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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9377

Ms REA (1:12 PM) —I rise to support the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures—Network Information) Bill 2009. In beginning my speech to that support, I want once again to put on the public record the great pride that I feel in being part of a government that has made such a significant commitment to establishing a nationalbroadband network throughout this country of Australia. It has been said many times, but it is true, that this infrastructure investment could well be the most significant infrastructure investment that we have ever seen in this country. We hear tell of the significance of the Snowy Mountains scheme. We hear tell of many significant decisions that have been made around our road networks. We know that, as a result of governments of all persuasions over the life of this Federation putting dollars and capital investment into infrastructure, we have seen prosperity in our business community and, indeed, the progression of social benefits within this country. But I believe that this investment in broadband will probably be one of the biggest transformations that we will see.

I am particularly proud that the government has said clearly that it will be putting $43 billion into ensuring the rollout of this network and that it will be done over eight years. I am proud that we have not just honoured our election promises but indeed exceeded one of our election promises by committing to fibre to the premises, not just fibre to the node. Not just will this network be rolled out with significant government investment but it is yet another sign that we can do business in this country to deliver vital services by forming partnerships with the private sector; that it is not just the taxpayer who always foots the bill for these particular investments; that we can be mature about the way we deliver services and about the governance and provision of infrastructure; and that we can involve the private sector in a significant and meaningful way.

This bill is a fundamental part of delivering that very important infrastructure. It amends part 27A of the Telecommunications Act 1997 and will provide access to very vital network information. That information will feed into the development of the National Broadband Network and make sure that when it is delivered to 98 per cent of this country it will be delivered in a way that is of most benefit to both the providers and the consumers. It will ensure that the implementation study that is being conducted around the NBN will be better informed in determining such vital matters as operating arrangements and network design.

I want to reinforce just how important it is that we get this right. It is right that in an investment of this scale the government are mindful of how we spend taxpayers’ dollars. More importantly, though, an investment of this scale will have far-reaching ramifications for the way in which we conduct our private and public business in this country, and it must be done properly. It is therefore essential that we gather as much information as we can from the telecommunications providers and other utilities about the infrastructure that is out there. Doing so will enable us to deliver this network in a timely and cost-effective fashion.

Having been in local government—I was a member of the Brisbane City Council for 13 out of the last 17 years—I am well aware of how important the provision of basic infrastructure is to any community that wishes to thrive and prosper. I am also well aware that local government is always seen as the doer of the community—that it provides roads, rates and rubbish. Indeed, over the last 10 to 20 years it has provided a lot more than that. Once the internet had been developed and it was clear that its usage was much broader than simply downloading a document or the kids being able to play games online, I very strongly argued, in my time in local government, that it had become a fundamental part of everything we did. It is fundamental to the governance of air traffic control, the banking system, small business, and the reforms that are possible to our health system. It is essential to the gathering and passing on of information. Everything we do is intimately connected to a functioning internet network and it is essential that people have access to that network in a way that delivers them information in a timely manner.

I argued long and hard within the Brisbane City Council that whilst local government believes its fundamental role is to provide roads, footpaths and such basic and essential infrastructure as water, sewerage and all of those things that we take for granted, the provision of broadband infrastructure had become the new essential and basic service of our communities. In order for people to get to work it is just as important for them to have high-speed online access as it is for them to have a road to get them to their workplace. Indeed, more and more people are now staying at home and conducting very successful and profitable businesses via the internet. It has become the new highway, and it is therefore fundamental that government gets into the game to provide the necessary infrastructure to facilitate people’s use of those services.

So it has always been a passion of mine that we should see broadband as the next step in the provision of infrastructure for our community. That is why I am so pleased that this Commonwealth government has taken the initiative to roll out a national broadband network. Having been involved in local government for that many years, I am also well aware of how much infrastructure there is already out there that can assist in facilitating the proper rollout of this particular network. Underneath the ground in every city and community across the country there is an enormous amount of infrastructure that can assist this rollout, whether it is water pipes, cables or all sorts of ducts in which cable can be laid to facilitate fibre-optic rollout. It is important that we do not just walk into this blindly, saying simply that it is something new and we are going to come in and do it. It is fundamental that we get proper information as to what networks already exist below and above the ground, which will ensure that this is rolled out successfully. That is why I am very pleased to support this bill. I wish to emphasise to the House just how important it is that this particular piece of legislation is passed, because it is this information and data that will facilitate the rollout of the National Broadband Network. We have to be very mindful of collecting this data and information and of making sure that this rollout is done properly, because it is such a significant investment within our country.

I must also say that it is also a shame that communities like mine in the electorate of Bonner have already missed out on the benefits provided to those households and businesses that have access to high-speed broadband. I have said before in this House and I have said at many meetings in my local community that I find it almost unfathomable that an electorate like Bonner—which is contained wholly within the third largest capital city in this country and which is part of the fastest-growing region in the country, being South-East Queensland—has suburbs that are less than a 20-minute drive from the CBD that do not have access to broadband, let alone high-speed broadband. There are people who are still using dial-up, and that is just not acceptable in this day and age. It means that students in the electorate of Bonner do not have the same advantages as other students who do have access to this facility.

I speak to a vast number of small business people who say that their single biggest frustration not just in improving their businesses but indeed in staying up there with their competitors is that they are not able to access high-speed broadband. I talk to university people. I talk to people who have developed very successful, majorly profitable companies from their homes who have moved into the area but now cannot conduct business in the way that they did in the past because they are unable to access high-speed broadband.

This network, as I have already said, is one of the most significant and important pieces of infrastructure that we can provide to the Australian community. It is such a shame that it has taken us this long to get here, but I applaud the Prime Minister, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and others in the executive for demonstrating their leadership in understanding the needs of the Australian people, both the business community and private residents, in conducting their daily affairs now but also in anticipating how significantly the growth of the economy will depend on broadband services in the future. I commend this legislation. We need this information. We need this data. We need the cooperation and information of both the telecommunication carriers and the utilities to enable this major development for our country to be rolled out in the most effective manner, and I certainly commend the bill to the House.