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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11277

Ms ROWLAND (Greenway) (10:18): I find it very interesting—and I believe the member for Chifley would agree with me—that the member for Wentworth claims the committee is being treated with contempt when he has nothing but contempt for this project. Nothing in the comments that he just made would indicate anything else. In fact, the sun would not be coming up—it would not be a proper day—if we did not have the member for Wentworth bagging it. So it is good to see that we are on business as usual. He talks about the committee not being provided with enough information, he thinks, to give a proper report—as if, irrespective of any other information, he would need another reason not to support this project. His complete obsession with micromanagement of a project which, when they were in government, they could not even deliver after 12 years and twenty-something goes is beyond the pale.

I will address in passing some of the other comments by the member for Wentworth. I want to address a few, because I have heard them about 20 times already this month. There is a reason why this project is unique and why Australia is continuing down this path. And I do not need any other endorsement—although endorsements have come from far and wide from analysts around the world—than that of the ITU, the UN's telecommunications section, who came out a few months ago and said, 'There is a reason why Australia needs this project and there is a reason why this project needs to be structured in a unique way.' That is because of Australia's topography and its markets, because of our legacy in having the CAN and a vertically integrated operator for so long and because of the failure to deliver equitable access to high-speed broadband services to date. That endorsement was given by the ITU secretary-general himself. In fact, in comments he made when he came to Australia he said that he foresees that, in the next couple of years, Australia will make it up the rankings, gradually, from being one of the least effective countries in terms of broadband penetration to being the leader in the world, and the only way he thinks this can be done is by having the project that we have in place. So I take that endorsement on board.

The member for Wentworth talked about monopoly structures and behaviours again, as if we have not heard that before. The fact is that this is the most pro-competition option possible. By separating the access network from the services layer, we are able to disinfect the effects of vertical integration that have permeated the system to date and have led to a situation where we have not had competition either in infrastructure or in services based competition and where we have not had equality of access for regional and remote areas in particular—and, as the member for Chifley and I well know, in outer metropolitan areas of Sydney. So this is the only way in which we are going to be able to deliver that access.

I also take issue with the member for Wentworth continually bringing up the debate on fibre versus wireless. The debate is over. It has been done. I bet, if he kept reading from that Analysys report, it would conclude by saying, 'Fibre and wireless based services in a high-speed broadband world are complementary.' They are complementary, not substitutes for one another. He also talked about fibre-to-the-node versus fibre-to-the-home analysis. Firstly, none of this is new. In my former life before this place, when I was working in the mid-2000s in Malaysia, developing their high-speed broadband, we canvassed all these issues. This is absolutely nothing new. But what is important and what we actually concluded in our analysis for the Malaysian regulator, in rolling out the system—and, I know, as has also been analysed by other countries in our region who have done their rollouts, like Singapore and South Korea—is that you need to structure the most appropriate system of broadband access for the country in question. There is no question that the solution that is adopted in Singapore, South Korea, Japan and elsewhere, given their scale and topography, is going to be different from that in Australia.

I was startled to find that the member for Wentworth has finally come to the realisation that spectrum is a shared resource and has technological limitations. Fibre is in fact the only technology-neutral platform that is available, because once we have the infrastructure in place (a) nothing is faster than the speed of light and (b) whatever you would like to do using that infrastructure, be it through wireless or other solutions—and that is why we have mobile operators welcoming the NBN; they will be able to fibre up their base stations even better, thanks to the NBN—we have the ability to put the electronics on either end and do whatever we like with that bandwidth.

There are all these arguments. It would not be a normal day without the member for Wentworth, firstly, bagging the NBN and, secondly, being behind on the technology.

Mr Husic interjecting

Ms ROWLAND: As the member for Chifley reminds me, Mr Turnbull ran a very good dial-up company, so of course he knows more than the rest of us!

I support the recommendations in the joint committee's report—I think the member for Wentworth touched on the actual report for about two minutes—and I want to single out a couple before I turn to the dissenting report. One of those recommendations is that 'government agencies take measures to ensure they are ready for the rollout' of the NBN and to ensure appropriate government service delivery. This is a really important point, and for me it goes to something local as well. I have a new estate, The Ponds, in my electorate, which, because of the foresight in putting the fibre mandate on the ledger sometime ago, has been developed with relatively good fibre rollout, unlike other areas such as Kellyville Ridge, and Woodcroft in the member for Chifley's electorate. In the last census, apparently The Ponds was one of the highest users of the e-census option in Australia. It demonstrates the power and importance of governments being able to tap into the lives of everyday citizens and make jobs easy. It is not just about online payment; it is about the whole interaction that we have with government. How many people would have been at home when the census collector came around? I know they came around twice to my place and, of course, I was not home either time. We completed it online. I think this is a very important point and a very strong recommendation that needs to be taken on board.

Secondly, I note the recommendation regarding the resources taken to complete the binding agreements and increase the POIs from 14 to 121. This is really important because it demonstrates the rigour of the ACCC, as the regulator. How many times in this debate have we heard people say it is going to be anticompetitive because the ACCC has no teeth? This POI decision demonstrates the very forward looking and commercial understanding that the ACCC has applied to this. That is a very important recommendation.

There is a recommendation that NBN Co. publish time frames for regional and remote areas, which is very important. I note this was raised in the regional consultations that have been made to date. I will touch on one alluded to by the member for Wentworth. There is a recommendation that the minister publish a detailed statement outlining the productivity, jobs and competitive benefits of the rollout of the NBN. I do not think that will take minister very long to do at all because—and it is important to put this in context—we have a debate going on in parallel where the opposition wants to bring back some of the worst elements of Work Choices, including individual contracts, on the basis that they get told by people in their electorates that we need to increase productivity.

Google has done a very detailed study into the value of the internet to the Australian economy and says that already the digital economy, of which the NBN will be one of the key drivers if not the key driver at least in infrastructure, contributes $50 billion to our economy or 3.6 per cent of GDP. If you want to talk about increases in GDP in this country and productivity improvements, you do not do that by stripping away workers' entitlements. You do it smart by investing in ICT because we know that this is where the highest productivity improvements and the most long-term benefits come from.

I also take issue with some of the comments that the member for Wentworth made and some of the items that the opposition have put in their dissenting report. On page 60, the opposition maintains its position that a national fibre to the home network is incapable of being financially viable or delivering affordable services. This is their running argument with the implementation study. It is like the Japanese soldier lost in the jungle after the war—they are still running around criticising the implementation study when it has been and gone. On page 60 the member for Wentworth, as the author of this dissenting report, says:

… price is the biggest barrier to internet uptake in Australia.

I do like how he continually refers to broadband as 'the internet' rather than anything else. Recently at an industry forum, one eminent industry leader commented to me that it is amazing how the member for Wentworth still thinks the NBN is just about 'the internet'.

As the ACCC's infrastructure report has consistently displayed, the issue is not just income. The issue is the lack of facilities-based competition to date and that has been the core of the access block. Without competition at the facilities level, combined with the legacy of Telstra's vertical integration as the owner of the CAN, service based competition has been severely impeded in this country. Do not take it from me. You only need to look at the ACCC's decision to maintain the declaration of the Domestic Transmission Capacity Service and its rationale in maintaining the declaration, so maintaining regulation of the DTCS. Facilities based competition remains at the remit of regulatory oversight for a very good reason—intercapital city infrastructure, as one example, is at the heart of competition to deliver affordable and competitive services. We have the old cost-benefit chestnut, which was discussed by the member for Wentworth, which is noted on page 61 and onwards. I find the cost-benefit argument that the member for Wentworth keeps coming back to really interesting, particularly because I did not pick him as a conspiracy theorist. On 7 September at the ACCAN conference in Sydney the member for Wentworth said, amongst other things, that there were no applications forthcoming that could take advantage of the huge bandwidth being made available. I will have something to say about that in a minute. He then went on to talk about the NBN being 'a conspiracy.' It was reported that the member for Wentworth said:

Let me tell you who the conspirators are. They are the vendors, who want to sell lots of kit for the NBN. They'll tell you privately they think it's bonkers, but they want to sell the kit. There are the over-the-top people like Google and Yahoo and media companies.

There is so much more that I could say on that point but I will just report back on the cost-benefit analysis that has already been done. I have brought this to the attention of the member for Wentworth on several occasions but he obviously chooses not to read them. The Access Economics papers prepared for the department, which are publicly available and very recent, estimate:

… the steady state benefits to Australia from wide-scale implementation of telehealth—

using high-speed broadband that only the NBN can deliver—

may be in the vicinity of $2 billion and $4 billion per annum.

That is every single year. This thing pays for itself.

The member for Cowper would be interested in this. Another teleworking paper that Access Economics has done talks about the importance of infrastructure savings, saying:

… these flow from both teleworkers not using road transport during peak periods, reducing the need for road maintenance and upgrades … and from population decentralisation as teleworkers can live outside of major city centres. As the expenditure on road infrastructure in Australia in 2007-08—

in 2007-08 alone—

by governments totalled about $13.2 billion … this gain is potentially large.

Time and again, we hear the member for Wentworth coming in here and saying, 'We don't know why we need the NBN; we haven't had a cost-benefit analysis done on it.' It is the same old story.

I would like to bring something else into context in the last minute that I have, and that is a social inclusiveness. I know that during the last couple of months a lot of us have been going around our electorates talking to disability carers and people with disabilities. We have only to look at the 2007 OECD publication about the digital inclusion perspective, which analysed particularly how high-speed broadband networks of the type that the NBN is, to see that they have the potential to markedly improve the lives and life chances of all people with disabilities. That is yet another reason why I have been such a vocal advocate for the NBN. I note that the potential for social inclusiveness for people with disabilities can never be measured solely by economic analysis. I know that, as the National Broadband Network continues to be rolled out, we will continue to see those benefits flow through to Australian citizens. I commend the report to the House.