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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7623


Ms MARINO (ForrestOpposition Whip) (17:29): I rise to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amend­ment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2011 and support the amendments foreshadowed by the member for Wentworth. I note a number of similarities with my electorate in the comments made by the member for Maranoa about his electorate. As the member said, this bill is another part of the government's NBN monopoly plan—nothing more and nothing less. The dissenting report of the coalition members of the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network supported the policy aim of greenfields developments being, wherever possible, rolled out with fibre to the home. However, this cost is not necessarily a major cost overall when you compare that to the massive costs of overbuilding and rolling out fibre to the home in brownfields areas. The dissenting report states that this bill should be amended and says, firstly:

The regime established by the Bill is unnecessarily slow and bureaucratic for property developers.

And that is a concern for those on the ground. Secondly:

The Bill as presently drafted represents a missed opportunity to take advantage of the existence of the CGOs—

competitive greenfields operators—

to impose effective competitive and cost discipline on NBN Co.

Thirdly:

The regime established by the Bill is damaging to competition in the market for the provision of new fibre infrastructure.

All of these issues to do with competition are reflected in this government's aim to create an absolute and utter monopoly. It is now four years since Labor was elected, promising superfast broadband for the princely sum of $4.7 billion, which clearly was not enough for them. It certainly has not been rolled out in underserviced areas in the past four years. No additional broadband access or capacity has been delivered at all by the government in my electorate in those four years. But the people in my electorate will all share in the $50 billion that the NBN will cost, whether they like it or not—if indeed that is actually the final cost when it is finally completed, sometime I suspect well beyond the 2020 proposed delivery date. People in my electorate will be looking at this very closely because they know that they will have to share in the cost.

Much of my electorate will not receive fibre to the premises or fibre to the node. Many people will have to have satellite and wireless at up to 12 megabits per second—the equivalent of what is currently available with ADSL2 and certainly a long way from the promised 100 megabits that city based residents will have access to; something the member for Grey would understand. This may also prove problematic for the gover­nment monopoly, because research shows that people are not always necessarily willing to pay a premium price for increased speed.

Another issue for my electorate is the potential use of overhead versus under­ground cable with the rollout of the NBN. A number of areas in my electorate of Forrest are prone to bushfires—and other members in this House are in similar situations in their electorates. The constituents in my electorate really want to know when the NBN will be rolled out in their part of the world and whether the NBN will be using overhead or underground cabling throughout the south-west.

As members on this side have previously said, the goal of a national broadband network should be to deliver affordable access to all Australians. We want fast broadband that is accessible to all Austr­alians but we do know that the government's NBN is the most expensive way to achieve this goal. There is no guarantee that broadband access prices will actually be cheaper for consumers. They certainly will not be cheaper without genuine competition in the market. The ABS confirms that the biggest barrier to internet access in Australia is actually household income. Put simply, 34 per cent of households in Australia on $40,000 a year or less do not have access to the internet. If those on marginally higher incomes were able to afford to access the internet, they would simply approach an ISP and pay perhaps $40 per month for a subscription. Now, thanks to the Labor government's NBN, Australians will not only pay their monthly subscription but also pay their share of the $50 billion, and they will have to share the economic risk that goes with this whole NBN Co. plan.

We also know that the NBN will be the most anticompetitive government-owned telecommuni-cations monopoly in the world. So we are setting a new benchmark, but it is one which I think most of us would be very concerned about. To exempt NBN Co. from the competition and consumer laws is proof that the government are very aware that the anticompetitive elements cannot be supported by public benefits, otherwise they would not be doing this. There is no precedent for this exemption. Accountability and transparency are really sacrificed in this whole NBN process. In fact, NBN Co. completely destroys the gains made by the telecommunications act 1981, the one that opened markets to competition, that reduced cross-subsidies and set clear parameters on political interference—it is reversing that.

As we have heard repeatedly, there has been no cost-benefit analysis and no Productivity Commission inquiry. It says a lot about the government's proposal that they would not subject it to a Productivity Commission inquiry. Telstra is going to be paid to shut down its copper network and for 20 years restrict the promotion of wireless as a competitive alternative to the NBN, and actually be paid bonuses to migrate customers to the NBN. That is a closed loop if ever I heard one, and I am sure the member for Grey and the member Tangney would agree with me. I saw in one newspaper:

Australian taxpayers' latest NBN horror show.

One thousand staff, 561 customers—remem­ber this?—34 staff earning $300,000 to $400,000, $132 million in staff costs and still $36 billion left to spend. That was in one newspaper. They called it 'Australian taxpayers' latest NBN horror show'. And once again, in developing this legislation, the government left industry in the dark—yet again failing to engage. As we know and we keep hearing, many in the industry object to details in the draft regulations. But of course it appears that that is irrelevant to the government. And as I said, the Labor government's handling of the whole NBN process has been one debacle after another, ever since the NBN policy was announced in April 2009.

I referred previously to the Productivity Commission. The Productivity Commission should be conducting a full examination of the NBN proposal, a project which is going to cost this nation in excess of $50 billion. We have seen in so many of the government's other programs—Building the Educating Revolution, home insulation, even delivering computers in schools—the eno­rmous budget blow-outs. I share the concerns of so many others that this $50 billion project could well become far greater than that. If we see the same sorts of cost blow-outs as we saw in the BER, that will be a real issue for taxpayers in this nation.

I agree with the member for Maranoa—someone like me, who has a rural and regional constituency and is very concerned about the USO. This is the one thing that guarantees people in rural and regional areas continual access to services, and they rely on them. If you live in a regional area, you know that telecommunications are so important to you.

Mr Ewen Jones: Cyclone.

Ms MARINO: Cyclone, any issue. Frequently it is a matter of life and death. That is what telecommunications mean in a rural and regional area. People need to have confidence that they will have access to their telephones and to all the services previously provided by Telstra. There were time frames around that, but as we are aware, there are $50 million allocated to the NBN. Whether this is sufficient to deliver over time remains to be seen. However, $50 million on a USO to service the majority, all of Australia in rural and regional areas, is a major issue for my constituents and for those right around Australia in rural and regional areas.

As I said earlier, this is a life and death issue for some people. I get phone calls in my office from people who may have gone two days without a telephone. If you have overhead cabling and you do not have access, you are completely isolated. Most of the information people receive now comes that way and that is what they rely on. Like so many people, I have great concerns about NBN being a government monopoly. I have concerns about the lack of transparency, the lack of accountability and the fact that there is going to be so much going on in NBN Co. that taxpayers and this parliament will never ever know about.

In conclusion, there is no doubt that all Australians should have access to fast, affordable broadband, but certainly not at the price it is going to cost them. Along with many members on this side, I am very concerned that the $50 billion may well be just a start. With a 2020 time frame for rollout or access, it is going to be those of us in rural and regional areas who will be waiting the longest and will be most in need. These are the underserviced areas the government has chosen not to take up as a priority. So I support the amendments moved by the member for Wentworth.