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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 449

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (18:34): In response to a couple of the questions that the member for Barker raised at the end, I understand the continuing cynical and negative tone that we are used to in the chamber day after day. I accept as a burden of being in this place the constant carping and negativity. But what I am finding really difficult to understand in the argument that is being put are declarations of: 'We don't want it, it's going to be no good, but when is it coming to my towns?' That sort of hypocrisy says, 'We want it, we don't want it. We wanted it yesterday, we don't want it tomorrow.' That is all we can expect and it reflects the confusion we have seen from the opposition front bench on a whole lot of economic matters this week in the House as well. I am absolutely delighted to have the opportunity to speak this evening on this new review of the rollout. I am not a member of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, but I did sit in on the last hearing that the committee held. I was very impressed with the quality of the responses to some really great questions. I am pleased to see this is massive, visionary, Labor-led investment in our country. Through this committee there is a requirement that the NBN rollout is discussed and reported on every six months. Critically, the terms of reference for this committee require that the committee report on the rollout of the NBN in connecting 93 per cent of Australian homes, schools and businesses to fibre-to-the-premises technology, with a minimum coverage obligation of 90 per cent of Australian premises, and on the objective of servicing all remaining premises. I am pleased to see that these matters have been included in the report. I am certainly pleased to acknowledge my admiration for the work of the committee and I applaud their efforts thus far.

As the Treasurer said in question time today, this is an issue that really goes to the heart of the difference between those opposite, who would still have us in horses and carriages, and those on this side, who wish to take advantage of the new technologies that allow us to change how we live. We on this side understand the imperative of giving our nation—our students, our teachers, our health workers and our businesses—the opportunity to have the new technologies that will connect them to the world.

I particularly want to talk about jobs. We see in this report that, as at 30 June 2011, when a submission was provided to the committee, 1,000 employees in locations across the whole of the country were engaged in the NBN Co. We are talking about a technology that will grow jobs in a range of businesses, but it is certainly growing jobs right now for people who want to be part of building this dream, this dream that will enable Australians to do the things that we cannot even imagine yet are possible. Australians have been innovative forever. They will take and embrace this technology and they will take us to great places. I suspect that when we look back in 50 years from now people will recall and speak about their part in the rollout of the NBN as we hear people speak about their part in the building of the Snowy Mountains scheme. This is another visionary project that helps Australians form a sense of identity. We have the capacity to envision, to make great big projects fit this great big country of ours and to give us a great big opportunity right there ahead of us.

These are things that define the Labor Party. We believe in Australians, we believe in their capacity and we believe that if we give them the right tools they will be able to make a really good go of it. The reality is that business understands this. Those on the other side constantly carp about how they represent business. We know the sorts of businesses they represent—those like Gina Rinehart's, which are going to benefit from the sorts of policies that these guys would like to implement through the minerals resource rent tax, taking money away from ordinary families. Small businesses, however, seem to be beneath their gaze. Businesses in my area have totally got on board with this and they understand it. The fact is that the internet contributed to 3.6 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product in 2010. That is the same as Australia's iron ore exports.

We cannot ignore this area. It requires our investment. It requires a vision for the future, not a backward-looking, carping, cynical, negative view about things that cannot be done. The Australian internet economy is likely to grow by $20 billion over the next five years to roughly $70 billion. That is twice as fast as the rest of the economy. We need to provide the capacity for that to happen. By 2016 the growth of the internet in Australia will see approximately 80,000 people employed in areas directly related to the internet.

I have seen the Nationals sit over there and profusely claim that they are representing Australian farmers; but Australian farmers need the internet. Aussie Farmers Direct now generates over $100 million per annum through selling fresh food online. AuctionsPlus sold 2.2 million sheep via an online auction process to farmers at home and overseas in 2010. This is the technology that, for the first time in our history, connects the bush with not just the cities but the rest of the world. That is what we are going to offer. This review shows that, through the processes of the initial careful rollout and the learning experiences that have been acquired by NBN Co., the next phase of rollouts is well prepared, well organised and well able to become part of our community's celebration of our movement into the 21st century.

There were a number of comments on education in the report, and that is an issue very close to my heart. I will indicate some of the things that are happening. One of the first events that happened when the Armidale site was switched on was an opportunity for high school choirs in Tasmania and Armidale to be able to sing together and interact. It was a poetic way to say that Australians can sing with one voice wherever they are. We can make a harmonious sound, leading into the future and combining all of us together as one. What we would have if those opposite had their way is a few people singing somewhere and the rest of them silenced. They cannot participate.

Avoca Beach and East Gosford have two of my local schools. In some parts of my electorate, people are able to communicate at nearly this kind of speed. There is the opportunity for them to have conversations with kids at a special school at East Gosford and teach kids at Avoca Beach how to sign the national anthem. This is a wonderful opportunity for us to build connections across communities and across the physical divides that we are so aware of here in Australia.

In terms of health, one of the good things that has been undertaken in the first part of the rollout is a couple of trial programs determined to see how we might be able to work in the health area. In Townsville in particular, some of the trials regarded diabetes and government e-health services; in Armidale it was chronic disease care; in Kiama it was mental health; and in Brunswick it was aged care and in-home monitoring and care. This preparation of the practical applications and the practical plug-ins to people's ordinary lives is well reported in this document. It indicates that this is not about a technology that is awaiting people who want to use it. There are people who are waiting to use it. There are people who are determined to use it. There are people who are desperate to use it and keen to get their share. The member for Barker was just talking about all of the towns that he wants this to come to. I am not surprised he wants to know when it is coming to those towns, because everyone in my region also wants to know when they are going to get a share of being able to have an e-health consultation, run their business from home at a decent speed and participate in the global economy.

In my area one of the very important local magazines that helps our business community keep abreast of what is going on is the Central Coast Business Review, run by a gentleman called Edgar Adams. He is a very independently minded man, but he certainly understands the capacity of the National Broadband Network to transform our local economy. For the first time in Gosford, where we have a population of 300,000 if we blend in with Tuggerah—that is, the Central Coast region—we have a structural advantage over Newcastle and Sydney in terms of being able to offer businesses an internet speed that makes them competitive with the rest of the world.

Our arguments for trying to get into the rollout—and we have been successful in achieving that—were that people at home told us that they see a very attractive return on investment for NBN Co.; there is huge local and community business support; our commuters want this because they see it as an opportunity to reduce unnecessary travel; and telecommuting from Gosford to Sydney would mean that the lives of families—where mum and dad have to get up at 20 past five, get the kids into child care at 6.30 and get on a train to get to Sydney—can be transformed by the capacity to work from home or work at a site on the coast much closer to home. The flow-on in terms of community outcomes should not be understated. There are little kids' teams, where dads and mums want to help with soccer, football, netball and swimming. Those sorts of opportunities to participate in community are made possible by having the time to participate. At the moment, the tyranny of distance from Sydney for high-quality, high-paid jobs, even at the distance of just 1½ hours, has a powerful impact in our community that can be overcome by this new technology. One of the great people on the coast who went on the record about this is an international telecommunications consultant called Paul Budde. This is his estimation of exactly what this rollout will bring in to our region—and to any region. He said:

The region will profit significantly from this early participation as it has a large commuting population, and having access to high-speed broadband infrastructure will be an enormous boost to e-commerce and teleworking applications. It will be around the NBN that new companies—and indeed new industries—will be born and the Central Coast is now well-positioned to take a leadership role in this development.

What does it mean for the Central Coast?

It means the same thing for us as it means for all those towns across the country that are waiting for access. It means that we are going to 'be seen as an ideal environment with world class infrastructure and this will attract inward investment from corporations'. He went on to say that with world-class facilities we will be able to have innovative business models that currently cannot operate in our area. It will provide wonderful training opportunities for our young locals. It will prepare them to be part of pulling the cable through and getting that infrastructure in the ground. That will enable the kids to get skills, get wages and start believing in a future. That is what the NBN physical infrastructure will offer to many young people in my area. We will also be able to deliver online training and education through this technology, which will transform our access to a range of courses that are simply inaccessible to people who are living on the Central Coast.

Before I close, I would like to speak about the big difference between our vision of access for all Australians—a fairer Australia—and that of those opposite. Access for all is something that we will deliver with the National Broadband Network. That is referred to in the document that I have. We need to make sure that the whole nation moves forward together in a strategic way over a reasonable period of time, and that is certainly at the heart of today's report. On access for regional and remote communities, we cannot go past the announcement today by the minister for communications and the Prime Minister about the satellite that will be put up to make sure that those in the regions and in the most remote areas of the country will have access to this new technology.

There is a critical piece of information that I want to put on the record that disputes some of the things that were put by the member for Barker. One of the things that he argued is that it is the demand for wireless that is increasing. They keep on with this argument that wireless will provide what we need. The reality is that, according to figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the number of mobile broadband subscribers in Australia is continuing to climb. But the number of fixed broadband subscribers is also increasing, although at a slower rate. The average rate of downloads per month in gigabytes has doubled in the last 12 months for fixed line networks whereas the mobile network average download for a broadband subscriber has dropped by 20 per cent. We know that this is because a stable fibre-to-the-home network option is much more reliable. It is faster and more stable. It is like a kind of basic road service; it is like having asphalt to your door instead of a road with a bit of gravel. There is a big difference.

We cannot afford to hamper the efforts of Australians in all fields of endeavour and in all fields of business by not allowing them to have the visionary technology of the future. That technology will power the economy of the future. Those opposite offer the past and no future.