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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 239

Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (11:55): I rise to voice my strong support for the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011 and cognate bills. Before I do that, I would like to pass on my thoughts and prayers to the people of my hometown of St George, who are having a tough time with the flood. To quote a bit of poetry:

It pelted, pelted all day long, A-singing at its work,

till every heart took up the song way-out to Back o'-Bourke ...

And now all those rains are flowing into the Balonne river and through the township of St George and on to New South Wales. To quote Adam Lindsay Gordon:

And floods, freed by storm,

From broken up fountain heads, dash on ...

I know it is causing a lot of heartache to my friends and cousins in St George. I grew up in St George and experienced a lot of floods, but nothing like the one they are experiencing now.

It is interesting to think back to my time in St George. I left St George in 1985 when accessing information was a completely different experience. Now I can look on Facebook and see photos and videos posted almost instantaneously. I can see what is happening in my street and what is happening along the riverbank. Back then I would ride my bike down to the local library to flick through the library cards or ask for a book to be sent from Dalby or somewhere like that. A week or so later I would get notice of the book arriving and go in and have a look. Accessing information is now a completely different process. When I was making plans to go on a round-the-world trip I would go and talk to my travel agent and go through the information. I would get a quote and they would type up the information. I would then go down to the bank and line up in the bank queue to get some money out, then go back and pay the travel agent for the tickets they had typed up, and they would post them out to you a few weeks later. I would go to the airport, normally with luggage filled with books because I would be travelling for such a long time, and then I would check in.

When I was travelling I would have to find local money to put into payphones so that I could let my family know what I was up to. When I was backpacking around the world, I would occasionally find some old Australian newspapers that were a few months out of date so that I could find out what was happening back in Australia. I would come back from holidays, I would take my film down to the chemist, leave it at the chemist and wait a few days for my Kodak photos to come back. I would then post them off months and months later to share with my friends from overseas.

It is amazing how much things have changed since my time growing up in St George. Kodak has now filed for bankruptcy—you can take photos and share them with your friends around the world instantaneously on Facebook. You can use Skype to communicate instantaneously with people around the world. Whilst there are still travel agents, people can now book their own tickets and pay for them online. You can do your banking online. You can do your research on the internet. Education has changed significantly since I left St George to go to teachers college. Now the digital world and the digital revolution have completely changed education. In the holidays, I took my two young boys to the Dubbo zoo on a bit of a road trip. I went with my brother, who unfortunately is currently single, so I got an insight into the world of online dating through RSVP. I heard about how much things have changed since, for example, the member for Corio—who is on duty in the chamber at the moment—was out dating, a long time ago admittedly, with all respect to his wife. Now the internet has completely changed even something as simple as finding a new partner. I think there might be a certain wisdom in, rather than going out drunk to a pub, making a sober decision while looking at RSVP. Perhaps it will bring some benefit to society.

I am here to talk about the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency Bill 2011, but I think that discussion of how rapidly things have changed illustrates how important it is to focus on the NBN and the benefits that will flow from it. I particularly commend the speech of the member for Hinkler where he stepped out from behind the 'No' placard that most people opposite hide behind. He talked about some of the benefits. Coming from Bundaberg and representing a regional area, he appreciates more than most how important the NBN will be for people in the bush and for people in regional Australia.

The Gillard Labor government is delivering the most significant infrastructure project in our nation's history, and I am proud to be able to say that. The National Broadband Network is a major once-in-a-generation nation-building piece of infrastructure. The NBN will ensure that all Australians can access a world-class high-speed broadband network.

For the benefit of the opposition leader, I need to explain that the NBN is not only about faster YouTube downloads; it is about changing the way Australians live, work and play—and I particularly focus on the word 'work'. You do not need to be a tech-head to know that. Most people under 20 would know that and most people who grapple with new technology know that. It is a revolution that will deliver affordable, high-speed broadband for hospitals, innovations in health; for households, innovations in how work can be done at home and in terms of entertainment; and for businesses and schools, no matter where they are in Australia. It will revolutionise education, health care and business. There is no escaping the fact that it is a major, once-in-a-generation infrastructure project, and that is why I am so excited about it. Why? Because of what it will do for Australian productivity.

Let's have a look at productivity. You can look at it from quarter to quarter but it is more instructive to look at how productivity has changed over time—over five years, over 10 years, over those longer times. When the Rudd Labor government came to office, productivity growth was at zero, and that reflected the fact that basically the former government, the Howard government, had not made the tough calls. When the Howard government came to office in 1996, they were able to reap the benefits of the tough reforms of the Hawke and Keating governments, and that is acknowledged by those opposite. It is especially so now in 2012. But rust never sleeps; you need to keep making changes. You need to keep investing in infrastructure, especially critical infrastructure, and that did not happen. Whether you are flying over Dalrymple Bay or Newcastle and seeing all those boats waiting out to sea or looking at railroads and roads, you know that there were not the long-term investments in productivity-enhancing reforms. It was basically a decade of neglect.

If we look at productivity, the 3,000 flagpoles were an important contribution to Australia and gave a few people jobs. We invested in 3,000 libraries—big investments in education, training and skills. You look at roads, rails and ports: we doubled the investment in these things, and they will all eventually increase productivity. That $455 billion pipeline of investments will eventually increase the productivity of this nation. Obviously, if you are building a pipeline or a road or a railway or a gas processing plant now, it is not producing right now, but in the long run they will increase the productivity of this nation.

Training, skills, education—these are the things we need to focus on as a nation. The tough decisions are the decisions we need to make, and I am proud to be part of a government that is making these reforms. Future governments and future parliaments will see those benefits, but I would rather do the hard yards and suffer the political consequences than shirk the responsibilities that come with leadership.

These bills before the House will ensure a smooth transition to the National Broadband Network and create a more competitive and open telecommunications market. They do so firstly by establishing a statutory authority, the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency. The agency will be responsible for the implementation and administration of service agreements.

The government has entered into an agreement with Telstra to provide universal service outcomes for standard telephone services and payphone services. The bills define the agency's corporate governance structure, reporting and accountability requirements. It also imposes an industry levy to contribute to the agency's operating costs. The Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency will enter contracts or provide grants to deliver universal service obligations, emergency call services and the National Relay Services.

The bills will ensure that all Australians have reasonable access to a standard telephone service and to payphones. Triple-0 calls will continue to be transferred to the relevant emergency services, and those with hearing or speech impairment will be able to access the National Relay Service voice-equivalent services, a service that will be increasingly important to an ageing Australia. These bills are required in order to minimise the disruption for consumers and industry as the NBN fibre network replaces the old copper network. We need to use the right tools. The old tools were fine a long time ago but the new tools are what we need now.

Under the financial heads of agreement with NBN Co., Telstra agreed to maintain its copper network to deliver voice services outside NBN fibre areas. Telstra is also required under the agreement to provide voice-only services as a retailer of last resort. That is the Labor Party understanding of markets, in that we do not just let it rip and let people suffer. This is about ensuring that all Australians are able to access basic telecommunications services.

This legislation puts in place appropriate accountability measures. As well as the usual reporting measures such as annual reports and corporate plans, the Telecommunications Universal Service Management Agency will be required to maintain a public register of key terms and services provided under contracts and grants it makes. The bills also allow for the universal service obligations to be removed by the minister after the transition period. This would allow these services to go to the market. Universal service obligations can be removed only if the minister is satisfied within two years that there are satisfactory contractual arrangements in place.

Against muted criticism from those opposite—although I do not think this is something that regional Liberal and National Party members are against—the Gillard Labor government have continued to forge ahead with the National Broadband Network. We have continued to negotiate with industry and the communications sector to ensure we have the right system in place to deliver an effective national broadband network. It is not easy, but game-changing infrastructure of this magnitude never is. I am particularly wary of people who are muted or neutral about this, because I think that in years to come they will reap the benefits of it. I am wary of what you might call 'policy leeches'. They do not actually do the hard yards. If you go bushwalking and you collect a leech and take it to the top of the mountain, while you are doing the hard yards walking up the mountain the leech is feeding off your blood, sweat and hard work. Then, when you get to the top of the mountain, the leech falls off. You have done all the hard work to get there but it reaps the benefits of it. I am wary of that sort of approach to this great nation building policy. I commend the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy for his commitment in this regard, because I know that it will increase the nation's productivity in the years to come.

The Labor approach is quite sensible. Some of those opposite have the approach to productivity that you just need to work harder, work longer and, obviously, cut the penalty rates. That is not the way forward. That is a simplistic approach to productivity. Productivity is a much more complicated beast. The Labor approach is much more compassionate. You work smarter and you support the community with an investment in skills and resources, and that is what this NBN legislation will do for the nation. I commend the bills to the House.