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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 1589

Senator BUSHBY (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (17:34): I rise to make a few brief comments on this report, particularly relating to the way that the NBN has been rolled out in Tasmania. As you would no doubt be aware, the pilot projects for the NBN were targeted in Tasmania, being in Scottsdale, Smithton and Midway Point. They have been rolled out for some time, so it gives us an opportunity to have a look at how that is going. In Scottsdale the number of connection points that have access to the NBN is 1,200, and 12 per cent of those are connected; in Smithton the number that have access is 1,600, 14 per cent of which are connected; and in Midway Point the number of homes that have access is 1,200 and at this stage 25 per cent are connected. It is important to realise that 'connected' does not mean that they are receiving internet services through those connection points. 'Connected' just means that they have taken up the opportunity to have the hardware installed at their house. All the evidence that I can find suggests that the actual number of people who have the NBN connected to their homes and are using the NBN is much smaller.

Senator Feeney: Oh, it's hearsay. You wouldn't have a clue.

Senator BUSHBY: I think that you can look at the estimates figures, and there are all sorts of things which suggest that it is actually quite small. Rather than 12, 14 or 25 per cent, you are probably looking at the single digits in terms of the people who are actually using it. But the low take-up rate does not worry the government at all. They do not really care that in a free market people who are offered the NBN products are choosing not to take them and are choosing to take other alternatives, because they are just going to close all the alternatives down and force you to take up the NBN. If you want to have a phone line, you are going to have to have the NBN. If you want to have the internet, you are going to have to have the NBN. They are just going to put in place a government monopoly, closing down all competition—competition which, it is important to understand, is what people are now choosing when they have the choice of taking up the NBN. They are not choosing to take that up; they are choosing other products which they are no longer going to be able to take up once the government closes down all competition. More particularly, in looking at Tasmania, one of the interesting things that I discovered and discussed at estimates recently was that the pilot programs in Scottsdale, Smithton and Midway Point were all fitted with a technology platform which is not the technology platform that the government are rolling out across the country as they now try and extend to further places. In fact, the technology platform is completely different to the extent that the nation's largest internet service provider, Telstra, are not offering their NBN packages in Tasmania. They have concerns about the level of quality that would be deliverable through their internet service packages if they actually offered them in Tasmania, given that the technology platform rolled out is not the technology platform forming the substantial part of the NBN.

Tasmania was supposed to have received the benefit from being the first mover in the NBN. It was supposed to put Tasmania way ahead of the pack and give Tasmania a huge advantage, particularly Tasmanian business, because Tasmania was getting the NBN first. Tasmania, actually, is now behind the pack as a result of being first. Tasmania has been given what is now redundant technology, a platform that is redundant, which the nation's largest internet service provider will not be offering packages for until such time as that technology has been retrofitted. I think this is an absolutely appalling outcome. Not only does it highlight the hypocrisy of the government in trying to sell a dud to Tasmanians; it also highlights their incompetence generally and their proclivity towards waste and mismanagement.

There will be a cost of retrofitting the technology platforms—to the 12 per cent, the 14 per cent and the 25 per cent that have connected in those three sites. It will not just be a change to a switch in the head office somewhere, but each house will have to be visited and the hardware—which may have been attached to the walls in those houses—removed, taken away and replaced with new hardware. That is going to take time. Until that happens the people who are connected in those houses cannot get Telstra or, possibly, other internet service providers to offer them packages. It is going to cost lots of money, money which will ultimately come from taxpayers.

In summary, Tasmania has not done well from being the pilot project. It has put Tasmania behind the rest of the country. It is going to cost us more, and it is just another example of how this government cannot take any project and manage it well. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.