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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4451

Senator POLLEY (2:57 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. Can the minister update the Senate on recent developments in relation to the National Broadband Network? In particular, what progress has the government made in Tasmania, which has been prioritised in the rollout of the National Broadband Network? Can the minister explain why the government chose to start the National Broadband Network in Tasmania?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Polley for her ongoing interest in this issue on behalf of all Tasmanians. On 8 April the Prime Minister, the Premier and I announced that Tasmania would be the first state to receive the National Broadband Network. This decision was based on the advice of the government’s independent panel of experts. The Australian government readily accepted that advice because of all the states and territories Tasmania has the lowest proportion of households with broadband, at just 39 per cent, compared with the Australian average of 52 per cent.

Senator Sherry —A legacy of the Liberals.

Senator CONROY —That is right, Senator Sherry. What a shameful legacy for all those opposite, particularly those from the state of Tasmania.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator CONROY —Shameful, Senator Barnett!

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, address your comments to the chair.

Senator CONROY —My apologies, Mr President. On 16 July this year I announced with the Premier of Tasmania that we will establish a new company, TNBNco, to roll out and operate the National Broadband Network in Tasmania. TNBNco will be a subsidiary of NBNCo and will be jointly owned by NBNCo and Aurora Energy. On 25 July the Prime Minister announced Mr Doug Campbell would chair TNBNco. Mr Campbell has a wealth of experience in the telecommunications sector and I am very pleased he has agreed to take on this exciting challenge. The first stage rollout in Tasmania has already commenced. Aurora is conducting an open, competitive tender for fibre-optic cable. On 25 July the Prime Minister announced that nearly 5,000 premises in Smithton, Scottsdale and Midway Point would be the first to receive optical fibre broadband connections. Physical work will begin shortly. We will start digging trenches. (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware of any commentary from experts on the importance of high-speed broadband for Tasmania and more broadly for Australia? In particular, what sorts of benefits can be expected to flow from areas where high-speed broadband has not been available, particularly in rural and regional Tasmania?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —This is a very exciting development for Tasmania that will transform the state. I note the comments of Professor Larry Smarr, one of the fathers of the internet and an adviser to President Obama on the development of a US broadband plan. He said yesterday:

It is so fun to come over … from the United States and see an advanced country thinking strategically about its future and building a nation-building … platform like the NBN.

He went on to say:

I think the United States is frankly going to be learning a great deal from Australia in the days to come about what it is like to be a 21st-century country.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Conroy, resume your seat. When there is silence we will proceed.

Senator CONROY —I note that the Tasmanian government’s and our government’s decision to begin building in Tasmania concurs with the views of many of those opposite, Mr President, which may surprise you. (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I do note that Tasmania is going to lead the way.

The PRESIDENT —The question, Senator Polley.

Senator POLLEY —Can the minister confirm that following the announcement of the National Broadband Network the Liberal opposition leader in Tasmania, Mr Will Hodgman, expressed support for this investment in Tasmania, stating:

… I’m worried about the best interests of Tasmanians and we are supportive of the federal government investment.

To the minister’s knowledge, is this view widely held?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I note that the government’s decision to begin building in Tasmania concurs with the views of some opposition members. The shadow minister for broadband, Mr Bruce Billson, said:

I am calling on Senator Conroy to guarantee the people of Tasmania that they will be among the first in the nation to gain affordable new broadband services …

And of course we have Senator Guy Barnett. He stated on 30 April:

The opposition welcomes Tasmania being the first state to access the network.

Government senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order on my right!

Senator CONROY —So let me be clear about this: we will start digging new trenches come October, we will start connecting the first homes come the end of the year and our objective is to turn on these new services come July next year. This rollout is the start of a— (Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.