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Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Page: 7628


Mr BALDWIN (Paterson) (17:54): I rise today to address the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2011. The bill is designed to push ahead with the National Broadband Network by ensuring new developments include fibre to the premises. We all remember that originally the promise was fibre in the home.

I would like to start by saying that the coalition will be moving amendments to this bill. They are amendments that will increase competition because, as we know, competition is what brings about lower prices. Of course, Labor does not want and has never wanted competition. It wants to build the largest infrastructure project in Australia's history and make it a government monopoly. It is a monopoly that would decrease competition and make broadband unaffordable for the very same people whose taxpayers' dollars built it in the first place—but more about that later.

This bill will ensure that greenfield developments—that is, new housing est­ates—include fibre to the premises. This is good news for those moving into new developments in my region such as developments like Chisholm, which is the old Thornton North, which will have over the next few years a couple of thousand new households. In the future they will need to include infrastructure in those developments for broadband. According to the NBN there are 1.9 million homes that will need to be connected by 2020.

The coalition amendments ensure that the developers behind these new estates have real choice, rather than being dictated to by a government on who they must use. Our amendments will mean that developers can choose a cable operator, such as TransACT or Opticom to name but a few, to install the cable according to industry specifications, rather than having to wait for the NBN to show up and do the job. This not only will mean that cables will be installed quickly and efficiently, but it will keep our cable operators in business and provide jobs and competition. The one thing that this government has missed is that one of the things that drives up housing costs in development projects are holding costs such as delays in getting approvals and delays in getting services. I can already see the delays that will be incurred by this government through singling out a monopolistic oper­ation such as the NBN, which will increase the holding costs before a block of land can be sold and therefore will increase the costs to householders.

The second point I would like to make on behalf of thousands of my constituents and those in Hunter electorates, who have been completely ignored by their Labor members of parliament, is the plight of towns under 1,000 residences that will not be covered by Labor's NBN optical-fibre cable rollout. My electorate has many towns that are under 1,000 residences. I was absolutely disgusted sitting here yesterday listening to the member for Newcastle lie and lie about her party's uncosted broadband plan.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): Order! The member for Paterson.

Mr BALDWIN: Mr Deputy Speaker, it was a lie. I will rephrase it to 'use the truth rather loosely'.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Paterson will resume his seat. The Minister for Human Services.

Ms Plibersek: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order and would ask the member to withdraw that unparliamentary language.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Paterson.

Mr BALDWIN: I will withdraw it, Mr Deputy Speaker, and I will rephrase it that she used the truth rather recklessly. She has actually misled the parliament in that she—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member for Paterson will resume his seat. The Minister for Human Services.

Ms Plibersek: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. If the member is making an allegation that there has been a misleading of parliament, he has to do that using a substantive motion rather than include it in the debate as he has.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Paterson.

Mr BALDWIN: Mr Deputy Speaker, the truth is always defensible, but untruths are not. The untruths are the uncosted broadband plan. Half a dozen times in her speech she used the phrases 'every household' and 'all Australians'. But, of course, it is not every household that will have access to this high-speed cable broadband internet under the NBN, but it is every household that will actually pay for it. The member for Newcastle stood here yesterday and said:

... the National Broadband Network is a major economic and social reform that will benefit the entire nation.

She then went on to say:

We want to overcome the historical disadvantage of the tyranny of distance, both between us and our major trading partners and between our urban and regional, remote and rural centres.

The National Broadband Network will deliver affordable high-speed access to all Australians, irrespective of where they work or where they live.

That is a complete and utter mistruth. Those people living in towns with fewer than 1,000 residents will not get the NBN cable. In my electorate of Paterson alone that includes over 20 towns and villages—towns like Boat Harbour, Brandy Hill, Clarence Town, Coomba Park, Green Point, Gresford, East Gresford, Hinton, Karuah, Nabiac, North Arm Cove, Pacific Palms, Vacy, Blueys Beach, Paterson, Pindimar, Salt Ash, Seaham, Smiths Lake, Stroud and Wall­along, to name a few. If I went through all the towns in the electorate of the member for Hunter or in the electorates of the member for Lyne and the member for New England, to the north of my electorate, I doubt whether I would have enough time to mention all the towns that would miss out. Yet, there was the Prime Minister at the big switch-on in the electorate of the member for New England. Sure, the major town will get the optic fibre cable, but what of those who live on rural properties and big acreages? The cable will not roll out to their homes. What of those who live in the small villages such as those that I have quoted in my electorate? They are not going to get the optic fibre cable. Guess what, though? They are going to be paying for it. They will pay for it and they will pay dearly.

The Labor Party obviously does not consider that residents in remote, rural and isolated small towns are important. But they are not nameless, faceless residents—at least not to the coalition. They are people like Mr Barton from Smiths Lake, who wrote to me saying that internet services are basically non-existent in his area. The NBN will do nothing for Mr Barton, who is among the seven percent of people who simply do not factor into Labor's plan. Yet the member for Newcastle stood in this House yesterday and proclaimed that the NBN cable would reach beyond regional, rural, remote and urban boundaries. I would have thought that Paterson fitted into that regional and rural category—after all, we are less than two hours drive from Sydney, but apparently not.

Labor's arrogance is to stand here and argue that everyone will benefit from its NBN, but that is just not true. Speaker after speaker has repeatedly said in this House, and would lead you to believe, that the coalition did nothing in 10 years to deliver high-speed broadband. When we were in government in 1997, there was no high-speed broadband; there was dial-up. In 1998, it was the same. It was only as we got closer to 2000 that ADSL first came on the scene, and it was only in later years that ADSL2 came on the scene. I remember the campaign in 2007 very well because the member for Newcastle, taking in Thornton, that new area of her electorate where pair gain is an issue, campaigned very highly and hard and said, 'I will deliver high-speed broadband.' It is now four years on and not a single sod has been turned and there has been no improvement for those people. All of those constituents are struggling to access quality broadband under this Labor plan and they always will, simply because Labor does not care about the seven per cent that the NBN ignores.

If the NBN does get delivered at all, that seven per cent will still miss out. We have already been told that the NBN will take eight years to roll out if it is managed properly. Four years plus eight years is 12 years, so it will be 12 years before the people of Thornton in the electorate of Newcastle—it used to be in my electorate—could possibly receive high-speed broadband. If we rely on those eight years, it is the same government that could not even manage to put insulation safely into people's homes or build school halls without massive rip-offs, and it cannot control our borders. So the faith I have in the government delivering a high-speed broadband network is truly under review.

We are supposed to trust this government to deliver the single largest infrastructure project in Australia's history. The coalition did have a plan to deliver quality broadband through the wireless internet service. The OPEL plan would have seen a Comm­onwealth investment of $958 million, not $55 billion, to deliver metropolitan-equivalent broadband services to more than half a million premises. Paterson residents and premises would have been amongst those who would have had a direct benefit through the coalition's plan to deliver 25 new WiMAX base stations and eight telephone exchanges upgraded to ADSL2 broadband. So here we are, four years on, and if the government had not interfered in mid-2009 the OPEL plan would have been completed. Most people in Thornton, in the electorate of the member for Newcastle, who are still on basic dial-up would have had high-speed wireless internet. But, no, here we are, four years later with a $55 billion bill mounting and still nothing has been delivered to that area.

The coalition believes that a mix of cable and wireless is the best way to deliver quality affordable broadband to everyone. Had Labor adopted our plan, residents like Mr Barton of Smiths Lake would already be enjoying reliable internet. Instead, it is four years on and still nothing has been done. Worse still, Labor has taken absolutely no action to deliver alternative services to those seven per cent of people who will never be serviced by fibre to the premises under the Rudd-Gillard Labor government NBN plan.

There is nothing stopping Labor from taking action now, and I urge it to do so. There is nothing to stop the Labor government from immediately rolling out wireless to those areas which will not receive the cable network. There are no trenches to dig. In fact, as I understand it, the wireless network will be installed on existing towers and those people could have service relatively immediately, not in eight years time.

The third major problem with Labor's NBN plan is the cost. As my honourable colleague Mr Turnbull has already pointed out, the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that those currently having the most difficulty accessing broadband are in households earning less than $40,000 a year. The biggest barrier is cost. So it is a ridiculous notion that Labor wants to build the largest infrastructure project in our nation's history, because it will be completely funded by the taxpayer and create a monopoly that will decrease to competition and make broadband even more unaffordable. Further, because Labor refuses to release a cost-benefit analysis of its $43 billion plan which is blowing out to $55 billion, we simply do not know whether enough people will take up the NBN to make it viable. This is despite Labor's promise pre-election that it would undertake such an analysis of all major infrastructure projects. Without one, this project is only risky—it is downright reckless actually. Of course, this is just another example of this Labor government being totally untrustworthy in managing our economy, our budgets and our projects.

The Prime Minister stood before the Australian public less than one week before the August 2010 election and said, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' That fits into the same regime as the promises by the member for Newcastle prior to the 2007 election to give people in Thornton in particular high-speed broadband. One election has gone by. It is now four years on and those people are still on dial-up.

This amendment needs to be supported because competition will deliver lower prices. It needs to be supported because competition and the use of individual contractors will reduce the holding costs by developers in putting estates into market. They cannot afford the hold-up that will occur with a monopolistic structure in having services delivered to their sites. If this government were serious about affordable housing and delivering services, it would adopt our amendment and open up competition for the delivery of the cable installation program as part of this hideous NBN project.