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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1299


Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaAssistant Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources) (15:09): I must say it is quite extraordinary that we should be standing here today taking note of NBN again. Since we changed government in 2013, I cannot think how many times we have discussed the NBN. It always seems that, if Senator Conroy continues to bring these things up in question time and we take note of them, he can defend the legacy he left us, which was the NBN at the time. I notice that today's questions seem to be largely around a media story this morning about some leaked documentation that made its way into the media. Senator Conroy might well remember the Melton trial site leaked document. Once again we have exactly the same situation, where the documents are always the ones that have not been verified—they have not been peer reviewed.

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator RUSTON: Unfortunately, Senator Conroy seems to think that, if he can find a scrap piece of paper in the rubbish bin, it can be turned around to be a factual claim about what is going on. It is really quite distressing. Senator Fifield put on the record in question time today that the NBN is on track to meet its targets for the financial year—within budget as set out in the company's corporate plan—and any suggestion to the contrary is just wrong. Who is correct here—Senator Conroy who appears to think that scavenging through rubbish bins and finding pieces of information is more credible than the information that is put on the public record—

Senator Conroy: The truth!

Senator RUSTON: by the minister, as it was with the previous minister and now Prime Minister?

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator RUSTON: I think the opposition is trying to defend the indefensible. There was so much money wasted under the previous administration. My understanding is that in excess of $6 billion was spent to deliver access the broadband to fewer than three per cent of premises in Australia. Mr Deputy President, you do not need to be a Rhodes scholar to extrapolate that out: if you have $6.5 billion to get to three per cent of premises, how much is it going to cost to get to all premises? Many of those premises with early access to the NBN rollout under the previous administration were those that were easier—the low-hanging fruit concept, which is often used in this place to describe taking the easy stuff first. This government is not going for the easy or the low-hanging fruit first. As well delivering the NBN as quickly as possible to the greatest number of people and as cheaply as possible, we are trying to deliver it first to those people who have very poor access or have no access. Instead of focusing on where you will get the quickest return for your money, we are trying to deliver this more equitably to all Australians.

The other thing we always seem to fail to mention in the narrative about the NBN is the fact that, unfortunately, we have to be able to afford to deliver everything. Senator Conroy and the gold-plated NBN he proposed rolling out—

Senator Conroy: Those gold-plated satellites are shocking!

Senator RUSTON: I would not go on about satellites, Senator Conroy, because we know what happened with your interim satellites: all the people who were supposed to get access to the satellites because they could not get NBN by other means missed out because we oversold it to the providers and then they rolled it out to everybody. So we ended up with too many people on the satellites, but those on the satellites had a very poor service, while those people in remote areas of the country, who could not get access to the NBN by other means, were disadvantaged by the crazy way that those opposite dealt with the interim satellite. I find it very surprising that Senator Conroy would raise satellites as a point of contention here, when his track record on satellites has to be among the worst in the world.

In the last couple of seconds I have, let's go back quickly to the budget. The reality is that we have had delivered to us one of the worst budget positions you could ever imagine and we have tried to be responsible and manage our government within the constraints that the budget has given us.(Time expired)