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Address to MAV Local Government Technology Solutions Conference.



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Address to MAV Local Government Technology Solutions Conference

Delivered on behalf of the Minister by the Hon. Richard Marles MP, Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry

Good morning and thank you all for the opportunity to be here today.

Local Government holds a special place in Australia's democracy and holds an intimate link with our grassroots communities.

It is therefore a pleasure to be here to talk to you about the exciting future we are preparing in the shape of the National Broadband Network.

The Municipal Association of Victoria and its members are well aware of the potential of this historic investment to transform our local economies.

This event, showcasing the possibilities for ICT in a local Government environment is a case in point.

So too is the Association's Broadband Innovation Fund, which is doing great things to accelerate the availability of broadband-enabled services and applications across the state.

These activities are a great complement to the important role of local government in fostering the social, environmental and economic wellbeing of our communities.

High-speed broadband offers a clear opportunity for local governments to transform the way they undertake this vital role in society.

Connecting council offices and depots with broadband offers the potential to better manage plant, infrastructure and workforces.

Broadband provides new ways for the community to engage with local governments and vice versa.

It offers new ways for the public to access public information and services such as libraries.

Broadband will also play an increasing role helping councils and other infrastructure owners managing their assets.

In fact, broadband and connected technologies will reshape the way we think about infrastructure management.

Smart grids will change the way we manage power consumption smart sensors will allow constant monitoring and more informed maintenance.

Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy MINISTER FOR BROADBAND, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE DIGITAL ECONOMY DEPUTY LEADER OF THE GOVERNMENT IN THE SENATE

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For the community and nation more generally, broadband promises a revolution in the way we undertake a whole range of day-to-day activities.

In health and aged care, the opportunities are profound.

Already we are seeing early benefits of remote diagnosis and care, connecting patients in regional hospitals with specialists in capital cities.

Broadband is also supporting important emotional welfare networks for patients separated from family and friends.

It is widely anticipated that the development of tele-health in Australia will increase with widely available, affordable high-speed broadband.

These developments will become more relevant as our population continues to age and will help support a suite of in-home services to care for a generation that expects independence.

In education, broadband promises a similar revolution.

It will certainly contribute in the same way to bridge the divide between metropolitan and regional services.

It will support virtual classrooms, video and audio streaming and high-definition video conferencing - helping students and teachers to work together and connect with the world.

It will expand the availability of university and vocational learning, providing new options for people in regional locations and otherwise separated from learning centres.

Many of these possibilities are reflected in the work already being undertaken by forward thinking councils and other organisations across the country.

As I mentioned, this is certainly the case with the Broadband Innovation Fund being implemented here in Victoria by the MAV.

The program is working at the grass-roots to improve the type and quality of services in regional areas.

It is supporting ideas like the South West Knowledge Hub opened by Western Victoria state MP Gayle Tierney in Colac just last week.

The Knowledge Hub aims to provide participating councils with online access to geographic and other regional information to assist planning.

Likewise I know MAV is underway developing video conferencing for use between councils and the Association.

I understand 26 councils have already registered to participate in the first phase.

Also funded under this program, Towong Shire Council has launched a telemetry network to provide farmers and other resource managers with real-time, online access to environmental data.

The aim is to drive the more efficient use water and to improve farm productivity.

From outside Victoria, I understand you were briefed yesterday on the great work being undertaken by Sunshine Coast Council in Queensland.

Partially funded by the Federal Government's Clever networks program, Connecting the Coast incorporates fibre and wireless networks to link homes, workplaces, businesses, schools, hospitals and university facilities across the Sunshine Coast.

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This was a community looking to re-establish itself following the loss of a number of traditional industrial employers, and broadband is providing a range of transformative possibilities to do that.

It creates new markets for businesses and generates new jobs.

It enables locals to pursue further education and training while remaining in their communities.

It offers more convenient access to specialised medical services, like those I have already described.

All of these things make the council region more attractive to investors and residents, and help invigorate the economy.

Clearly, as these examples demonstrate, local government has a strong understanding of the potential for broadband generate new business opportunities and to improve the delivery of public services.

I know that local governments are also well aware of the 25,000 new jobs annually that will be created to build the National Broadband Network over the next eight years.

This is expected to peak at 37,000 local people digging trenches, deploying ducts and fibre, planning and engineering the network, connect homes and offices, making and supplying network hardware.

As you know, the Rudd Government has a strong appreciation of the role that local governments can play in the rollout of this historic nation-building project.

This is recognised in the agreements reached at the COAG meeting in early July that all levels of government would cooperate to facilitate a speedy rollout.

It is also recognised in the comments of Australian Local Government Association President Geoff Lake after our announcement in April.

As Geoff said: "Local communities have waited too long for adequate broadband services and we are delighted with today's decision to invest such significant sums in expanding Australia's productive capacity and educational frontiers."

Since our announcement, the Government and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy have been closely engaged with local government on this project.

Already, there have been a number of consultation processes undertaken.

I'm pleased to say that input from the local government sector to these consultations has been strong and is providing a valuable resource as we progress.

What is clear is that we all recognise the transformative long-term benefits on offer and we should keep that in firm view as we undertake the rollout ahead.

It is worth all of us considering what we can put into this historic project, as well as what we can gain.

As the Minister has said previously, the Government is open to discussions on how we can best develop how that can happen.

There are a number of avenues for local government to be involved in the rollout of the National Broadband Network.

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You may be aware that to accelerate the availability of superfast broadband, the Government has set the aim for Fibre-to-the-Premises infrastructure to be deployed in greenfield estates.

We are in discussions now on the precise arrangements to achieve this goal.

Already, many property developers are forging a new path by deploying fibre networks at the same time as they lay the roads and connect other essential services.

Research shows that this activity adds value to properties.

By some estimates, around one million new homes will be built over the eight-year National Broadband Network rollout.

It makes sense that these latest property developments are equipped with the latest broadband technology.

It makes sense that they are enabled for emerging online opportunities.

This includes opportunities like:

z IPTV,

z community networks,

z e-health,

z e-education,

z smart power,

z home enterprise, and

z telecommuting.

The installation of fibre in greenfields developments mean that the bandwidth to enable these kinds of services is available as people move in.

It means avoiding costly ‘retro-fitting' with fibre in the future.

The Government set out a proposed approach to implementation of the initiative in a consultation paper that was released on 29 May.

The consultation paper sought feedback on a wide range of issues including:

z the context and rationale for the Government's announcement;

z costs, including cost recovery and benefits;

z proposed and alternate legislative approaches;

z relevant definitions;

z the commencement date for the requirement;

z possible supportive measures such as model laws, templates, and guidelines;

z possible exemption mechanisms (e.g. for rural and remote areas);

z arrangements to promote competition;

z universal service and other regulatory arrangements; and

z next steps, including a possible stakeholder group.

More than 80 submissions have been received, including many from local Government.

These submissions have provided important feedback on the proposal and are being taken into careful account as we continue to develop our approach to implementing this policy.

I am pleased to announce that these submissions will be published online today.

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Many local governments and their associations have also had the opportunity to speak directly to officials from my Department about the implementation of this initiative.

In Victoria, these have included:

z Greater Geelong City Council,

z City of Casey,

z Hobsons Bay City Council,

z City of Whittlesea,

z Moorabool Shire Council,

z Baw Baw Shire Council, and

z Macedon Ranges Shire Council.

The Municipal Association of Victoria was instrumental in arranging these consultations.

The consultation process has made clear that there is widespread support for the proposal that fibre be installed in greenfield estates, although there are a number of implementation issues to be worked through.

In order to help address these issues, today the Minister will announce the formation of a Fibre in Greenfields stakeholder Reference Group.

The establishment of a stakeholder group was strongly supported by in submissions to the consultation process.

The group will involve a wide range of stakeholders including all levels of governments, telecommunications carriers, the property development industry and consumer groups.

The Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital economy will chair the group and will soon write to peak bodies - including the Australian Local Government Association -to seek nominations for participation.

The group will hold its initial meeting in the weeks ahead to discuss its detailed agenda.

This will be a key step in progressing the Government's greenfields broadband proposal.

The stakeholder group will be consulted and provide advice as required on a broad range of implementation issues related to Fibre-to-the-Premises in greenfields developments.

This includes the legislative framework, national standards and a range of other support measures.

It will provide an invaluable resource in tackling some of the trickier issues.

I would also acknowledge that the Communications Alliance has already established a working group to look at issues around greenfields developments.

The group's practical telecommunications experience will allow it to provide valuable expert advice which will benefit the broader Reference Group.

The Government still considers that legislation will be useful in providing clear guidance for stakeholders on its expectations and it is aiming to introduce later this year.

In all instances, however, stakeholders need to recognise that home buyers will

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increasingly expect to have access to Fibre-to-the-Premises and will consider it a disadvantage not to have access to the best-possible broadband.

While there is a cost to installing FTTP, this is an investment to future-proof Australian households.

The fibre-in-greenfields policy will assist to drive the rollout of high-speed broadband nationally.

This will bring benefits to local governments and their communities.

It will assist local governments to drive the uptake of the services they offer online and facilitate the adoption of telecommuting and other emerging technologies.

It is worth noting the efforts of the City of Whittlesea in Victoria in championing fibre in greenfields developments.

Putting aside the considerable benefits for price, competition, employment, health, education and entertainment, Whittlesea cites other big-picture opportunities.

These include:

z reduced cost of living;

z stimulated innovation; and

z a catalyst for the upgrade of brownfield areas.

The developments currently underway in the Whittlesea area are helping put Victoria at the forefront of broadband deployment in this country.

They mean that these communities will be among the first to benefit from the increased business and social opportunities enabled by high-speed access.

They are a sign of the things to come on a national basis as the Rudd Government works to accelerate the delivery of high-speed broadband.

As you know, the Government is strongly committed to delivering the National Broadband Network as key enabling infrastructure for our digital economy.

Like MAV through its Broadband Innovation Fund, we are also working to stimulate innovation across the economy to ensure the entire community is able to benefit from this infrastructure investment.

This includes a $60 million investment in regional broadband development projects in education, health and emergency services.

Later this year, state, territory and local governments will all be able to apply for Digital Regions Initiative funding to accelerate programs in these key service areas.

Projects are expected to commence in early 2010.

Additionally in regional Australia we are moving quickly to stimulate broadband competition the short-term by investing in backbone blackspots.

A tender closes today for the provision of links connecting the first six locations announced under this project.

We expect work to start as soon as September depending on the tenders put forward.

Initial works will target:

z Emerald and Longreach in Queensland;

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z Geraldton in Western Australia;

z Darwin in the Northern Territory;

z Broken Hill in New South Wales;

z Victor Harbor in South Australia, and

z South-West Gippsland in Victoria linking locations like Wonthaggi, Leongatha,

Korumburra, Inverloch, Foster and Yarram.

I know that local governments in the South-West Gippsland area are keenly anticipating this important fast-track broadband stimulus, particularly as they pilot their own local government broadband network with MAV and other Gippsland

councils.

However, it is important to note that these regional locations are just the first to be announced under the $250 million blackspots program and more may follow.

In addition, the National Broadband Network will boost services for people across the country, ensuring all Australians can benefits from high-speed access.

As I have said, the Rudd Government is getting on with the business of preparing Australia for the 21st century.

The National Broadband Network - the largest nation-building infrastructure project in Australian history - is the foundation infrastructure required to ensure we capitalise.

Australia cannot afford to be left behind as other nations adapt and advance into the digital economy.

These investments are essential to Australia's productivity, global competitive standing and improved social well-being.

It has been my pleasure to speak to you about this today.

Thank you for the opportunity.

Document ID: 118969 | Last modified: 24 August 2009, 8:58am

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