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Thursday, 22 September 2011
Page: 11284


Mrs D'ATH (Petrie) (10:47): I appreciate the opportunity to follow the member for Cowper in speaking to this report. It is no surprise at all that the opposition members would get up and criticise this report. It is no surprise at all that the opposition would put in a dissenting report. I think the member for Greenway put it very succinctly today when she followed the member for Wentworth: the fact is that the opposition are fundamentally opposed to this policy reform.

It is unfortunate that a committee of this nature, with the important role that it has before it, could not operate in a bipartisan way. But the reality is that you have members on this committee whose sole intention it is to ensure this reform does not go ahead; to spend all of their time questioning witnesses as to whether there is not another course that we can follow—that is, going outside the terms of reference, not looking at whether NBN Co. and the government are fulfilling the commitment the government made to the Australian people, which the Australian people fully embraced, but instead trying to say, 'That's not what we need.' We heard it from the member for Wentworth today. I did not catch all of his speech, but I am not surprised that the few seconds I caught talked about fibre to the node once again.

The fact is that we are not as a committee investigating whether there are other options to fibre to the premise. Our responsibility as a committee is to look at what the government committed to deliver in announcing the rollout of the NBN and the establishment of NBN Co. and make sure that we are fulfilling the commitment we made to the Australian people. In fact, according to the resolution of appointment, the committee's responsibility is to report every six months to this parliament, commencing 31 August 2011, until the NBN is complete and operational. The resolution also says:

… the Committee—

shall—

provide progress reports to both Houses of Parliament and to shareholder Ministers on:

(a) the rollout of the NBN … in relation to the Government’s objective for NBN Co. Limited (NBN Co.) to:

(i) connect 93 per cent of Australian homes, schools and businesses with fibre-to-the premises technology providing broadband speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, with a minimum fibre coverage obligation of 90 per cent of Australian premises; and

(ii) service all remaining premises by a combination of next-generation fixed wireless and satellite technologies providing peak speeds of at least 12 megabits per second;

(b) the achievement of take-up targets (including premises passed and covered and services activated) as set out in NBN Co.’s Corporate Plan released on 20 December 2010 as revised from time to time;

(c) network rollout performance including service levels and faults;

(d) the effectiveness of NBN Co. in meeting its obligations as set out in its Stakeholder Charter;

(e) NBN Co.’s strategy for engaging with consumers and handling complaints;

…   …   …

(g) Any other matter pertaining to the NBN rollout that the Committee considers relevant …

This is the resolution of appointment for this committee, not what those on the other side want it to be. They are running off on tangents all the time just to prove that they have another idea. Their idea is not as good. It will not deliver the speeds that the NBN Co. will but it is cheaper. That is their entire policy: 'It's not as good but, hey, it's cheaper.' That is their selling point. Well, I can tell the member for Cowper, who uses the analogy of people lining up outside the doors of Apple wanting an iPhone or an iPad but of people not lining up at Stephen Conroy's door—

Mr Hartsuyker: They're not. You can't give it away.

Mrs D'ATH: Can I advise the member for Cowper that people are wanting the NBN, people are banging on our doors saying, 'It cannot happen soon enough.' It is a shame that the member for Cowper was not at the inspections in Broken Hill, because he would have heard the evidence from the council and from many other witnesses saying, 'We can't have it soon enough.' That is what everyone is saying. They are saying: 'We know it's great; we can't have it soon enough.'

Mr Hartsuyker: How many customers do you have? Tell us how many. You don't know.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Sidebottom ): Order! The member for Cowper, there should be courtesy in this place and you know it. You do not need to shout. You have made your point so, please, let the other speaker speak.

Mrs D'ATH: The NBN is so popular that the member for Brisbane is complaining that her electorate is not getting it in the second stage. In fact the member for Brisbane has come out complaining that her previous constituents in Petrie are getting it. She is complaining about the people who would have for 11 years complained to the then member for Petrie about the poor access to fast broadband.

Honourable members interjecting

Mrs D'ATH: I hear it every day. I heard it as a candidate in 2006 when the member for Brisbane was the member for Petrie. I heard it in 2007, in 2008, in 2009, in 2010 and in 2011. They continue to tell me about the black spots and the huge problems with broadband access, but we have the member for Brisbane—who has stood up in this place, who has made statements outside this place and said how unhappy she is that her constituents are not getting it soon enough—saying how unhappy she is that her past constituents are getting it. I find it amazing that a member who represented the people of Petrie for over 11 years is now complaining that they are finally getting what they deserve, which is fast broadband. I am proud to be the member for Petrie who will be delivering that for them and proud to be part of a federal Labor government that is committed to delivering the National Broadband Network.

I want to support the statements already made by member for Greenway, who certainly has a lot of experience in this area. I want to acknowledge the government members on this committee, who come to this committee with a genuine commitment to see this reform rolled out. Importantly, we aim to do our job as a committee properly to make sure that it is rolled out in the best interests of the Australian people, and that NBN Co. and the department do their jobs properly. That is the role of the committee, and we are making sure that we are doing that by fulfilling our roles on the committee, as is the chair of the committee. And I thank the chair, the member for Lyne, for his work on this committee. He is genuinely committed to seeing the NBN rolled out because he understands the benefits of this. They are not just benefits to householders. Again, we are not talking about someone being able to download fast emails or a movie; we are talking about the benefits to health. Only a week ago, we had a display about eHealth, and it was absolutely incredible. If you look at what is already being done in the area of health and talk to the experts about it—and we had some evidence in Broken Hill from the Flying Doctors and other regional health services—you realise how important it is. It is not just important but imperative that they get that fast broadband so they can start delivering better health services in our regions. There are people who have to travel thousands of kilometres to see specialists and have to be away from their homes and families for a lengthy period of time who could get assistance in their home town—in their homes, even—with the facilities that come with fast broadband technology.

The NBN will enhance education. The fact is that there are endless opportunities when it comes to education. In our schools, our students who are doing languages are getting online now and communicating in real time with students across the other side of the world. The ability for our education and higher education to expand with faster broadband and newer technology is incredible. We had the opportunity to talk to Nextgen, who had just switched on their new trial of what they say are the fastest speeds in the world—it was a world first—in this tiny room in the middle of Broken Hill with just one little box on the floor. It was hard to imagine what it could achieve, but we went into town and we saw the small box on the footpath and were amazed at the fact that that will be able to connect every single premises in Broken Hill to fast broadband. I know that the businesses and the council in Broken Hill, and the member for that area, cannot wait to get fast broadband there. Members from regional areas understand that. If they do not understand that, their constituents should be asking why they are not out there fighting for this, sooner than later, because it is the regional towns that will benefit most from this.

In Broken Hill, they are building a huge film studio. They have been able to obtain one of the old power stations. It is being refurbished and it is going to be used as a major film studio. One of the huge drawcards for that is that, when they have fast broadband, they are going to be able to send the films straight back to the US—not the old canisters anymore; they can send the films straight back through the internet. This is huge for Broken Hill, it is huge for the outer regions and it is huge for the country as far as our economy is concerned. But the opposition just do not get it. They do not understand what this is all about.

There is no doubt that there are issues of concern, and they came out of the submissions and the evidence of witnesses to the committee. The thing that jumps out at me the most is the need to improve communication and information, especially out into those regional and rural areas. There is still a lack of information about the benefits of the NBN, how it will be rolled out and what stages there are. I know that that information will be coming in the future, in terms of future plans and time frames, but we need to go out and talk to people about the benefits and how it will work, about who is going to get fibre to the premises and who is going to get wireless.

We have been talking about which towns and outer regions will get wireless and which will get satellite, but we have to actually go into those towns and areas and talk to the people about it to make sure that they have the correct information. During the committee inquiry, we heard evidence from a person who is involved in the School of the Air that the School of the Air had concerns that their service would decrease as a consequence of the interim satellite. However, from evidence put before the committee just this week, we have been able to clarify with NBN Co. that the School of the Air's understanding was incorrect. In fact, they are not even on that satellite system; that is going to be changed over, so there will be no impact on them at all. But it is about getting the correct information out there.

I had the opportunity to go out to Brunswick. It was really unfortunate that there was not one member of the opposition who came out to do those inspections with us. We talked to representatives from Telstra and NBN Co. who were working together. There was a small Telstra substation there, and we went into this building and saw the rows of copper leads going everywhere. They said that this massive row of tangled wires basically covered about 16,000 households. Then they took us over to two cupboards that had little boxes in them. They said they would cover 29,000 homes. They showed us out on the street how the individual premises were connected. It was explained to us by both the NBN Co. and the Telstra representatives that copper can be damaged—it can be damaged simply by floods, by excessive water. The only way to damage fibre is to actually cut it. They said that, even if the fibre to the premises is cut, within half an hour they can have it up and running again. There are huge benefits coming from this NBN project.

The committee has made the decision to change its reporting cycle so that we will be reporting again at the end of this parliamentary session—there will be two reports handed down this year. This will be important because we will be getting the report from NBN Co. that sets out the key areas that the terms of reference address, and we will be able to report to this parliament about the key milestones that we have been talking about.

This is an exciting and extremely important reform for this country. I am pleased to be deputy chair of this committee. I thank the committee members who are genuinely committed to seeing this policy reform roll out in the best interests of this nation. It is my pleasure to commend the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I remind members that, while I am the first to enjoy an exchange, if they seriously want to make a statement during a contribution they do have the right to intervene. So, if they want to interrupt, they should do it formally and with courtesy.