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Thursday, 14 March 2013
Page: 2252


Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (11:46): I am pleased to speak in this debate. I do wish the member for Riverina was here, but maybe he can look this up another time. A couple of things I found disappointing in his contribution. He talked about the importance of health services for his regional area. There are a few regional members here in the chamber. Then he went on to talk about using the NBN to download games. The thing is: it is not about the download, it is about the upload. If he wants people in his region to have the best health care, the best remote access, this is a policy he should be supporting wholeheartedly. If he speaks to any practitioners in his community I am sure that they will be very aware that unless the NBN is built they will not have the highest speed broadband, not just for the internet, which is but one application, but for the upload of the most advanced applications to enable these remote health services to actually be realised.

There is another thing that I need to correct him on. He went through the litany of initiatives that he believed the former coalition government had undertaken in fixing mobile black spots. I will run through a few of them. Firstly, he talked about the millions and millions of dollars that had been allocated to CDMA network improvement. This is now redundant technology, so I do not why we are really counting that. Secondly, he talked about upgrading on highways. I will tell you the story of that. The Howard government opened up contestability in the universal service obligations, starting with the Pacific Highway. I am glad our members who represent the Pacific Highway are here because, as they will well know, that was an absolute failure, it was an abject failure. If you drive along the Pacific Highway, as I do every single Christmas, you will find there are black spots there, because the previous government decided that this would be an area of contestability in the USO. It was a dead set failure.

There is not only this when you look at the litany of failure that they had over their term of government in these regional areas. I will pay credit to some very genuine people amongst those opposite. People like Mr Neville, who was a very important force at that time in trying to get a better deal for regional areas, was met with roadblocks at every turn. When Telstra was sold, the only concession that was made to regional areas was to remove the universal service obligation requirements from the Telecommunications Act and just place it in another piece of legislation. There was nothing that went along with this. I know these things because, for a decade, this was one thing that I did: I would have to go through and analyse different universal service requirements and regional builds and using Australia as an example when I was doing rollouts in remote areas in places like Cambodia and China. Every time you would do these analyses you would find how Australia had failed dismally on this point.

I disagree in part with the member for McEwen—he was asking what does mobile have to do with the NBN. You will find mobile operators are very keen on the NBN because they are going to be able to fibre-up their base stations. Those opposite seem to think that mobile telecommunications are these little bits floating around in the atmosphere, and they just end up between devices. You need, at some point, a terrestrial element to this—the infrastructure to support this high speed is what mobile operators have been calling out for.

This applies not just to regional areas. If you go to some new areas in my electorate—areas like The Ponds—and you try to use an iPhone or another smart phone, it will not work because of the black spots in the coverage there. What are we doing about that? This is why in the north of my electorate, in Riverstone, we have the site of the first Sydney metro roll-out of the NBN. That is why this government is so adamant about investing in this—we know that this is going to be so important for both wire-lined, fixed wireless and wireless technologies generally.

In the context of regional Australia I want to mention something else that members might have missed from Tuesday. It seems the opposition is now taking its broadband advice from consultants and bankers as well, which does not surprise me. The Financial Review on Tuesday indicates that a new report by Allen & Overy and Venture Consulting suggests one option is to separate NBN Co. into two entities—Metro Co., serving profitable urban operations, and Regional Co., housing operations in remote areas that would require government subsidies for longer. This is great if you are Telstra but a pity if you are in a regional area which is loss-making. It would be giving two classes of service—no equivalent service, but two classes of services for Telstra. It is money for jam. I find it absolutely incredible that we have regional members coming in here trying to lecture me on how bad the NBN is when they should pick up the thing and, as well, just see where they are getting their advice from.

In the article in the Fin Review, the member for Wentworth talks about the privatisation of NBN Co.:

I think it’d be better off not belonging to the Government,” he said. “But I just think it’s going to be very hard practically, and I used to sell businesses and assets for a living, it’d be very hard to sell for quite a long time.

The reality is that in the legislation passed in 2010 the government committed to a sell-down of its stake in NBN Co. This is the bloke who wanted to make it easier to sell NBN Co., coming off the back of their hugely successful privatisation of Telstra—which it was not. They wanted to make it easier to flog off. But where does he put his own money when it comes to technologies? He is putting his money in France Telecom, which is a fibre-to-the-premises solution rather than a fibre-to-the-node. I will talk bit about fibre to the premises and fibre to the node in a minute. The Financial Review goes on to say that FTTN—fibre to the node, which the member for Wentworth continues to push—would require use of existing copper connections into homes, leaving Telstra in a strong position to protect and even increase its NBN windfall. So not only are they proposing to create two classes of consumers when it comes to high-speed broadband in this country—one for regional, one for metro—but also they are entrenching the dominance of Telstra in the customer access network. If that is not totally insane, I do not know what is.

FTTP has been raised leading up to this report, and it is also mentioned in the dissenting report. It is interesting that France Telecom is actually discarding all its copper. As the member for McEwen rightly pointed out, copper is reaching its use-by date. It has served us very well, but even Telstra knows it needs to be decommissioned—and when it gets decommissioned I, for one, do not want it to be replaced with more copper; I would prefer it to be replaced with the highest-quality infrastructure, and that is what the NBN is. The French, as I said, are moving completely to fibre to the premises.

But the disparities the coalition is seeking to create in broadband access in this country get worse. Not only does it appear that the coalition is taking advice on different rules for regional and metro areas. But now there is a proposal from 19 February that people who want the NBN should have to pay for that last connection. Mr Turnbull's latest idea is to make Australians who want direct fibre connected to their homes pay for it themselves—a connection fee of as much as a $3,000. Unless you have $3,000 in your back pocket or you live in a metro area, you can pretty much forget it.

It is interesting to note that the opposition's questioning in the hearings that led up to this committee report really just tried, again, to focus on the idea that 'We can do it cheaper if we do fibre to the node rather than fibre to the premises.' Sure, you will be able to do it cheaper—you will be able to do it cheap and it will be absolute rubbish in terms of quality and speed and in terms of competition. And in the long term the costs of maintaining fibre to the node—not just building it, but the maintenance costs—will be far higher for FTTN. An analysis from Computerworld says:

Fibre-to-the-node, around the world, costs between one quarter and one third of fibre-to-the-premises.

And that is true. It says:

That is the experience in North America and Europe.

It says that not only will an FTTN deployment result in higher long-term costs but that the reason we need a new NBN is 'to provide a truly universal service', and that if you are looking to rely on the existing copper network,

which would be that last connection, you are going to inherit all of the quality issues that we see today.

So, it is very true that we do need fibre to the premises, because, again, the NBN is a scaleable technology—and it is infinitely scaleable. This is 21st century infrastructure that Australians deserve to have, regardless of where they live and work. And I will quote Mr Quigley of NBN Co.—because I was at the committee hearing on 30 October last year—who very rightly pointed out, when asked about these things:

Reliability is much higher on fibre. There are lots of different types of copper in the network, a whole range: paper filled, jelly filled, some aluminium, some direct buried, some in conduits, some in ducts. It is hard to generalise other than to say that, in general, copper maintenance costs are rising, particularly in those places where you have damp conditions and you are subject to wet weather.

More and more, as I look at these announcements that are made willy-nilly by the opposition about what their broadband policy would be, I do not take a great deal of comfort from their Real Solutions plan. It is, again, just a series of platitudes: 'We're going to deliver it, we're going to do it cheaper, we're going to roll it out faster.' Yes, but it ignores the reality that we still have incredible black spots today, and there are something like 439,000 dial-up subscribers in Australia. It is absolutely ridiculous, when we have had—how many failed plans?—from those opposite when they were in government, and we still have nearly half a million dial-up subscribers in Australia.

I also wish to take up the very valid point the member for McEwen made, that some members go into their electorates and say one thing and then come in here and do something completely different. I am going to call them out on this. They run around the country whingeing that they do not have the NBN, that they are not getting it fast enough. But when they come into this place, they vote against it. Not only do they vote against it; they obfuscate. They make sure that things happen slowly. They try and present every argument as to why the NBN should be destroyed. They have a policy which says that it should be destroyed. Yet people like the member for Dickson run around the country, taking up petitions and telling people, 'We want the NBN now,' and then they come in here and vote against it. What hypocrites! What absolute hypocrites!

I want to quote, in particular, from a media release which I think was put out by the member for Dickson—or it may have been the member for Wentworth or both. It states:

Residents … voiced their disappointment in the Government for cancelling the Howard Government’s contract with the OPEL consortium to deliver a broadband network in outer suburban and rural and remote Australia by 2009.

I am very happy to talk about the Opel network, because those opposite are talking about cost-benefit analyses. There was never a cost-benefit analysis for Opel. And so it is no surprise that when this government was elected and saw that Opel was not going to deliver everything it promised, it said: 'We're not going to go ahead with this. This isn't going to deliver for people in regional Australia.' So those opposite cannot come in here and say: 'We want the NBN to roll out faster. Why isn't it rolling out to all these business parks in my electorate?' These people should be honest and say to their residents: 'Well, actually, I've been campaigning against it. I've got a policy to abolish it.' Do not go out there and start taking up petitions and saying, 'Woe is me', and then come in here and do something absolutely different.

I will end by saying that, the more I look at these plans, the more I am absolutely convinced that what we will see from those opposite will be no different from what they went to the electorate with in 2010, which was a mish-mash of different technologies but all of them stuck in the stone age and all of them not about equivalence. (Time expired)