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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 228

Mr LYONS (Bass) (11:12): Mr Deputy Speaker Leigh, it is a pleasure and an honour to be here before you. I believe it is your first sitting in the chair and I congratulate you on your elevation.

I rise today to speak on the Telecommunications Universal Services Management Agency Bill, or TUSMA; the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011, the reform bill; and the Telecommunications (Industry Levy) Bill 2011, the levy bill.

Like electricity and gas, broadband has become an essential infrastructure for Australians wanting to participate in an increasingly online world. Like the rest of the world, Australia is experiencing an insatiable demand for speed and data. I am pleased to hear that many of those opposite support a national broadband. The Gillard government understands that if Australia is to remain competitive in our region that, as the world moves to the 21st century digital economy, we need to act now. That is why we are getting on with the delivery of the NBN. The NBN will turbocharge our economy and enable Australia to become a global leader in using the online world—the world of the 21st century. The NBN will provide the infrastructure that will allow retail service providers to deliver advanced digital services to the nation. It will make possible new and improved ways of connecting with one another, from health and education to business and lifestyle.

The TUSMA bill, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Universal Service Reform) Bill 2011 and the industry levy bill form a package of legislation to ensure the continuity of the key telecommunications safeguards in the transition to the National Broadband Network. This package of bills implements the reform of the universal service obligation first announced by the government in June 2010 and establishes the necessary legislative framework to create a new statutory agency, TUSMA, to support the government's service agreement with Telstra announced on 23 June 2011.

I am very pleased to speak on this package of bills today as the NBN is the single largest infrastructure project in my lifetime. To quote Mr Michael Ferguson, who is a Tasmanian Liberal parliamentarian in my electorate of Bass, the previous member for Bass in this federal parliament and the future Liberal candidate for Bass, 'The NBN is a good thing for Tasmania and the possibilities are endless.' I know Michael Ferguson turns up at all the BER openings as well and congratulates everybody on the wonderful achievement. At least he has his head in the right place.

This is an exciting time and we need to move quickly to make sure that we are not left behind. The TUSMA Bill provides a governance, funding, reporting and accountability framework for the new statutory agency to make sure that the universal service outcomes and other key public interest services continue to be delivered effectively in this new competitive environment. TUSMA will have the responsibility to put in place contracts or grants so that Australians continue to have reasonable access to standard telephone service and payphones; calls to the emergency call service continue to be handled and transferred to the relevant emergency service organisation; the National Relay Service continues to provide voice equivalent services for those with hearing or speech impairment; appropriate consumer safeguards are in place to support voice-only customers migrating to the NBN fibre service as the Telstra copper network is decommissioned where those customers remain fixed-line voice-only customers after migration; and technological solutions will be developed as necessary to support the continuity of public interest services, public alarms, traffic lights et cetera.

The key focus of the Gillard Labor government is to minimise disruption for consumers and industry by maintaining basic safeguards as the NBN fibre network is rolled out and replaces the old copper network. Telstra is being required to maintain its copper network to deliver voice services outside the NBN fibre areas and importantly, under the agreement it made with the government that was announced on 23 June 2011, Telstra will also be required to be the retailer of last resort for voice-only services over the NBN fibre network. The TUSMA legislation will ensure that basic telecommunication services remain available to all Australians and that the new agency responsible for delivering these services operates efficiently, transparently and with a high degree of accountability. I also note that the TUSMA Bill creates a rigorous oversight and accountability framework for TUSMA's activities. This includes a requirement that it maintain a publicly available register with key terms and services to be provided under all contracts and grants it makes.

The National Broadband Network is a wholesale communications network being created to deliver high-speed broadband to all Australian premises and the NBN will be the single largest infrastructure investment made by an Australian government, delivering a once-in-a-generation upgrade for our telecommunications infrastructure that will benefit all Australians. This is an exciting time, with so many possibilities available for education, business and health. It also has the potential to create many employment opportunities. We, the Gillard Labor government, understand that investment in the NBN is essential for Australia to be an innovative, knowledge based economy of the future. The NBN opens up many new and innovative ideas for local businesses.

The coalition will take us backwards. They have no broadband plan and they have made no secret of the fact that they will shut down the NBN, disadvantaging local homes, businesses, schools and hospitals across the country. The Leader of the Opposition opposes key investments Australia needs to modernise and move forward, including the NBN. Let me say this to those opposite: to shut it down would be a backwards step for Tasmania. Residents in my electorate of Bass are connected to the NBN and most are pleased with the speed. The only complaint I receive from constituents is that they want access sooner. The opposition leader wants the world to stop still and to go back to the past. Some of us remember the past, like 1983, when the Liberal government had double-digit inflation and double-digit unemployment at the time they were removed by the Australian people. Let us not go back to the past.

My office receives many calls asking when the callers will be able to get the NBN. Innovative local businesses such as Pivot Maritime and Autech, both Australian Exporter of the Year Award recipients, are very excited about the NBN rollout and how it will benefit their businesses. The NBN will also facilitate the restructuring of our telecommunications industry, providing a level playing field on which telecommunications providers will compete and innovate.

The NBN is a nation-building investment that will pay for itself over time. It will boost our economy and deliver benefits in areas like health, education, business and entertainment. The Gillard Labor government's NBN investment is the envy of the world. Vint Cerf, who is the Vice President of Google and recognised as one of the fathers of the internet, was quoted in January 2011 in the Australian as saying:

I continue to feel a great deal of envy because in the US our broadband infrastructure is nothing like what Australia has planned.

He went on to say:

I consider this to be a stunning investment in infrastructure that in my view will have very long-term benefit. Infrastructure is all about enabling things and I see Australia is trying to enable innovation.

Another endorsement comes from Craig Mundie, the Chief Research and Strategy Officer with Microsoft. He was quoted in the Australian Financial Review in April as saying:

In the grand scheme of things going on in the world, it probably ranks up there at the brilliant end of the scale, certainly in terms of what a government can do to prepare its citizens and businesses for an all-digital world of the future. I think the leadership that has been provided here in Australia with this is farsighted and one that I commend. It is a bit like ensuring that the population has water, roads and electricity. To some extent I think that broadband connectivity is going to become recognised as an essential service.

Yet those opposite, Mr Deputy Speaker, have continued to attack our plans and fail to have their own. They seem to be the only ones who do not understand the importance of this investment in our nation's future. I ask those opposite to come clean about their broadband plan. The shadow minister for communications and broadband has been deftly silent on the Liberals' plan for broadband. The coalition needs to come clean on what their actual policy is, what technology they propose to use and what it will cost. Only Labor has a plan for the future direction of Australia.

The world is changing. Australia faces many challenges and big opportunities in the years ahead: an ageing population, increasing global competition, environmental degradation, keeping the economy strong beyond the mining boom, a future for manufacturing and rapidly developing new technologies. If we do not face up to the changing world and if we put our heads in the sand it will not be the well off that get left behind; it will be ordinary Australians who will miss out. This is why Labor is pursuing the policies Australia needs for the future: putting a price on the carbon emissions of big polluters; building the NBN; and a mining tax that will mean all Australians can share in the benefits of the mining boom, increasing retirement savings through superannuation. We are improving living standards for this generation and future generations of Australians. That means making the right decisions now.

We are delivering affordable, high-speed broadband to all Australians and Australian businesses, no matter where they live. It will mean better education, better health care and better access for Australian businesses to the biggest marketplace in human history. The NBN will connect all Australians to high-speed broadband internet services. Ninety-three per cent of homes, schools and businesses will be connected with a fibre footprint and will receive speeds of up to one gigabit per second. Remaining premises will be connected with a combination of next-generation wireless and satellite technologies that will provide peak speeds of at least 12 megabits per second, much faster than most Australians receive today. The NBN will provide local businesses with the opportunity to expand and reach new markets anywhere in the world in an instant, will lower telephone bills for small business and will enhance business services such as teleconferencing, videoconferencing and virtual private networks. Every child will have access to world-class education resources, access to better health care and high-definition, multichannel and interactive TV services. I am pleased to be part of a government that is investing much-needed infrastructure to prepare our nation for the future.

But let me remind the House that the Liberals have had 21 failed broadband plans in 12 years and left Australia with some of the slowest and most expensive broadband in the developed world. On all of the big economic calls like transforming our economic capacity and driving prosperity through the National Broadband Network, the opposition gets it wrong. The Liberals went to the 2010 federal election with a broadband policy that Peter Reith has acknowledged completely ignores Tasmanians. Tasmanian Liberals do not have the gumption to stand up to the member for Warringah's nay-saying and do something constructive for our state and for Australia. Instead, the Tasmanian Liberal team would prefer to play politics at the expense of Tasmania's access to decent broadband services.

It is clear the Liberals are terrified of upsetting the Leader of the Opposition and Senator Eric Abetz. Tasmania has the lead in the country in installing the National Broadband Network, and our schools have been some of the first to take advantage of the benefits it can provide. Launceston, in my electorate, will be connected to the National Broadband Network as part of the third-stage rollout. I look forward to that development and the many opportunities that will be created. These bills have my support, and I urge those opposite to get off the fence and support the NBN package of legislation. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Dr Leigh ): I thank the member for his contribution and for his generous remarks on my membership of the Speaker's panel.