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Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Page: 6430

Mr TURNOUR (12:40 PM) —I am proud to be part of a government that actually has a plan for telecommunications in this country, and it is great to have the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government and the Leader of the House here today. It demonstrates how seriously we take the House of Representatives when a minister is prepared to come along here and answer questions as have other ministers. I understand the former government did not often send ministers to these appropriations, and it is great to see the Leader of the House here.

The members opposite have formally asked some questions about plans for the National Broadband Network. I want to put on the record that they had 18 plans and no solution for rural and regional Australia’s telecommunications. The Optus/Opel plan was the last. It was basically slapped together to respond to our framework for a National Broadband Network in the lead-up to the last election because the former Prime Minister knew that they were not going down very well in the bush.

While we are talking about the bush, it is disappointing to again see the very poor roll-up of the National Party at the agricultural estimates last night. There was not even a member of the National Party here for communications estimates. It is an indictment of that party that they were not here representing rural and regional Australia at these estimates. Telecommunications are critical to rural and regional Australia. I come from Leichhardt and live in the great city of Cairns but I also represent Cape York and the Torres Strait. We know the importance of a national broadband network in delivering First World 21st-century communications technologies to communities like mine. It is great to be part of a government that has a plan that is being rolled out.

There are many problems with telecommunications. It is one of the major things that I get complaints about in my electorate. We have been in government 18 months and it takes time to roll out national infrastructure like this. The former government had 10 or 11 years to roll out any sort of national broadband network and they did not. I am continuously dealing with complaints in my office about not being able to access broadband not only in the Torres Strait and the Cape but in the central parts of Cairns. This is the network that was left to us by the former government. It is an indictment of the former government that they failed to deliver any sort of national broadband network to this country. The shadow minister is laughing.

Mr Billson —I’m not laughing at you, mate.

Mr TURNOUR —I can assure the shadow minister that constituents in my electorate are not laughing when their small businesses cannot get access to decent telecommunications to run their businesses and to increase productivity. We are about boosting productivity in electorates like mine and supporting small business. That is what we are about. Through the National Broadband Network there are benefits for business and social benefits, such as improving educational opportunities and health opportunities.

I am particularly interested in asking the minister a question about a part of the government’s commitment to rolling out and improving infrastructure. Can the minister please provide some information about the Rudd government’s new Digital Regions Initiative and how this program will help rural and regional Australia access the benefits of broadband communications? As a member from a regional area I firmly believe that it is vital for the Rudd government to help deliver the benefits of this investment directly to regional communities. How will the Digital Regions Initiative help to ensure that residents, particularly in Far North Queensland, can benefit from improved real world services through access to better communications? As I have said, this is going to be particularly important for rolling out improved educational and health outcomes. In the future, with the National Broadband Network and good quality telecommunications, doctors in a new hospital that we got built in Weipa will be able to provide services that are linked to specialists in places like Cairns, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. We have a plan for the National Broadband Network—we have a plan to improve telecommunications in regional Australia—and I would appreciate the minister outlining some more detail about that plan, particularly in relation to the digital economy.