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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3664

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (11:34): At the outset, what the coalition should do is rename the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2017. They should be renamed 'the coalition's chickens coming home to roost'. The particular bill we are debating right now represents all the failures of the coalition accumulated and rolling into this. When you get to a point where you need to charge up to 500,000 Australians up to $84 a year more on their broadband, that represents the combined policy failure of the coalition. We've gotten to a point where our download speeds in Australia are slower than in Kazakhstan. We have Borat broadband in this country. Kazakhstan is beating Australia. We fall behind the world standard. How did we get to this spot? How did we get to the spot where Borat beats us on broadband? I'll tell you how.

On this side of the chamber, early on we didn't need to legislate the importance of broadband, because it was in our hearts and in our heads. We looked at the coalition under John Howard—in the 19 times they tried to get broadband plans in place, they couldn't get it done. What did we have? It was patchy in terms of the rollout back when John Howard was the Prime Minister and Helen Coonan was the communications minister. It was patchy. It was dollar driven in that if you got good broadband it was because you were in a richer area rather than the general metropolitan area. If you were in regional areas you could forget about getting good broadband. There was no national network; it was all cobbled together based on a profit-driven approach of Telstra, back in the day of Sol Trujillo—a name we have forgotten these days. Telstra would put up plans for broadband rollouts with a rate of return way higher than the ACCC could stomach.

It took Labor to say: 'No, enough's enough! We will put in a national network. We will make sure 93 per cent of homes are fibred up. The other seven per cent will get it through either satellite or mobile broadband—that's how they'll get their internet. We'll put that into place. Forget the almost 20 instances of failure from the coalition; we're going to do it right the first time with fibre.' Malcolm Turnbull, now Prime Minister, then shadow communications minister, knew he couldn't beat that model the way it was. The then opposition leader, Tony Abbott, had one objective: destroy the National Broadband Network. But Malcolm Turnbull, as shadow communications minister, knew he couldn't do it.

So all they did was engage in political product differentiation to come up with a version of the NBN. They could try and slap the sticker on it to say that it was the NBN, but they knew it was a dud. They called it the multi-technology mix, which is now dubbed 'Malcolm Turnbull's mess', because that's exactly what's happening. They moved from fibre. They rely on HFC, the cable broadband network that everyone was telling them was going to cost a bundle to upgrade to get even remotely near what expectations would be. They relied on that.

The coalition always cheer mobile broadband blackspot programs as if that is the substitute for having fibre to the premises in regional Australia. They cheer because regional Australians will have access to data that is more expensive and not as universally reliable as that fibre connection. That's what they cheer on, but they don't cheer on rolling out fibre to the premises. We have seen this embarrassed, cowardly crawling. They said they would not support fibre to the premises, so it was fibre to the node, then it was fibre a bit further away from the node, and then it was fibre to the driveway—all inching closer to the homes. We said, 'Just do this right the first time,' and they refused to. They put in place this system that is turning out to be a mess.

I remember the Prime Minister, when he was communications minister, teasing both me and the member for Greenway, saying he'd visit Blacktown, which is in part of the electorate I represent and part of the electorate the member for Greenway, the current shadow communications minister, represents. He was saying: 'Look at this! There are these HFC networks that exist—these cable broadband networks that exist—and these members of parliament want to push for fibre when they could just use the cable broadband network.' As my constituents say to me, the cable broadband network works fantastically at 4 am. That's when it works best. If you have a lot of people on it, it slows down—exactly what we constantly told the coalition when we were in government. This network is affected by volume, it degrades and it costs a lot of money to bring it up to speed.

Because the coalition, like I said earlier, wanted product differentiation—they wanted to say that they were doing something different to Labor—they put this forward. So now we are debating a levy that will be placed on Australians to cover the cost. Why? The shadow minister in her contribution outlined why. It is because just to operate this inferior technology mix that has been foisted on us by the Prime Minister, who was then the communications minister, and championed by the coalition, will cost $200 million more each year and it will generate less revenue—$300 million less revenue. So straightaway you have a gap of nearly half a billion dollars—again this reflects the deliberate decisions made by the coalition on how they would mutate the National Broadband Network into this MTM, this multi-technology mix, that would fail to deliver for Australian consumers.

On top of this, in August last year roughly 300,000 homes—220,000 of which would have been revenue generating—literally disappeared off the NBN plan. The capital expenditure forecast for the rollout is up nearly $1½ billion from the year before. Another $140 million in revenue is not coming back. So this levy is reflective of those failures that had been enacted by the coalition. That's what has happened. This is the coalition's chickens coming home to roost, and that is why this legislation should be renamed in that way.

The coalition told us that they would deliver 25 megabits per second download speed for all households by December 2016. The minute they were in office, the minute they won the election, they said, 'We can't make that promise,' and they tried to blame us for it. Everyone was telling them it wasn't achievable but they still pressed ahead with it. They knew they could not do that. They knew that they couldn't deliver their NBN for $29 billion by the end of 2016. They knew that. So we now have a nearly $50 billion multi-technology mix, and questions are being raised about how much extra it's going to cost to build and how much less revenue it's going to generate. In the meantime Australian consumers suffer and wonder whether it would be better to go on the soon-to-be-rolled-out 5G wireless network. They're actively contemplating spending more on data through another system rather than use this mess of a broadband network championed by the coalition.

That raises further questions about whether the network itself will face more of this slow drift away from it. People who should be using the National Broadband Network will be using a 5G network. The revenue forecasts of the Prime Minister's network will slip even further, so now they need to put this type of levy in place. If they don't, they'll be in a world of pain. The parliament has been put in a terrible position as a result of the mess championed by the Prime Minster when he was the communications minister. If we don't support this, it will put the NBN in a worse position. As much as we are uptight about the fact that people will be paying nearly $100 more a year for their broadband in those areas that are not on the NBN, to not support this would put us in a worse position. The coalition forces the parliament to support this because no commonsense proposition would have you put this network, which is already in a bad way, in a worse position.

Every single person who is upset about this rollout should direct their anger to the coalition for the way they have done this.

Mr Stephen Jones interjecting

Mr HUSIC: Absolutely. Consumers should turn the coalition into a pinata, as the member for Whitlam rightly observed, because they have been let down. The speeds aren't as fast; the network's costing more; it's not rolling out in the way that they promised; it's not delivering the speeds that they promised—and now we have to pay more for it through a consumer levy.

In the architecture of what Labor put together, we had a universal pricing approach that would have seen the cities of the nation cross-subsidising the rollout and the way that the service was delivered into regional Australia. You know what? Australians wouldn't mind that whatsoever. They support the notion that, if you're in the city, you can support regional areas getting this rollout. They get it. It was ticked off. The ACCC ticked off on it. When it was ticked off, no-one ever thought in their wildest dreams that, after having that universal mechanism in place, we'd have to come back and put a levy on top of it. No-one would have thought that. But, because we have Borat's broadband being championed by the Prime Minister, that's what we face.

On top of that, what does it do in terms of the economy? Last month NBN Co released a report. They got a bunch of consultants in to bring together a report called Connecting Australia: the impact of the NBN on Australian lives and the economy. It was breathlessly reported. Guess what? Everyone in the country knew what having a modern broadband network would do for the general community and for business. NBN Co have to put these reports together, but not to convince everyone who's already aware of that; this report seemed more likely to be used to convince the government of the value of the network. We all know.

I point out that you, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird, chaired the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications. I was proud to be on the committee that you chaired at that point in time, when we visited the country and we heard directly from regional Australia in particular, who said what mobile broadband networks do and the value they create for the digital economy—for which I'm the shadow minister with portfolio responsibility—in this country. Everyone knew that, but now NBN Co has to spend good money putting these types of reports together to convince the coalition that getting this right makes a lot of sense from the economy's perspective and from the community's perspective.

From people in the electorate I represent—Woodcroft had been stuck for ages. We finally were able to get them on the NBN rollout plan, and then that plan was torn up by the then communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull. It then got put back on, but only half the job got done because the rest had cable broadband—and they're now complaining about the fact that they have that. In other parts of the electorate I represent, like Glendenning, constituents are telling me that they're getting one-megabit-per-second download speed—in some cases, half. They were told that cable broadband would work and are constantly frustrated by it. Rooty Hill and Mount Druitt residents are telling me that they're experiencing this.

The reason why I have a problem with that is that businesses in the CBDs of the electorate I represent in Western Sydney rely on a modern broadband network just as much as they'd rely on having a good connection to gas, water and electricity. A modern broadband network is fundamental for a business to run—and run at less cost—to thrive, to put people on and to create new business opportunity, which we see occurring when you do have a modern network in place.

Some of the other legislation that's before us is all straightforward. Of course, the way in which you relate or deal with developers in the infrastructure rollout and some of the stuff that's embedded in this legislation makes perfect sense. The thing that drives us crazy is not only that there's been a distortion of what we thought could be achieved, what was possible and what should have been rolled out. Now, because of the deliberate mess made by the coalition on broadband, we pay for it economically because the country's denied opportunity; we pay for it socially because communities are frustrated by the lack of the network; and we pay more for it as consumers through the levies that are being advocated by the coalition. It is a complete mess. As I said before, it's not the multi-technology mix; it's the Malcolm Turnbull mess. We are paying for it, and these bills represent that failure. The chickens are coming home to roost as a result of those bad decisions made by the coalition.