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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3673


Mr DICK (Oxley) (12:15): I know members of the government don't like it when we talk about the problems with the NBN. I know from when we moved detailed amendments to this legislation, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017, as the shadow minister has done, that members of the government really would have preferred that the NBN would just go away. It gives the government no joy and it gives them no great headlines. Really, they are like the rest of Australia: it gives everyone a headache.

In addressing the bill I will first address the amendments proposed by the member for Greenway. After almost five years in power, it's absolutely crystal clear to everyone on this side of the chamber, and perhaps everyone in Australia, that this government is a complete and utter failure when it comes to the NBN rollout in this country. We know that the government has form when it comes to the delivery of projects and delivery of services, whether it be ripping $17 billion away from our schools and the education of Australian students, cuts to Medicare and hospitals and the rebate freeze, including $600 million of cuts in my home state of Queensland, or the attacks we are seeing over and over again on vulnerable pensioners across Australia. I don't have time in this debate today to talk about the $80 billion tax handout to big multinational businesses and the banks, which is the government's top priority. But, if there is one thing that leaves us in no doubt as to this government's level of incompetence, it is the NBN.

We heard from the member for Bendigo and other speakers in this debate today, and my office is no different to theirs and to other electorate offices in Australia, because I'm pretty confident residents would be sending letters and emails to every MP's office—every government MP's office as well—or would be visiting their offices or stopping their elected representatives in their local communities to show not only their anger but also their disappointment. I would say that it is a community at breaking point, frustrated at the second-rate NBN being delivered by the Turnbull government, which simply is failing them and their families.

I know this firsthand because last year my local community in the south-west of Brisbane was at breaking point when it came to dealing with the NBN. Since I became the member for Oxley—since July 2016—I have conducted a number of public meetings and public forums across a range of portfolio issues of direct concern to local residents. The crisis meetings I conducted around the issue of the NBN were without doubt the largest of those meetings—some 500 people attended forums and meetings. I note the shadow minister, the member for Whitlam, at the table. He was able to attend a meeting of concerned, frustrated people from across the south-west of Brisbane who, on a winter's night, packed out a venue at the Jindalee Bowls Club. When I put on a meeting, I expect to put out a couple of dozen chairs and that I will get a little advert in the paper, perhaps. This meeting was like nothing I have attended as a member of parliament—350 people crammed in. They were worried and concerned and basically had had a gutful. They wanted answers. To their credit, the NBN turned up. I don't blame the professional officers of the NBN—certainly the middle-ranking officers, who are doing very, very well under very constrained circumstances. They are not the people making the decisions. My criticism today is not of the frontline workers; it is of the elites and the executives of NBN who, quite frankly, deserve a lesson in customer service.

I want to put on record that, after that meeting, I wrote to the former co-CEO, Bill Morrow, on behalf of the community. It was one of the outcomes from that crisis meeting, because a delegation of businesses wanted to meet with him to discuss the frustrations and to work out a proactive way to fix some of the problems. Now, I'm a bit old-school. If the buck stops at the top then you are never too good to not meet with your shareholders or, in particular, your customers. So I formally wrote to Mr Morrow to say that I would organise an onsite meeting. Businesses members in my local community were prepared to pay for themselves to fly down and meet with the NBN CEO, to discuss these issues in person, to have a constructive meeting and to iron out some of these problems. They are reflective of businesses right across this nation. They are busy people, building capital and wanting to employ people, but they are failing to meet their deadlines, to meet their obligations, because they don't have a fast and reliable internet service. The was no response from Bill Morrow—nothing; no response from the NBN. When I followed up, there was no response. Either they were not interested or they did not care. Unfortunately, one of the spokespersons at the meeting said to the public: 'We don't talk to residents. We don't talk to the public.' They actually said that to a room of what I would say were 350 irate, angry people. It was probably not the right tone to take, I would suggest.

As I said, they are hardworking individuals. So, following that one meeting, I wrote to the minister, Senator Fifield, to say: 'I would like to meet with you to raise these issues. I would like to talk to you in person about a constructive way forward to deal proactively with these issues.' I give credit to the ministers of the Turnbull government who I have arranged to see on behalf of constituents to resolve situations. I acknowledge those ministers and their staff who engage with both sides of politics—but not this minister. That is not the case with this minister at all. I would be interested to see if this minister has actually met with any members of parliament—quite frankly, on both sides of politics. That's the kind of contempt I think this government has when it comes to rolling out the NBN, dealing with problems and constructively working as a community together. Maybe that's indicative of what's wrong with the NBN. When you have a minister and senior bureaucrats who are refusing to meet with Labor or opposition members of parliament, that's fine, if that's their strategy. They're not interested—fine. But not to meet with a delegation of businesses or even acknowledge them as a courtesy to say, 'Look, I'm terribly sorry, I've got a large number of commitments, but I'll make alternative arrangements'? I can tell you now that a lot of those small businesses were very disappointed in the way that they were treated.

There were community halls being packed out with story after story of residents just wanting basic answers, basic information. So let's just pause and take a look at some of the cold, hard facts when it comes to this government and how it has stuffed up the NBN rollout. What we know was supposed to be an innovative, nation-building rollout under Labor was immediately scrapped by the government, and, as we know, the cost to the Australian public continues to be damning. We were first told that the bill would be $29.5 billion. That increased to $41 billion in 2013. It then increased from $41 billion to $49 billion in August 2015, and then taxpayers were forced into a $19.5 billion loan after the NBN Co failed to secure private debt funding. Now we are here with this bill, with the introduction of an NBN levy. The government is leaving consumers to pick up the tab. It is telling that in the week of the budget this government is seeking to introduce a new broadband tax that is expected to raise nearly half a billion dollars over the next decade. This levy is expected to add $84 to the annual broadband bill for the homes and businesses on non-NBN networks that are subject to this tax. Estimates of the number of services that will be affected by this levy range from 240,000 homes to 450,000 homes. I don't blame anyone else but the government for this increased tax burden on Australians, but I am surprised that the so-called party of lower tax, the party that wants to get rid of taxes, is now introducing a tax on a service.

When given the choice—and why would Australians choose to sign up to the Prime Minister's second-rate broadband if something better is on offer? In the Prime Minister rejecting fibre—as we have heard from the member for Bendigo, the previous speaker—we have seen a digital divide not only in regional Australia but right across the country, including in the south-west of Brisbane in the Oxley electorate. I know residents in my electorate in Mount Ommaney, Jindalee, Sumner, Forest Lake, Springfield and Redbank have had an absolute gutful of this Prime Minister's second-rate, second-class NBN service. I place on the record again: why should residents have to put up with slow speeds, dropouts or simply no connection at all because of the incompetence of this Prime Minister and the NBN mess he has given to almost every home in this country?

We are now here with this government shafting Australian homes and leaving, with this bill, a new NBN levy. The proposed levy before this parliament is a direct consequence, I believe, of the repeated failures of this government. But don't take my word for it; this is what the former head of NBN Co had to say about the state of the project, particularly when it came to speed and faults:

The first and most notable consequence is the maximum speed limitations of copper versus the previous fibre-based model.

The use of copper in the last [approximately] 1 kilometre of the network is the increased fault rate and operating costs versus the all-fibre alternative.

Despite the government promising users a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second, Mr Morrow said that this would not be possible during the coexistence period, when other services like ADSL are still running. It's here in black and white from the former NBN Co chief himself.

This charade must end. We need some certainty when it comes to the rollout. We need better standards for those businesses and residents who have attended the crisis meetings I have held, the forums and the public meetings. If the government would just look at the feedback from residents—we know that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman shows a more than 200 per cent increase in complaints. It would be a bit different if we could have some humility or contrition from the government, if they could say: 'We know there are problems. We know we've got a long way to go. We know we're going to work through these systematically.' Instead, it's always the same when it comes to the NBN: 'Nothing to see here,' 'Pretend it's all okay,' 'Ignore the complaints,' and, 'Don't buy into it.'

I can tell you about a great small business in my area, a pest control business run by a husband and wife. He is looking at moving house because he can't do his books. His wife was studying and she had to go to the McDonald's cafe to access the internet so that she could do her online coursework. This is happening 13 kilometres from the CBD of Brisbane. When you ask for it to be investigated, the government says: 'There's nothing we can do; just put up with it,' or the normal rubbish that this government goes on with: that somehow Labor, within the first month of announcing the NBN, didn't connect every single house in Australia! That's the only response from this ridiculous government when it comes to dealing with the NBN. It never actually acknowledges the problem, let alone fixes it.

The member for Bendigo was right. When it comes to fixing NBN problems, I've had the most success stories not from writing to the minister and not from writing to the former CEO of the NBN—do you know how? When you get a story in the local paper, magically the problem is fixed. It takes a little bit of embarrassment for the government. If you put the minister's name in a press release and bag them out, hey, presto, the problem's fixed. I'm not joking. If I am not accurate then I'll sit down now and members of the government can say that that's not the case. Time and time again, all we're seeing is spin over substance, residents being ignored and complaints through the roof. The evidence is simply overwhelming.

As the member for Oxley and as one of the representatives for one of the fastest-growing corridors in this country, I know that access to quality broadband services is essential. It is critical for education purposes, health service delivery and making sure that people are connected to the businesses that they want to build and grow in the south-west of Brisbane. This is an issue that is not simply going to go away for government. This is not an issue about which the government can simply say, 'It's all too hard. Hopefully some other crisis will engulf us today and we can move on to something else.' I won't be letting this go. We will make sure that we deliver a proper NBN for this country.