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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 591

Mrs PRENTICE (11:40 AM) —I rise on this motion as it is an issue of great interest to me and one that I have worked on for many years. There is no doubt that Australia and Australians will benefit from the provision of high-speed broadband access across the nation. What is in dispute is that NBN Co. is the model with which to deliver it.

If we look at the method of communication delivery and the access of communities in past centuries we see that that was through the roads and the railway lines that were built in those centuries. In this and in future centuries, the connection of our communities, in relation to economic agreements and business going forward, will definitely be through broadband. But just as roads were not the only way of accessing remote communities the NBN Co. will not be the only way to go forward. We need to look at fibre being delivered not just by a monopolistic outdated telco model but through a model that will deliver opportunities for everyone. A model which will have open access and high speeds and will encourage innovation and competitiveness. The coalition says that that will not be delivered by NBN Co.

Looking forward, we need to find a model that delivers opportunities for our communities. As the member for Greenway said, broadband is a way of delivering improved services across the nation. NBN Co. is not the way to deliver that model. NBN Co. is delivering ADSL2 up to 2030. That year is more than 20 years into the future; that model will be obsolete by the time this project is finished—and at what cost? It will come at a cost of over $2,800 per household at today’s costs. Yet the City of Brisbane is delivering this to every household and every ratepayer in the city at no cost to the ratepayers and at no cost to the city. Quite obviously we should be working hand in hand with private enterprise. We should be looking at a mix. We should be looking at what is already there.

The government would have you believe that there is not already existing broadband in our community. Yet the reality is that there is already fibre—superior fibre. But NBN Co. wants to come along and build over the top of existing fibre networks with an inferior model and an inferior product at the taxpayers’ expense. What a waste of money. This is why, from day one, the coalition has said that this project by the government needs to go to the Productivity Commission.

We cannot justify this sort of expenditure—over $43 billion—of taxpayers’ money at a time when there are so many other demands on those dollars and when private enterprise and other models are not only on offer but working already in other parts of the world. Look at the Amsterdam model. Look at what Huawei are doing around the world. Look at what Axia are doing in Canada. Look at what ETRI and other companies are doing in South Korea.

We do not have the right solution. That is what the coalition is saying. Yes, we support broadband; yes, we support fibre; but the NBN Co. model is wrong. It is restricting advancements; it is restricting competition; and—indeed, the most important part—it is restricting speeds.

Look at some of the projects that are happening around our country now. Already the preliminary one in Tasmania—strangely the government is not releasing the result of that preliminary project for NBN Co.—I understand is well over the estimated cost. Yet the Brisbane City Council implemented a program in a trial which came in at one-third the cost of NBN Co. Doesn’t that send up some warning signs for the government that they could do better, that we must do better—that in the interests of providing a genuinely competitive and a genuinely beneficial system for our country going forward, that we need to look at other models, that we need to refer this to the Productivity Commission, that we need to do a cost-benefit analysis? Because only through doing that will we actually get the best outcome for Australia and the best outcome for Australian citizens.

Broadband as it is, is going to offer some wonderful opportunities. Already our health system is spending millions of dollars compressing information to send through existing fibre systems. By delivering dark fibre around the country, government delivery of health can benefit. What we are saying is that, with the advancement of technology, with the advancement of new systems, it is not just ADSL2+; we can deliver much better and much faster systems with the benefit of partnerships with private companies. You only have to look at how fast new products and new innovations are developing.

The member for Greenway said she did not want to argue economics. But that is what we do need to argue. Cost-benefit analysis is critical on any project. This will be one of the most expensive infrastructure projects in the history of this country. Our residents need to know that they are getting value for money.

Going forward, we need to look at some of the innovations. We need ubiquitous speeds: the same speed going up as we have coming down. We do not even know tomorrow what is going to be invented or created that can be delivered down broadband, and yet we are still planning a system under NBN Co. which will only deliver what we currently know is in existence to 2030. Are you really trying to tell me that there will be no advances in technology before 2030, that we really do not need speeds more than ADSL2+ before 2030 and we are going to restrict the delivery? It is like giving all the roads to Ford and Ford being allowed to say, ‘We are only going to have Ford cars travel on those roads.’ This is an incredibly prescriptive and restrictive process. We need to open it up to genuine competition and we need to open it up to genuine innovation.

People used to claim that Napster would have been the death of the music industry, because they opened up the music industry online. Yet, what has happened? The latest music star, Justin Bieber, would not be there if they had not opened it up with that opportunity. The record companies rejected him—just as NBN Co. will reject people who are in competition to what they are trying to achieve with their outdated telco model.

The coalition are great supporters of broadband. We have never disputed the necessity of universal access. What we oppose is the plan to create an outdated telco monopoly that will have no scrutiny; intends to build over the top of existing, superior infrastructure; and, most critically, will waste of billions of dollars in doing so. Once again, it is the height of hypocrisy to move this motion today knowing that some of the advances that the member for Greenway spoke about will not be delivered through the NBN Co. outdated telco model. The only way some of the innovations can be delivered is through an open-access, competitive process.