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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1975


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (16:37): One of my great joys in travelling all the way across the Nullarbor from Perth via Melbourne to get to Canberra to come to the Senate is to follow Senator Polley in debates like this on a Monday afternoon.

Senator Polley: You always follow me; I love it!

Senator SMITH: I do follow you—and sometimes I think to myself that perhaps Senator Polley is related to the Brothers Grimm, those two characters that are very, very famous for their storytelling and tales of folklore, because while her speeches are well written and show great imagination, they are very, very poor on facts and content. It would be great if Senator Polley could stay, but that is okay; I know that senators are very, very busy.

But I do want to use my opportunity this afternoon to put some facts on the record. We heard Senator O'Neill talk again, incorrectly, about the progress that is being made with regard to the National Broadband Network. Senator O'Neill, from the North Coast of New South Wales, regularly comes in here to talk about the National Broadband Network and very rarely, if ever, gives an accurate account of the rollout of the National Broadband Network.

In addition, Senator Polley, Senator O'Neill and other Labor senators often come in here to talk about Medicare and bulk-billing, again, with the absence of any facts about the significant progress that is being made in regard to Medicare in our country. So I am going to dispel some of those inaccuracies again this afternoon. Then, if time allows, I would like to talk briefly about what the government is doing to support economic growth and deliver jobs and job security for Australians.

It is dispiriting to begin another sitting week—this is the third final sitting week of this year's parliamentary calendar—with another pointless MPI from the Australian Labor Party. But, unfortunately, that is something that we have become accustomed to in this very, very early part of what is the 45th parliament. It is interesting to read the MPI today, talking about 'chaos and dysfunction'. But you do not have to take yourself too far back into Australia's political history to see with great accuracy the chaos and dysfunction that characterised the former Labor government.

Let me just give you a bit of an insight into what Labor's thinking is when they come to this particular part of a parliamentary sitting day and they are trying to think about how to inject a bit of debate and shift the political focus away from the good things the government is doing, improving the quality of life for many, many Australians and giving them job opportunities. Their thinking is quite a simple one: they like to look back into history, look at a strategy that the coalition might have used in trying to draw attention to Labor's dysfunction and then try to apply it in a modern context.

Some of you might recall that in the early 2000's Kim Beazley would often call John Howard arrogant. Of course, reflecting back on John Howard's successful career as Prime Minister of our country, I think we would all agree that John Howard was most definitely not arrogant. But Labor was thinking that because John Howard had used the word 'arrogant' so successfully against Paul Keating they decided in those days to adopt the same strategy—a lack of imagination on their part—and go and call John Howard arrogant. But, of course, we know that that failed. So we find today that they are now just trying to accuse this new government, elected on 2 July, with the claim of being chaotic and dysfunctional, knowing that that is the characteristic that more than beset the previous Labor government; it became the stand-out or hallmark feature of their period of time in government.

I think it is important for those people who might have nothing to do one day in the future to go to the Hansard and have a look at the sorts of things that were being discussed today. What occurred in the Senate today was quite a proper process. What we were discussing earlier today was the matter of eligibility of particular individuals to serve in this Senate chamber. Indeed, we know that the process is a proper one because the government's efforts to refer those matters to the High Court were actually agreed to—endorsed—by Labor. Now, only a few hours later, we are being accused of being a government characterised by chaos and dysfunction. It is a bit rich for the Labor Party to vote to support the government's course of action in these matters on the one hand but then turn around only a couple of hours later and try and say there is chaos and dysfunction.

Presumably, if the process that had been undertaken earlier today was dysfunctional and chaotic then their votes in the chamber would not have been there to support the government's course of action. So the fact that Labor voted to support what the government has done today is very, very powerful evidence that the process is proper and that the government is not characterised by chaos and dysfunction. I think it is important to also put on the record that what we are talking about are two senators from the crossbench. We are not talking about two senators from the government benches.

Let me just turn to dispelling some myths. Let me start by dispelling some myths around the National Broadband Network. I noticed that it was absent from Senator Polley's contribution. She normally likes to talk about the National Broadband Network across Tasmania. We might hear a little bit from Senator Lambie about the National Broadband Network. We did hear a lot about it in Senator O'Neill's contribution. So let me just put some facts on the table. If you would bear with me, Mr Acting Deputy President, I would like to put 10 facts on the table about the National Broadband Network before I start to talk about some facts in regard to Medicare and bulk-billing across the country.

Let me start with fact No. 1 in regard to the National Broadband Network. Under this coalition government the NBN Co is connecting more active users every month than Labor connected during its entire time in government. What that means is there have been close to 90,000 new active services over the past month compared to just 51,000 at the time of the 2013 election under the previous Labor government. Fact No. 2: under the coalition government the National Broadband Network has hit every rollout target since the coalition came to government. Fact No. 3: the NBN is now available to one in four Australian premises—more than 3.2 million premises. Fact No. 4: the NBN now has over 1.4 million active connections. To put this in context, I will share with you, Mr Acting Deputy President O'Sullivan, and others, some of Labor's facts when it comes to the National Broadband Network. Fact No. 5: the NBN will be available to half of all Australian premises by the end of June next year, increasing to three-quarters of all premises—that is, nine million premises—by the end of June 2018. Fact No. 6: today, nearly two-thirds of all premises are in design, under construction or ready for service under the National Broadband Network. Remember that Senator O'Neill said this afternoon that the National Broadband Network was broken. It is far from broken under the stewardship of this Prime Minister and under the stewardship of the new Minister for Communications, our colleague Senator Fifield. Fact No. 7: 70 per cent of premises covered by the NBN today are in regional and non-metropolitan areas. I know firsthand the powerful transformative effect this is having as I travel across regional Western Australia and see the rollout of the NBN. It is interesting that very few people are now having the fibre discussion, because they can see for themselves and experience for themselves, that the wireless NBN service is of a high quality—I will come to the issue of speed soon, because I know that it is top of mind for many people in non-metropolitan areas. Fact No. 8: the NBN is more affordable under the coalition than it was ever going to be under Labor. Labor's gold-plated version required peak funding of $49 billion compared to costings under the coalition. Fact No. 9: speed was for a long time a very complex and demanding issue when it came to building confidence in the National Broadband Network for consumers—this is the final fact in support of the government's NBN rollout plan—the coalition's NBN will provide download speeds of 25 megabits to all premises and 50 megabits to 90 per cent of fixed-line premises in Australia. Why is that important? Because speed was such an important argument and issue in the debate we had for many, many years around the National Broadband Network. What is the lived experience? What are consumers actually doing? Four out of five users are purchasing NBN plans with speeds of 25 megabits or less.

In the very brief time still available to me I will touch briefly on the issue of Medicare. This is important. A standout feature and a characteristic of the federal election campaign was Labor's Medicare scare campaign—we still hear it today. But Labor conveniently want to overlook the very real facts with regard to Medicare spending in this country. Let me start—very, very briefly—by reminding people about what is really happening with bulk-billing rates. Bulk-billing rates in our country are the highest they have ever been. GP bulk-billing rates are 85 per cent compared to an average of just 79 per cent under Labor. Across Australia last financial year, there were over 17 million more bulk-billed GP attendances compared to Labor's last full year in office. What does that mean? It means that more people are going to the doctor in Australia and seeing a GP without having to pay anything. You would not know that if you listened to Labor. You would not know that, if you paid too much attention to what Labor was saying. In the brief time available to me, I could go through every state and share with you what that means at a grassroots level, but I will leave that for another contribution at another time, when I am sure I will follow Senator Polley. (Time expired)