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Thursday, 15 September 2011
Page: 6159

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaParliamentary Secretary for Sustainability and Urban Water) (09:51): I rise to oppose the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 (No. 2) and want to speak to the reasons why I do not think it is appropriate for this place to pass this legislation. Having just heard Senator Urquhart's very persuasive arguments, particularly as they relate to your home state, Deputy President, I find myself in furious agreement with her on the issue.

The first point to make is that there is nothing particularly new in this legislation. It is very much the bill that Malcolm Turnbull introduced into the lower house last year. The fate of that bill was that it was defeated by the House of Representatives on 19 November last year. This is really the second attempt to get the bill up, starting in the Senate this time. The bill has been slightly amended. It does recognise that the govern­ment did release the NBN Co. corporate plan on 20 December last year. But all of the weaknesses that resulted in the bill's rejection by the House of Representatives last year are still there.

The bill requires the Productivity Com­mission to do a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN by 1 December this year. The time frame is ridiculously short and really shows that the opposition cannot be serious about the bill. The reality is that it simply would not be possible to do a proper cost-benefit analysis in the 2½ months that is required by the bill. However, having said that, in relation to the merits of doing a cost-benefit analysis, we know that the NBN is an investment and not a cost. The corporate plan shows that the return on the investment is a bit over seven per cent, a very good return. Particularly if you look at the share market at the moment, a seven per cent return would be a very good investment. As Senator Urquhart said, we also know from the Greenhill Caliburn report that the assumptions underlying revenue and cost projections in the NBN Co. corporate plan are reasonable.

On the benefits side, there is plenty of evidence already. The OECD, the UN and Access Economics say that investments in high-speed fibre platforms will generate billions of dollars in economy-wide benefits. Two Access Economics reports that we released show that the benefits of telehealth to Australia could be between $2 billion and $4 billion a year and that Australia could save between $1.4 billion and $1.9 billion a year if 10 per cent of the workforce tele­worked half of the time. The OECD says that 'effective use of high-speed broadband can provide significant improvements in productivity and efficiency across a number of sectors such as energy, health, education and transport'. The United Nations says:

Broadband is the next tipping point, the next truly transformational technology. It can generate jobs, drive growth and productivity, and underpin long-term economic competitiveness.

An IBM study in 2009 also found that the fibre-to-the-node network, which is an inferior network to what we are building:

… would conservatively boost GDP by between $8 and 23 billion over a ten year period and jobs by 33,000 by 2011 in an economy operating at less than full employment.

So this is not a bill we should support. It is just a half-hearted attempt to throw up what we now can see as simple roadblocks to the NBN rollout.

The NBN is critical infrastructure that will connect our rural and regional centres back to our main cities and the wider world with world-class broadband. The NBN will deliver affordable, high-speed broadband services to all Australian homes, businesses, schools and hospitals, no matter where they are located in Australia. As Australia's first national wholesale-only communications network, the NBN will also support genuine competition in the telecommunications sector for the first time, which means better outcomes for consumers. The NBN will connect 93 per cent of the premises in Australia with optical fibre, delivering speeds of up to one gigabyte per second—many times faster than many people experience today. All remaining premises will receive next generation wireless and satellite technology. I know that Senator Edwards will have had some of that in the Clare Valley, because there is a great broadband and wireless system set up there already. NBN will improve upon all of that by dramatically improving Australia's com­munications environment, and Australians are already lining up to receive these services. There is an overwhelming level of support in some communities. For example, in the NBN mainland first release sites, an average of 75 per cent of households signed up for a fibre connection. In my home state of South Australia, more than 90 per cent of households signed up. Senator Urquhart went through some of the great achievements of the NBN in Tasmania, but I particularly want to talk about some of those in South Australia. As I am sure Senator Conroy is aware, Willunga, which is in the federal seat of Kingston, held by that very talented and hardworking South Australian MP Amanda Rishworth, will be the first place in South Australia to get the NBN. The town has already been connected for customer trials and the NBN will soon be formally launched there, ahead of commercial services com­mencing in October this year. Every com­munity in South Australia—metropolitan, regional, rural and remote—will have access to high-speed broadband services over the NBN.

Willunga's neighbours, Seaford and McLaren Vale, will get the NBN in the second release. Modbury, which is in the seat of Makin, held by Tony Zappia, and Prospect, which is in the electorate of Adelaide, held by that hardworking MP Kate Ellis—

Senator Birmingham: You can always tell who is in your faction, Don.

Senator FARRELL: I have mentioned Tony Zappia.

Senator Birmingham: He wasn't 'hardworking'.

Senator FARRELL: If I failed to mention how hardworking he is, I want to get that on the record. Like all of my Labor colleagues in South Australia, including Senator—

Senator Ronaldson: You've forgotten the name!

Senator FARRELL: No. Senator McEwen. She slightly distracted me for a moment. I hope you do not give that one to the Australian! Senator McEwen is like all my hardworking colleagues in the Senate and the lower house. They are all hardworking in South Australia if they are in the Labor Party. I cannot say the same for the other side.

Senator McEwen: They love the NBN.

Senator FARRELL: They do love the NBN. Senator McEwen is exactly right there.

Senator Ronaldson: Have you been asked to fill a gap?

Senator FARRELL: I find that quite offensive, to be perfectly honest with you, Senator Ronaldson. I am talking about a great project in South Australia and about all the places in South Australia where this project is being rolled out. Another hardworking person whom I have not mentioned is Nick Champion. He has been working very hard, lobbying on behalf of the good people of Wakefield—I see you are leaving the chamber, Senator Ronaldson—to ensure that they get the NBN sooner rather than later. That is because Nick Champion and the people of Wakefield know how important the benefits of the NBN will be.

The NBN is critical for the future of education, small business, the health sector and our ability to work smarter and faster. It is a project of crucial national importance, and its impact on how Australians com­municate with each other and with the world will be profound.

The opposition does not seem to get this, but fortunately most Australians do. We know they get it because of how quick they have been to sign up for the NBN. Willunga is one of five NBN mainland first-release sites. I mentioned that more than 90 per cent of households there had signed up for the connection, which I know is very pleasing to Senator Conroy. In some of the other mainland first-release sites, the take-up rates are 88 per cent of households in the site near Armidale and 78 per cent in Kiama Downs, both of which are in New South Wales.

In addition to the NBN fibre connections, the Gillard government has also committed to fast-tracking the introduction of fixed wireless and next generation satellite services so that regional Australia, including South Australia, can get access to better broadband as soon as possible. These next generation wireless and satellite systems will provide customers with significantly improved services, offering peak speeds of 12 megabits per second. For regional South Australia, the NBN provides opportunities for businesses to connect to distant markets through high-speed broadband.

A number of contractors are interested in the NBN construction work in South Australia and the Northern Territory. Further discussions are taking place between these contractors and NBN Co. NBN Co. is continuing internal planning and design in readiness for a future construction contract, when that is let.

The fine South Australian coastal town of Victor Harbor is a fibre backbone link in the Australian government's $250 million Reg­ional Backbone Blackspots Program. This program is delivering 6,000 kilometres of fibre backbone across regional Australia, benefiting about 400,000 people. The NBN backbone infrastructure in South Australia was completed in March 2011, and new commercial broadband services in Victor Harbor were launched in May this year.

The delivery of new ADSL2+ broadband services for residents of Victor Harbor, Strathalbyn and Goolwa represents a sub­stantial improvement to the ADSL1 services previously on offer. The new fibre infra­structure allows internet service providers to expand their services into many parts of regional areas in South Australia, including Victor Harbor. The investment in South Australia will be $34.1 million, as part of the overall program funding. This includes the $12.6 million allocated to provide a backbone link to Victor Harbor and part of the $70.7 million allocated to provide a backbone link from Broken Hill to Mildura and from Shepparton to Gawler.

As we know, particularly from what Senator Urquhart said in her speech, the opposition has taken every opportunity to prevent Australians from having this world-class, affordable broadband service. This bill is just another attempt to do that. I will oppose this bill when it comes to a vote.