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Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Page: 1150


Senator CAROL BROWN (TasmaniaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (09:36): As I rise to make a contribution to this debate I am very pleased to once again have an opportunity to put on record my support of the National Broadband Network. I am proud to be part of a government that recognises the importance of bringing Australia's broadband services into the 21st century. As we move towards a digital economy we need to remain competitive in our region, and this is why we are delivering the NBN. No matter what the location, the NBN will ensure high-speed broadband to everywhere in Australia. All homes, schools and businesses will be included.

Fibre-to-the-premises technology, with speeds of one gigabit per second, will connect 93 per cent of premises. Satellite and wireless technology will service the rest of Australia and provide faster and affordable broadband. To put it in layman's terms, what we are talking about is broadband speed a thousand times faster than the speed that many people currently receive. Rural and regional communities, such as my home state of Tasmania, have already started to benefit from the NBN and will continue to prosper and thrive with the assistance of high-speed broadband. The NBN is the single largest infrastructure investment made by an Australian government. It will deliver a once-in-a-generation improvement of our telecommunications infrastructure and it will benefit all Australians. It is cutting-edge technology that will transform our economy and create new ways of connecting with each other and the world.

There have been Australian and international studies that have shown broadband to be one of the strongest ways to increase social and economic development. The Connecting Communities review by a global telecommunications solutions provider looked at the benefits of broadband in the United Kingdom and what this means for Australia. The findings were that high-speed broadband is directly related to strong regional areas and attracting and retaining employees, and also contributes to a low-carbon future. It can be summed up as being 'transformational for Australia'.

We know that, as a significant nation building project, the NBN will end up paying for itself. The advantages it will provide are incredibly widespread and touch on every facet of our lives, including health, education and business. At a grassroots level it will mean that local businesses can develop and get in touch with new markets and that people will be able to access health care without having to leave their homes.

I would like to share a story from my home state of Tasmania, which I know you will be interested in, Mr Deputy President, that highlights the benefits of the NBN. It involves a sign-writing business in Midway Point, which was one of the three towns in the initial rollout. Midway Point is in the electorate of Lyons and is represented by Dick Adams, who is a strong supporter of the NBN and a great advocate for his community. This business has seen an increase in its capacity to attract customers thanks to the NBN. As the broadband speed is faster and more reliable, large artwork files can now be sent and retrieved in a matter of seconds, which is a dramatic improvement and has increased the number of clients wanting to do business with it. The NBN means that distance is no longer an impediment to running a successful business, which is crucial for businesses in regional and rural Australia. This is just one example of the many success stories that highlight how the NBN is changing lives and creating opportunities.

Midway Point is joined by Scottsdale and Smithton as the towns where NBN services are currently available in Tasmania, and work has either commenced or will com­mence in 12 months on a number of other locations. These locations are George Town, Deloraine, Triabunna, Sorell, Somerset, St Helens, Launceston, South Launceston, Bellerive, Hobart, Kingston and Claremont. In Tasmania it is estimated that within 12 months 15,000 homes will have access to the NBN, with work planned to start on an extra 76,000 in the coming year.

Despite hearing stories about the very positive impact the NBN is having on people out there in the community, those opposite are hell bent on preventing Australians from having a world-class, affordable broadband service. If they were serious about ensuring Australians are able to access world-class telecommunications infrastructure, they would support the NBN rollout, as it is supported throughout the community.

This government wants everyone to have access to high-speed broadband, no matter where they live, and we are committed to delivering it for all Australians. As we continue this mission, the Telecom­munications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011 and the Telecom­munications (Industry Levy) Bill 2011 are part of a package of legislation aimed at enabling the continuity of key telecom­munications safeguards. These bills are part of the next stage in the government's reform agenda for the telecommunications industry. The bills seek to reform the arrangements for the delivery of universal service and public policy outcomes. This will aid the evolution to the NBN and a more competitive telecommunications market.

Breaking this package down, the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill provides the governance, funding and accountability framework for this new statutory agency. It will ensure that universal service outcomes and other important services for the community will still be delivered in a new competitive circumstance. The new entity will guarantee that all Australians have sufficient access to a standard telephone service and payphones, guarantee the continuing delivery of the Emergency Call Service and the National Relay Service, and guarantee that appropriate safeguards are in place to support voice-only customers transferring to an NBN fibre service as Telstra's copper network is decommissioned. It will also ensure that technological solutions will be developed to support the continuity of public interest services such as public alarm systems and traffic lights. These are vital ways to ensure the continuity of basic services to Australians in light of the changes to the telecommunications industry that will take place with the rollout of the NBN, including the gradual decom­missioning of Telstra's copper customer access network. The government is committed to reducing the disruption for industry and the wider community by keeping these basic safeguards.

Telstra will be required to keep its copper network to deliver voice services outside NBN fibre areas and will also be the retailer of last resort for voice-only services over the NBN fibre network. As well as providing accessible basic services, the legislation will also ensure that the new agency operates in an accountable and transparent manner. It will be required to keep a publicly available register with key terms and services to be provided under all contracts and grants, as well to as prepare annual reports and corporate plans. There will be a review before 1 January 2018 to consider how effective the agency has been. The estimated total cost of the agency is $340 million per year for its first two years and around $330 million per year following that. To help with these costs the government is contributing at least $50 million in funding per year for the first two financial years and $100 million per year after that.

The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill chiefly amends telecommunications legislation to assist the new arrangements for delivery of universal service outcomes within the telecommunications sector and to facilitate the establishment of the new agency and the changeover to new levy arrangements. An important part of the bill is the proposal of a robust framework for contracting with service providers for the delivery of universal service outcomes and related public interest services in the telecommunications sector. The Telecom­munications (Industry Levy) Bill is a bill that ensures the government can raise the consolidated industry levy. This package of legislation further progresses the work the government is doing to reform the telecom­munications industry and continue with the rollout of the NBN. The government is committed to giving all Australians access to affordable and high-speed broadband services. The NBN is critical infrastructure that will connect Australians with each other and the world, and I commend the bills to the Senate.