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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 118


Mr GIBBONS (4:41 PM) —I want to refer to the greatest fraud ever witnessed in this country since the Fine Cotton ring-in scandal. You might remember that. That was where some unscrupulous people tried to turn one racehorse into another racehorse by painting its legs with white paint. The Howard government’s broadband plan announced on Tuesday makes the Fine Cotton fraud scandal look like a minor joke. This map of the Bendigo federal electorate, kindly provided by the office of the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, clearly outlines the Howard government’s proposed areas for the new ADSL and WiMAX wireless broadband services covering the Bendigo area. And, as anyone who knows communications coverage in the region will tell you, Telstra and other providers are already covering all of the area proposed under the Howard con trick of a plan. The Howard government, instead of painting the horse’s legs white, have covered some areas on a map of the electorate with green paint, and these areas already have access to broadband services. This is hocus-pocus politics. The magicians in the Howard government want Australians to believe that they have created this great broadband initiative when they know that in most areas of regional Australia a better service already exists. But they want to con the Australian people into thinking that they are responsible for it.

The Prime Minister is a Johnny-come-lately to the broadband debate. He has been in a panic to catch up with Labor since the Leader of the Opposition announced his pace-setting vision for a nation-building broadband program. All that the Prime Minster has come up with is a hyped up pre-election con job which has to be one of the biggest frauds ever inflicted on the electors of Bendigo. The Howard plan will only deliver a second-rate wireless service in Strathfieldsaye, Huntly, parts of Epsom, Junortoun, Mandurang, Marong and Kangaroo Flat. The government’s briefing document for Bendigo—also provided by the minister’s office—states:

This landmark funding initiative will enable blanket high speed broadband coverage across the entire electorate of Bendigo so that everyone living and working in the electorate will, over the next two years, have access to fast affordable broadband for the first time.

Absolutely wrong. This clearly indicates that the Howard government is being totally dishonest with the people of Bendigo, or that it just does not understand the implications of its own policy. Clearly, the Howard government and the minister for communications are trying to sell Bendigo something that we already have—indeed, we have a much better service at that. The Prime Minister and the minister for communications obviously do not understand broadband issues and they think that everyone else is just as ignorant of how broadband works. The minister was caught out and had to perform a monumental backflip for incorrectly stating that their WiMAX wireless service will operate at around 12 megabits per second when everyone in the industry said that this was virtually impossible.

Currently, ADSL2+ or broadband services of speeds up to 20 megabits per second are available in Bendigo from Telstra and at least one other provider. The OPEL project, the government’s project, will only duplicate already available services. ADSL2+ is also available in Kyneton, Castlemaine, Bendigo and Kangaroo Flat. Under the Howard government’s broadband confidence trick, these areas will only gain the WiMAX wireless service at far lower speeds than they are currently receiving. In some cases duplication is occurring where the federal government has already spent money subsidising broadband implementation through the HiBIS and Broadband Connect initiatives. The three exchanges listed for upgrade to ADSL2+ under the government’s proposal, in Williamson Street, Bendigo, have this service already and have had it for around six months.

The Howard government is again trying to con people into thinking that this is its initiative. There will still be a country class of service, or haves and have-nots, under this plan. For example, under the Telstra bid for the original $600 million there would have been another 53 ADSL exchanges in central Victoria, providing speeds of up to eight megabits per second and with an upgradeable pathway to ADSL2+, which would secure speeds of up to 20 megabits per second. This is precisely the level of service that Labor will initiate, not just in central Victoria but right across Australia.

The Howard government’s plan for Bendigo and central Victoria falls well short of these objectives. Labor’s fibre-to-the-node broadband plan announced in March will bring a far more reliable and cost-effective high-speed broadband service, at a minimum speed of 12 megabits per second—and in most areas 20 megabits per second—to 98 per cent of Australia. The Howard government’s plan is just a con job in Bendigo—nobody in Bendigo will believe it—and they should be condemned in the strongest possible terms for trying to pull this outrageous confidence trick on the people of Bendigo.