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Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Page: 8986

Broadband


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:07): My question is to the Minister for Communications, Senator Fifield. Yesterday, NBN Co announced an immediate halt in the rollout of its second-rate HFC cable because it's unable to deliver a reliable, quality service. When did the minister first become aware that NBN was preparing to halt the HFC rollout? When did the minister inform Mr Turnbull of the delays? And why was this kept secret until yesterday?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Acting Minister for Regional Communications) (14:07): I thank the senator for her question. NBN advised me on Wednesday the 22nd that they were looking to have a pause. As you'd be aware, Senator, section 91 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act states that the directors of a wholly-owned Commonwealth company must give the responsible minister reasonable notice if the directors become aware of any significant issue that may affect the company or any of its subsidiaries. Such requirements were put in place to ensure that shareholder ministers and their departments have adequate notice to assess the implications of issues raised by a government business enterprise. As colleagues are aware, NBN made an announcement yesterday.

The PRESIDENT: Senator O'Neill, a supplementary question?

Senator O'Neill: No; a point of order.

The PRESIDENT: Has the minister concluded his answer?

Senator O'Neill: Minister, you didn't answer the question with regard to when Prime Minister Turnbull was made aware of the delays.

The PRESIDENT: Sorry, Senator O'Neill. I wasn't sure if Senator Fifield sat in conclusion or if he sat when you stood. He sat in conclusion. Senator O'Neill, you have a supplementary question.







Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:08): I note that the minister didn't answer the question relating to when he advised Mr Turnbull of the delays. In May, the NBN Co confirmed that a seven-month delay to the activation of three million HFC premises would add $1 billion to NBN funding requirements. What impact will these most recent delays have on the NBN funding requirements?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Acting Minister for Regional Communications) (14:09): NBN is still assessing these matters and is still to provide advice to government. As I mentioned, the section 91 notice is intended to give the opportunity to shareholder ministers to ask questions. We took the decision with NBN Co that it was appropriate for the public to be advised sooner, and that is what happened. We are still awaiting further advice from NBN Co.

The PRESIDENT: A final supplementary question, Senator O'Neill.



Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (14:10): Given it was Mr Turnbull who spearheaded the shift to his so-called superior technology of HFC before the last election, doesn't the responsibility of this mess lie solely in the hands of the current Prime Minister?

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! We can wait until there's some quiet before I call Senator Fifield to answer. Senator Fifield.



Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Acting Minister for Regional Communications) (14:10): The multitechnology mix is one of the reasons the NBN will be completed by 2020—six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under those opposite. HFC is and will remain an important technology for the NBN. As the CEO of NBN Co has identified, there are some issues that are being addressed, which are readily fixable, to do with interference in terms of spectrum and also to do with some of the joints between the cable in the street and the cable that goes to the premises. These are all very fixable. HFC is a good product—

Senator Wong interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Fifield, Senator Macdonald is on his feet on a point of order.

Senator Ian Macdonald: I'm sorry to interrupt the minister, but I'm sitting quite close to him. The Leader of the Opposition in the Senate seems to think that she is able to interject consistently and continually, drowning out the minister so that I can't hear. Can you please tell her that she is a senator and is obliged to follow the same rules as every other senator.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Macdonald. I can rule on this. There was noise coming from multiple places around the chamber. I will again remind senators that at virtually every question time I've been in this chair we've had requests, particularly from the end of the chamber, for senators to be able to hear both questions and answers. I will ask all senators to respect their colleagues and restrain themselves from interjections. Senator Fifield.

Senator FIFIELD: As I was about to say, the majority of people in the United States who have broadband receive it over the HFC pay TV cable.

The PRESIDENT: Have you concluded, Senator Fifield? On a point of order, Senator O'Neill.

Senator O'Neill: There are only eight seconds remaining, and the minister still has not addressed the question I asked him: does the responsibility for the mess of the HFC rollout rest solely in the hands of the Prime Minister? We haven't gone anywhere near that.

A government senator interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order—on my right, on this occasion.

An opposition senator interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Now on my left—order! Senator O'Neil, the minister was being directly relevant to the question. I would ask senators, when they raise a point of order on direct relevance, to find more creative ways to bring attention to it rather than simply restating the question, which is not in order. Senator Fifield, in conclusion.

Senator FIFIELD: I should indicate that a large number of people in HFC areas on the pre-NBN network can access broadband over the HFC.