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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5105

Mr IRONS (Swan) (16:59): I rise to speak on today's MPI, 'The threat posed by the Government's mismanagement of the National Broadband Network rollout'. There have been quite passionate speeches here tonight. I have heard supposed Independent members raising their voices and the member for Mitchell talking about his issues. There was also the member for Fraser saying that some people should not talk on this. The reason I am talking on this is the fact that in my electorate of Swan, which is a marginal seat, the government decided to promise at the 2010 election to roll out the NBN and start in June 2011. They did not get around to starting until about October 2012. I agree with the member for Mitchell that it was a political move.

With the problems we have heard from the member for Wentworth, it is clear that once again the government is demonstrating that it cannot handle major projects. The government's NBN has been a disaster from day one. Three years ago at the start of this parliament they promised 1.3 million premises would be passed by the end of this month. They will struggle to pass 200,000 premises instead. As we heard from the member for Mitchell, it has been downgraded three times.

Labor is seriously incompetent when it comes to managing major projects. What makes this matter worse is that the government is refusing to take any responsibility for the problem. Yesterday, we saw Telstra do what Labor's communications minister and the Prime Minister will not do, and that is take responsibility. This is something the government has not done well. We all know it is its incompetent management and policy settings that have created a situation that is utterly unacceptable when it comes to the management of asbestos.

Telstra are taking responsibility for getting things right from their end. This government needs to take responsibility for policy settings. They need to acknowledge that contractors for the NBN are dealing with asbestos on a daily basis, that there has been a mishandling of the asbestos and that their practices have failed.

This government knew there was a problem with the NBN as early as 2009. To be frank, ever since these types of projects have been envisaged, everybody has known Telstra's pits carried risks with asbestos. It should have been understood that the NBN construction involved remediating ducts where asbestos was present. The government's NBN contractors should have planned for this and should have been aware of their responsibilities and obligations. What the government needed to do was make sure they had the policies in place to handle it properly from day one. The government did not do their homework and they have let the Australian people down yet again.

History has always been kind to people who observe it. Cast-iron pipes were originally laid down in Victoria to run town gas to all the residences around Melbourne. That was to be replaced by natural gas. In that particular period of time they found out that natural gas actually dried out the joints on the cast-iron pipes and created leaks, so they had to work out that eventually those pipes were to be replaced—they went to PVC. That is a simple story telling anyone who is going to do a major infrastructure project that there are lessons to be learned from previous situations. Putting new fibre through old pits is a very obvious one.

Telstra announced an audit of its contractors yet there has been no such move by NBN Co. Both Telstra and NBN Co. are responsible for the contractors' work in asbestos lined pits and ducts. NBN Co. is responsible for enlarging ducts where there is insufficient room for the fibre. This issue first came to my attention in February when I was contacted by a resident in Teague Street, Victoria Park in my electorate. Syntheo at the time were involved in the rollout of fibre. Syntheo was a subcontractor to the government. The constituent reported a serious risk of asbestos spores being liberated into the air after an old Telstra hub was hit with a mash hammer to break it down by a worker wearing latex gloves and a P95 mask. I was told the worker picked up bits of asbestos from the sand and put them in a bag while a Syntheo worker without a mask worked close by. I actually have a photo of that. I seek leave to table that. It shows a worker without a mask working close by. Syntheo cannot say that they have got their processes and procedures in correct order for dealing with asbestos.

The highest priority for NBN Co. here must be the safety of these workers and the communities where this work is taking place. We can have all the rhetoric about who is right and who is wrong, but at the end of the day major infrastructure projects must protect the workers and the people in the communities who could be affected by such things as asbestos spores.

I reported this incident at the time to WorkSafe and then Comcare on 19 and 20 February. I am yet to receive a response from Comcare, another government department. I find it unbelievable if they say it is not relevant or not really an issue. They have taken so long to respond to an issue that is deeply concerning within the electorate of Swan. I did receive a written response from Syntheo and I will go into that later.

We heard the member for Wentworth talk about this as being the most mismanaged infrastructure project ever in Australia. As we have also heard from other speakers, there was no cost-benefit analysis done when we went to the election with the promise of rolling out the NBN. As I said before, if they had done a cost-benefit analysis maybe they would have taken into consideration the fact that these pits needed to be upgraded. They should have done a cost-benefit analysis when they did the pink batts as well. The pink batts debacle has been mentioned by a few coalition speakers. This is just a gentle reminder that this government is out of control and cannot handle major infrastructure projects.

I mentioned just before dealing with the communities and the people who are actually affected or potentially affected by the asbestos. Because of what happened in Teague Street in Victoria Park in my electorate I ran a survey through that street to find out what sort of reaction those people had to the NBN experience. I would like to read some of them out to you. One person in the street said in an email:

We had a street meeting at the weekend and discussed issues relating to the damage caused by the NBN Co / Syntheo.

A high percentage of residence on the even numbered side of Teague street from No 72 onwards have lodged complaints with the NBN regarding the damage caused to their properties and damage to the nature strip and items such as reticulation. The response from NBN, anecdotally, has been abysmal. There seems to be a lot of platitudes but no action.

It sounds familiar. The email continues:

We wonder if the NBN/contractors think the residents will just go away?

Two residents came home to their property and the NBN/contractors had entered the grounds and used their watering hose/s to water down machinery used for digging up the path, breaking the hose fittings and leaving the water running.

The neighbourhood is looking disgraceful and we wonder who in authority is going to champion on behalf of the residents the restitution of the streets back to how they looked prior to the NBN arrival.

I have attached some images taken of the damage, concrete splatter on walls and general mess left by the NBN/contractors.

We had a flyer delivered recently to offer connection via Telstra to the NBN and in the Centro shopping Centre is a large advertisement for residents to connect to the NBN in this suburb. It asked residents to check availability for your area and we did, but surprisingly there is no connection in 6100 postcode—

which is where we live. It continues:

We are aware that there is NO ONE able to connect to the NBN in this suburb and there is no availability for the foreseeable future, what is the point of sending out this flyer? Is this simply NBN propaganda?

We are keeping you updated as it seems nothing is tangibly happening at street level.

In response to one of my surveys, Mr John Vivian and Mrs Glynn Vivian wrote to me. Their comments on their experience were initially negative. They said:

In 2012 contractors dug up our footpath and road to lay cable to Ursula Frayne High School. Contractors were rude, lazy and totally unskilled. Damage was sustained to our water meter when contractors stepped over the fence, through the hedge to prepare and lay new footpath. A leak was developed within a short period (approx 7 days) and had to be repaired at our expense. Spoke to supervisor who would not take responsibility.

John's wife also wrote:

Please note that my husband had cause to speak to the Supervisor on several occasions regarding the quality of the workmanship that was used to replace the footpath that had been dug up. When he drew the water leak to his attention, the claim was dismissed our claim as being irrelevant and "not possible". It's a shame he (the Supervisor) was not around to see the workmen climbing through our fence and stomping through our front yard with their picks and shovels.

They then received a bill for $370 from Charter Plumbing and Gas to fix their plumbing, which NBN and Syntheo refused to do. This is again another debacle of an infrastructure project by the government. We must remember that it is about the communities and the workers, who must be kept safe. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): There being no further speakers in this discussion, this discussion is now concluded.