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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6052

Ms COLLINS (8:40 PM) —I want to speak on behalf of my constituents, who are aggrieved and concerned about their current access to broadband in Tasmania. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, as of 30 June 2008 the proportion of Tasmanian households that had access to broadband at home was around 39 per cent. That compared to a national average of 52 per cent, so Tasmanians have been way behind the eight ball for a long time. We all know that the Liberal Party, whilst it was in government, had the view that the free market should reign; building nation-building infrastructure such as broadband was clearly not on their agenda. In fact, they spent almost 12 years in government, I think, coming up with 18 different plans for broadband, none of which were implemented. It has really taken a new government, the Rudd government, with the vision to see the full potential of investing in this communication infrastructure.

Since the announcement of the National Broadband Network and the process that has been undertaken by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, of course, we have had lots of criticism, but in the National Broadband Network my home state of Tasmania is actually to lead the nation. The Rudd government’s announcement about embarking on this nation-building project, which will see Tasmania in particular progress through the 21st century, has been very well received in Tasmania. We all know that the eyes not just of the nation but of the world are on Tasmania in relation to this broadband project that has been announced. It will revolutionise our day-to-day lives. The NBN will be the largest nation-building infrastructure project in Australia’s history when it is complete. It is a long-term investment in communication infrastructure that will ensure that all Australians remain competitive with other leading countries. It will also be the biggest reform in telecommunications in the past two decades.

Building this network, we know, is important for the economy. It is also important for small business and for government service delivery, and it will change the way we access things like health services and education. This has required real vision and leadership. After almost 12 years of inaction, we are pretty much in the technological dark age. In fact, we have one of the slowest and most expensive broadband networks across all developed countries. Australia is at the bottom of the OECD table when it comes to speed, when it comes to price and when you consider the number of people using it—or, in this case, not using the internet, particularly in my home state of Tasmania, as I said. When you look at our network compared to those of countries like Korea, Iceland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Norway, Sweden, Canada and the UK, you see they are all leading the way when it comes to the number of households accessing broadband. I think that the Rudd government’s announcement in relation to the National Broadband Network is a great step forward, and it will certainly be a great step forward for my home state of Tasmania. Information technology has increased massively on a global scale, and it has revolutionised the way people communicate and interact. I was reading an interesting statistic today: internet traffic has increased by 9,000 per cent in the last seven years. It certainly shows how vital this piece of communication is to all Australians and, as I said, particularly in my home state of Tasmania.

I was talking recently to both the federal minister for communications and the state government on what this Broadband Network will actually mean for Tasmania. We will really start to roll out this Broadband Network in the next few months, and Tasmanian homes, schools and workplaces in urban and regional towns will be connected with optic fibre—that is, fibre to the premises—delivering speeds of up to 100 megabits per second. That is, as we know, much faster than is currently used by most people. In fact, it is estimated that around 200,000 premises, or around 80 per cent of Tasmanians, are likely to get fibre to the premises, with others receiving wireless in towns that are much smaller, because of the topography of Tasmania. We are also delivering the technology to all of our hospitals and to 90 per cent of our schools. That will particularly benefit rural and remote areas of Tasmania. It will mean that they will be able to do things like telehealth—that is, they will be able to have specialists and diagnostic services available in real time online. It will also be really important for rural and regional students, who will be able to have online live classrooms. They will be able to get feedback from peers—students—and also from teachers in relation to their educational needs. So it will be a very big deal in Tasmania.

Everybody I have spoken to in Tasmania, including the industry and the education and health services, is extremely excited about this project. My understanding is that we will start building this network in the next few months. Not only will it have huge benefits for health, education and other services because of its speed, but it will also have the impact of supporting local jobs in Tasmania. I understand that the broadband network is expected to support around 25,000 jobs each and every year of the rollout, and that rollout is expected to take seven to eight years across the country. It is a really big infrastructure project in Tasmania, and I am really pleased that Tasmania is going to be first cab off the rank. We will be having all sorts of discussions with local communities, small businesses and health and education services about where to start this network and about how it will be rolled out.

I congratulate the current state government on its submission and also the government business enterprise Aurora for its assistance with that submission, but Tasmania had already invested some time ago because of the vision of the late former Premier Jim Bacon, whom I worked for. Around 10 years ago Tasmania started its gas rollout. The former Premier was smart enough at the time to put fibre in the trenches when they were laying the gas, so Tasmania has a backbone of fibre network connecting Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie—and it actually goes just past Burnie. We will be able to connect and start getting people on board much faster than anywhere else in the country, which is why Tasmania has been chosen as one of the first sites in the country. It will be really significant for our state.

Apart from Tasmania being the first cab off the rank, this broadband network will obviously go nationwide. It will reach Australians far and wide, and we want to ensure that the National Broadband Network is accessible by everyone. I think we have committed to access for around 90 per cent of all Australians, and for those who cannot access fibre optic to the premises there will be faster broadband through wireless networks and new satellite technologies. We have taken the lead, we have taken the hard decisions and we are moving forward with this. We have announced that we will establish a national broadband network company, which will be responsible for the planning, construction and operation of this new, fast National Broadband Network, and that the Australian taxpayers, through the government, will actually be the majority shareholder of this company. We are obviously expecting and anticipating some significant private sector investment, as this project will help boost Australia in terms of bringing us into the 21st century, improving our technologies and improving the services that are available to us through fibre optics. This project will help the local economy, and it is also about supporting jobs in this global financial crisis.

This investment goes hand in hand with nation building. Up until recently, communications infrastructure has not been seen as infrastructure. It has not been seen as something real and tangible. I am proud to be part of a government that has recognised its importance to the future economy of Australia and also to the advancement of things like education, health and other things for which this technology will be used. It will improve the quality of our day-to-day lives, it will change the way governments deliver services and it will certainly deliver benefits for the people of my electorate of Franklin.

This government is about fixing the wrongs of the past in delivering a competitive telecommunications sector and investing in Australia’s future beyond this global recession. The delivery of this high-speed broadband will open up a new window of opportunity, a technological advancement that will afford opportunities in many areas. Under the Rudd government, we hope every person and business in Australia, no matter where they are located, will have access to this affordable, fast broadband and to the nation-building infrastructure investment that will support and stimulate jobs in the short term while making a long-term investment in Australia’s future. I am sure that the people of my electorate of Franklin, the people of Tasmania and, ultimately, people around the country will come to appreciate what that will mean as this broadband network is rolled out and as they start to see its benefits. It is very hard to explain to people just how important its benefits will be, because people just think there will be faster internet downloads. But it is so much more than that, and it is so much more exciting than that. I hope that all Australians get to see the opportunities that this network will provide as it starts rolling out around the country, starting in a few months time in my home state of Tasmania.