstein, to write to your constituents and say, 'You don't want the NBN,' because, like the rest of your crew, you bag it. You say that it is not worth it and that it is too expensive, and then you bitch and whinge and carp and whine because it is not in your areas—you are absolute jokes.

Mr Robb interjecting

Mr MITCHELL: We know about your ability to do these things. You are part of the financial team that got an auditor's fine because of your inability to tell the truth. While you sit there carping, whingeing and whining about the NBN we are actually getting on the ground and delivering it, and we are delivering it to places that would never have seen it under your government—never did and never will. You had 11 years and you did not do a thing. You sat there and did nothing; meanwhile Australia fell behind—

Mr Van Manen: How long is it going to take them to pay off?

Mr MITCHELL: Let us just take that interjection. I remember back in 2003, when I was in the state government, we did a report on rural and regional telecommunications in Victoria. It is worth having a read. Have a read about what happened then. Even your coalition partners, the Nationals, were complaining. The Victorian Nationals were complaining that the Howard government failed to deliver telecommunications to regional areas. I tell you what, Bert, I will even give you a signed copy. I have plenty of them sitting around because I was actually part of that.

At the same time that we are delivering the NBN, other carping from over there comes from the member for Gilmore. The member for Gilmore does not tell her community that she does not want the NBN and that she does not think they deserve it, but, when it does come to her electorate, what does she do? She gets up in the House, in front of everyone, and says: 'They're digging up the nature strip. Who's going to reseed the grass in the nature strip?' You have to be absolutely kidding yourselves if you think that the biggest concern of the world is that the nature strip is getting dug up. But, again, you do not see her out there saying to her community, 'I'm voting against this; I don't want the NBN.' The fact of the matter is that every single bit of polling and all the questionnaires show that people desperately want it.

What I have found to be the biggest issue with the NBN is not getting it delivered quickly enough. In my electorate and everywhere else I go people say: 'We want this. When are we getting it?' That is one of the issues that the committee is dealing with at the moment. We are talking about Telstra workforce issues and about how we can get people out on the ground faster and quicker to get this out there, because getting enough people on the ground to put the cable into the pipes and the pits to get it to the homes as quickly as possible is the biggest shortfall we have.

Mr Van Manen interjecting

Mr MITCHELL: We do use local businesses. The member opposite interjects but, again—

Mr Van Manen interjecting

Mr MITCHELL: Stand on your credibility and we will watch you fall flat on your face.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Ms Grierson ): Order! Members, through the chair.

Mr MITCHELL: We hear all these things but, when it comes to evidence, those on the other side have nothing—not a thing—to talk about. They sit there and say: 'We know how to do it faster. We know how to do it cheaper.' To those on the other side I say go down to the Parliamentary Library and grab yourself a book called The Wired Brown Land. I am sure that if you read it, Madam Deputy Speaker, you would say, 'Wow, this sounds amazing!' It was written by a bloke by the name of Paul Fletcher—

Mr Perrett: I know that guy!

Mr MITCHELL: Oh, you know that guy! He was out there talking about, 'We need fibre to the home; this is the greatest thing to happen.' Well, blow me down, when I got to the committee meeting there was a bloke with exactly the same name sitting there saying: 'We don't need it. It's wrong.' It is typical hypocrisy from those opposite, whether it is on carbon pricing or the NBN. The member for Flinders is out there saying in his thesis, the one he wrote with his words of wisdom, that Liberal constituents will be upset, but bad luck, we have to do this. Paul Fletcher goes out and says, 'We need fibre to the home and we need it now. It is the only way we can keep up in the 21st century economy,' but then goes to the committee and says, 'Oh, no, we don't need this. We can make it work through the technology, just like we did in the 11 years that we were in government, which left us with about 15 per cent of people connected.' The NBN is an important thing to have done. It is like the railways of the 19th century. We know that. Early Hansards show that, back then, the forefathers of the Liberal Party and the Country Party were asking why we needed an Australia-wide rail network.

Mr Perrett interjecting

Mr MITCHELL: That is right! The Luddites on the other side back then said, 'We don't need trains. What good are they?' Now they say, 'We don't need broadband. What do we need broadband for?' We need it because in every single field that this country deals in—education, health, business and personal use—it is going to deliver faster and better broadband and some absolutely exciting things. Even those opposite might learn something. But, as usual, they will sit in their little caves and say, 'No, we don't need this.' But they will still shy away from going out and telling their communities that each and every day they are in here saying 'no' to the NBN. (Time expired)