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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 164

Mr MICHAEL FERGUSON (12:18 PM) —I rise in this adjournment debate to speak about the benefits of Australia Connected and the way in which it will support our economy and our community, specifically my community in Northern Tasmania. The announcement made by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts earlier this week was stunning and, may I say, absolutely worth the wait. It involves an immediate rollout of a new, competitive, state-of-the-art broadband network. It will extend high-speed services to consumers across our region. Initially it will be as much as six times faster than the current ADSL service for most customers, which is around one megabit per second, and will accelerate by 2009 to be 12 times faster at approximately 12 megabits per second. It is a landmark funding initiative and a nation-building investment in our infrastructure.

I am so excited about this announcement. It has exceeded my expectations because it has involved an enormous and significant contribution from the Australian government, matched also by a significant investment from the OPEL consortium. The Australian government is committing $958 million to this new network and it has been specifically designed to benefit the entire community, not just the eastern seaboard capitals. It is going to benefit our families, schools, hospitals and businesses. Businesses will be able to operate much more efficiently, keeping in touch with their customers and suppliers and extending their reach into markets interstate and internationally.

In my area of northern Tasmania, five exchanges will be upgraded to very fast ADSL 2+ broadband, which represents speeds of up to 20 megabits per second. This includes three exchanges in Launceston, George Town and Waverley. There will also be nine new wireless broadband sites—known as WiMAX—with wide coverage areas of approximately a 20 kilometres radius. This will include the towns of Bridport, George Town, Launceston, Mount Barrow and surrounding areas, Karoola, Winnaleah, Nabowla and Weymouth and all of the towns that then fit within the circumference of those coverage areas.

What this means, if you were to plot it on a map, is effectively blanket coverage across almost the entire electorate of Bass, except for some very small towns in the more remote areas of my electorate. I am very pleased to see that these areas will be covered under the Australian Broadband Guarantee. What this means for people living in these less populated areas is broadband via satellite with a generous Australian government contribution of $2,750, which in the current market means zero installation with some providers and a city comparable fee of around $30 per month. This is a new national high-speed network. It is a wholesale network, which means that other providers in the marketplace will be entitled to retail the product to consumers. In fact, we could have the very interesting situation where Telstra becomes a retail provider through this network as well. It will be terrific for competition, and it will be terrific to see if Telstra is prepared to offer a product through OPEL.

As a Tasmanian I am delighted to see the OPEL bid and the Australian government’s agenda include two under-sea fibre optic cables to Tasmania—one entering at the north-west in Smithton and the existing Basslink cable, which the Tasmanian government has failed to used. It is very exciting. I am distressed at the lack of Labor’s understanding of this issue and the way in which they have propagated complete fear and misinformation in the community of Tasmania. The hide of them! To say that people in northern Tasmania and the capital city of Hobart are missing out on high-speed broadband is a lie and a cynical attack which is based on misinformation. We even had a Labor identity on ABC radio earlier this week saying that the far north-east under Labor would have fibre-to-the-node—completely false and complete misinformation. It is disappointing to again see that Labor have missed the mark on broadband in Australia with their single platform so-called plan, which is unachievable and comes at great expense to the public. (Time expired)