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Monday, 16 November 2009
Page: 11842

Ms REA (8:40 PM) —I rise tonight on behalf of the residents of Bonner who have expressed on many occasions a grievance to me about the lack of broadband services in that electorate. It is a shame and an indictment on the failings of past governments at all levels that the electorate of Bonner is so poorly serviced by internet access, in particular by broadband much less by high-speed broadband access.

It is a reality that governments have always been there to provide essential services for the community, services that support a community’s development and prosperity, whether they be social, community and recreational or economic. Ever since human beings have lived in communities, whether they be villages, towns or cities, there has always been an acknowledgement that governments or the management of those cities and towns provide the infrastructure needed for people to live and work together. It is a fairly basic assessment that when we move into a house in a city we will have a footpath, we will have a road, we will have public transport, we will have all of those other services that we need to maintain our daily lives, whether it is schools for our children or hospitals for times when we are injured or sick. We take all of these things for granted, and quite rightly so.

It is the case that since the development of the internet it has become an essential tool of getting through our daily lives, but unfortunately we have not acknowledged the importance of the internet and broadband services to our communities. Whether it is the fact that local governments have ignored it—based on my previous experience as a local councillor I can speak of plenty of times when local councils have not given anything towards providing broadband access. Ratepayers provide water services, sewerage services, roads, footpaths—all of those essential things that we need to get around and do our daily business, whether it is working or simply providing for our families. However, we never took the next step to acknowledge that the next highway or the next footpath that needed to be provided was in fact the information highway. If you acknowledge that you need a footpath or a street to get to the bank because that is the way people used to conduct their financial transactions, then these days you would probably find that more people use the internet than walk along the footpath that leads to the bank door. Why then have governments in the past not acknowledged that it is important to provide the infrastructure for those people to conduct their banking in that more convenient, cost-effective way?

I am most aggrieved that we have had, for too long, a lack of commitment to providing broadband services in this country. I am particularly aggrieved for the residents of Bonner because we have the third-largest metropolitan city in the country—the fastest growing area in the country is south-east Queensland—but within the city of Brisbane you have people who do not have access to basic broadband services. Many people in my electorate are still using dial-up services to access the internet. Suburbs such as Wishart, Mansfield, Carindale, Belmont, parts of Wynnum West, parts of Manly West—areas that are only eight to 10 kilometres from the GPO—still only have access to dial-up services. Within those areas you have housing estates that are less than two years old that simply do not have the infrastructure—the fibre optic cable has not been laid for them to access broadband.

Once upon a time this was probably seen as a luxury, but these days anyone who has children knows how important the internet is for their educational opportunities. There are many suburbs in the electorate of Bonner where small businesses are finding it hard to compete with their rivals and to gain their fair share of the customer base because they simply cannot use broadband to run their businesses more effectively. This is not just about being denied a luxury anymore; this is about being denied the ability to get on with your daily life in a way that most other people now think is normal, not privileged.

That is why I am so pleased that the government has decided to address this very serious and important issue and is doing so in a couple of very significant ways. The first way is the establishment of the National Broadband Network, a massive investment of up to $43 billion rolling out over eight years, with an initial investment by the government of $4.7 billion to get this company rolling and provide these essential services. The other significant reform that the government is introducing is the proposed break up of Telstra. I emphasise this point because I believe it is possibly one of the major factors as to why residents in my electorate of Bonner, and indeed many residents across the country, do not have the access to broadband that they should have had some years ago.

When Australia was first developing and its cities were growing, the government stepped in to provide those basic services that were needed for prosperity and growth, and telecommunications was of course a fundamental part of that. In its wisdom, the previous government decided that there was no need for the government to operate that particular company and to provide that service, and decided to privatise it. That is a debate that has been had, but I know it is still being had in many lounge rooms at this very minute. Unfortunately, when they did decide to privatise, they did so in a very poorly managed and ineffective way. They basically created a massive private monopoly that owns the fixed line copper network, owns the largest cable network, owns half of the largest pay TV provider and owns the largest mobile phone network in the country. In their wisdom, they required certain USOs—universal service obligations—around the provision of phone services to the country, but did not think that broadband and internet access was just as essential. Hence they created a private company operating on a commercial basis that was never going to invest in the infrastructure required to provide this essential service.

I am particularly pleased that the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy has put forward a way of breaking up Telstra so that its network and wholesale functions can be separated from its retail activities, which I believe will not only create more efficient areas of Telstra, but will also allow the competition that will bring down costs to consumers and provide the choice that residents in my electorate and in many electorates across the country are demanding.

I emphasise once again that it is important to support these reforms and to support the rollout of the broadband network. It is the way that our children learn. It is the way the way that our small businesses do business. It is the way in which we provide and seek out essential services as well as conduct many other transactions—holidays, airlines, you name it; people use the internet for all sorts of reasons these days. We cannot be a modern, prosperous and growing country until we acknowledge and support the idea that the provision of broadband infrastructure is now just as, if not in some ways more, essential than providing all of those other things it is assumed we need, like roads, footpaths, water and sewerage services and the like. On behalf of my electorate, I simply want to urge support for broadband provision in this country.