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Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Page: 4145

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaOpposition Whip in the Senate) (15:11): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Communications (Senator Fifield) to a question without notice asked by Senator Urquhart today relating to National Broadband Network services in Tasmania.

It was another question on how the Liberals' National Broadband Network is failing the people of north-west and the west coast of Tasmania. It clearly referenced comments from the then Devonport mayor, now National senator for Tasmania, Steve Martin—a man who once prided himself on his independence, but who has sold himself down the river and joined the New South Wales Nationals.

Senator Martin said that the Liberals copper NBN is like 'driving a Mercedes-Benz to the node and then jumping on a penny-farthing.' A penny-farthing! I think that's a bit harsh on the people of Evandale and their wonderful penny-farthing festival, but the spirit of Senator Martin's comments ring true. His comments were opposed at the time by the belligerent Brett Whiteley, a man who just doesn't care; a man whose sole focus in public life is to attack, to demean and to push all responsibility onto individuals. Mr Whiteley's purpose for being in government is not to achieve things for our communities in Braddon, but to push his extreme ideology, which is so out of touch with what workers want, what businesses want and what the community needs. He wants to divide our community into haves and have-nots; he wants to back in his mates in Canberra over the needs of people of rural and regional Tasmania. The fact is that the CBDs of Devonport and Burnie have missed out on fibre-to-the-premises NBN for one reason and one reason only: Brett Whiteley was too weak to stand up to Mr Malcolm Turnbull, the then communications minister. Senator Martin said last year:

It's easy to set up a business in Launceston or Hobart because the infrastructure is already there and it's there for the future …

That's what he said. He went on:

Fibre to the node is catered for the present day—it's not futuristic. We're not second-rate citizens on the North-West Coast.

Alderman Martin then concluded by accusing the coalition government of not doing its homework and questioned:

… how long is the copper going to last anyway?

A few weeks ago, Senator Martin said that he would work within government to deliver more positive outcomes in areas like health and infrastructure, but since then he's made no effort to outline how he will actually make a difference. Today he asked a soft question to Minister Scullion, but sought no answers for the people of Braddon on the misleading comments made by Senator Colbeck and Mr Brett Whiteley on the Roads of Strategic Importance fund.

Back when Senator Martin made his comments as a mayor, he was joined at media events with the then Burnie mayor, Anita Dow. Unlike Senator Martin, who was just throwing loose barbs around with no substance, Ms Dow was trying to get some policy changes out of the Turnbull government. Ms Dow was trying to secure a fibre-to-the-premises rollout for Burnie after the Turnbull government brazenly shafted them, despite earlier promises. But, after meeting with NBN representatives, the then Braddon member, Brett Whiteley, and Minister Fifield's staff, Ms Dow was left extremely disappointed. Instead of working with the council to remedy the debacle, Brett Whiteley told the businesses of Burnie they could get a tax deductible connection to fibre to the premises, but of course the businesses of nearby Somerset, just five minutes down the road, did not have to pay; the businesses in Smithton, an hour down the road, did not have to pay; and the businesses in Launceston and Hobart did not have to pay.

Mr Whiteley said at the time that Ms Dow should be more positive. What an absolutely disgraceful thing to say about a hardworking mayor, as she was then. He then said the evidence clearly shows that the satisfaction rate of FTTN network users is equal to users of the gold-plated FTTP technology, which is blatantly misleading. The real fact is that fibre-to-the-node experiences three times as many complaints as fibre to the premises—three times; not a bit more, not double, but three times. Brett Whiteley got this fact so horribly wrong because he didn't listen to the concerns of the people of Braddon. He didn't listen to then Mayor Martin when he said copper would deteriorate, that FTTN left north-west Tassie behind Launceston and Hobart and that the Liberals were treating north-west Tasmanians as second-class citizens, and they continue to treat north-west Tasmanians as second-class citizens. He didn't listen then and he doesn't deserve to be re-elected now.