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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1300


Senator McLUCAS (Queensland) (15:14): I rise to speak on the motion that the Senate take note of answers given by Minister Fifield today on the NBN. The second-rate NBN of the now Prime Minister but former communications minister Mr Malcolm Turnbull had another sad chapter in its history today, with the leaking of yet another internal document that is full of damning data that shows that cost blow-outs and delays in the rollout of the NBN are certainly occurring out there in NBN land. Senator Ruston seem to think there is some scrap of paper that has been found in someone's rubbish bin. It is disappointing that a frontbencher from the government side would try to say that this is a document that can just be forgotten and not be taken any notice of. This is a comprehensive internal document that warrants proper scrutiny and warrants an understanding of how dire these problems actually are so that we can find out where we are up to with the rollout of this second rate NBN today.

That is the background to why I asked questions in question time today of Minister Fifield. My first question, the substantial question, was not answered at all. I pointed Senator Fifield to the fact that on 22 February this year the minister said in this chamber that the rollout of the Prime Minister's copper NBN—the second rate NBN—was 'accelerating'. This document that has been released today is dated 19 February 2016—some three days prior to Senator Fifield saying that the NBN rollout was accelerating. I asked a reasonable question: was the minister informed that the NBN rollout was behind schedule, as this document clearly shows—not a little bit behind schedule but desperately behind schedule—before or after he made his statement? When did he know that what he had said in this chamber was not accurate? Senator Fifield said that he did not accept the premise of my question. I now invite Senator Fifield to go back and look at the Hansard of both 22 February and of question time today and think about whether or not he needs to revisit the answer he gave to my question today. I also asked to Senator Fifield whether all other significant milestones of fibre to the node—FTTN—continued to remain behind target, as this document clearly states. He said no, he did not think that was a good thing, that was true, and then he spent a lot of time criticising Labor.

I have recently taken on the role of chair of the Senate Select Committee on the NBN. The NBN is not a policy area that I have spent a lot of time with in the past, so a lot of this is a new to me. I am now engaged in a level of policy detail and rollout detail that I was not as up to date with before. Frankly, this project is a disaster. After all of the criticism by the government of Labor's NBN rollout, it is frankly amazing that Mr Turnbull and now Minister Fifield can defend their record. When they came to government they had a coming-into-government document that predicted that if the policy approach taken by the now government was taken, saying this when they were in opposition, they would end up with this sort of mess. They knew. It was not surprising. But then Mr Turnbull released his strategic review in December 2013 and he said it was the most thorough and objective analysis of the NBN ever provided to Australians. My colleague Senator Conroy has gone through all of those empty promises that we have now realised—and it is double the cost. Minister Turnbull said then the NBN would cost $29.5 billion—it is now up to $56 billion. If you doubled the rollout cost of any project, you would be sacked. In fact, then Minister Turnbull was promoted.