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Thursday, 28 February 2013
Page: 1292

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (12:40): Thank you for that courtesy, Mr Acting Deputy President. I rise to speak on the fourth report of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network and in particular draw the Senate's attention to the dissenting report published by coalition members and senators. I note that Senator Cameron did, as the report does, touch on the committee's visit to New Zealand. Although I was unable to join that delegation, I would highlight to the Senate that particularly relevant information has come to light since that time, that relevant information being that Chorus, the company building the ultrafast broadband network in New Zealand, has this week had to concede and admit a far higher per-premises cost in relation to the delivery of broadband to each home. Remarkably, the government continues to claim that it will be able to build the NBN in Australia at a significantly lower per-premises cost than is the case in New Zealand. This is remarkable indeed because, of course, average wage rates in Australia are significantly higher than those in New Zealand. So, despite higher costs, somehow the government is going to build its NBN at a lower cost than the government of New Zealand. This is indeed remarkable and demonstrates that there is a financial disaster and calamity heading our way under the National Broadband Network as proposed by this government.

It is for these reasons that the dissenting report of coalition members and senators includes some specific recommendations, in particular recommendations that go very directly to issues around transparency about the cost per premises. We believe it is absolutely critical that what is clearly understood and clearly detailed is the cost per premises especially for the building of fibre in brownfield areas and equally for the building of fibre in greenfield areas and for the rollout of the fixed wireless network. NBN Co. and the government claim to have provided some information on this to date, but it is imprecise to say it is the absolute best. NBN Co. of course are pretty keen on imprecise information because we see that from what was given to Senate estimates by way of answers in the last round. NBN Co. in fact refused to provide answers to questions in any level of detail, claiming:

Now that NBN Co. has reached volume rollout it is impractical for NBN Co to provide ad hoc updates on financial and deployment metrics to a level of granularity not already provided for in public releases, parliamentary reporting processes and regular rollout information provided on our website for the use of access seekers.

Such basic information as the number of customers NBN Co. has on its fibre network in Tasmania was deemed to be too granular for NBN Co. to provide to the Senate estimates committee. It beggars belief that this government somehow is able to claim that it is on top of what NBN Co. is doing and yet cannot provide the most basic information to a committee when asked. Equally, since much of the evidence contained in this report was received we have learned that Syntheo, the NBN Co. contractor for South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, has, despite 19 months of so-called volume rollout activity, failed to finish connection as to a single area of broadband rollout in any of those jurisdictions.

South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia—19 months of construction activity and not one connection has materialised. Remarkable, and demonstrates once again the lie when this government says a 12-month average from construction to connection, and demonstrates again the very serious concerns this opposition has about the costs associated with the NBN.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Bernardi ): Order! The time allotted for the debate has expired.