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Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Page: 446

Mr SECKER (BarkerOpposition Whip) (18:20): Again we hear the fallacy from the now government—we used to hear it when they were in opposition—that when we were in government we had 19 failed plans. The fact is: technology is a changing beast and, whenever there was an upgrade, of course we upgraded our plans; we changed the plans. And I very well remember, back in 2007, this government, when they were in opposition, promising 99 per cent coverage for $4.7 billion. We said that was not possible. We knew it was not possible. But they said, 'Oh yes, we're going to achieve it all for $4.7 billion.' Well, we are about nine times that now, and my guess is that this is going to increase a lot more. That is an educated guess, from experience in dealing with Labor governments in the past; they always blow out, just like their budgets. Even if we accept the figures of the Labor government, it is still going to cost $2,000 for every man, woman and child in Australia.

I noted that the member for Chifley in his contribution talked a lot about the jobs and skills being created locally. That certainly does not show up in the national employment figures because in 2011, for the first time in 20 years, we had no jobs growth. And, as nothing has actually happened in Barker—an electorate which is bigger than Tasmania—there are no jobs at all.

He also referred to the download base increasing by 25 to 35 per cent. That may be the case. But guess how it is mostly being achieved now. It is through wireless. If you go to anyone in this parliament, just about everyone has an iPad and a phone. And guess where they get their downloads from: from wireless—not from the NBN program. In fact, people are choosing, five to one, wireless, and it is not because of cost; it is actually because of convenience and flexibility. You do not have to be plugged into a certain spot. You can go wherever you like, provided there is coverage.

I remember—and I am sure the member for Mallee would remember—that we actually had a program; we had signed contracts, which this government, when they came in, welshed on. And that was a contract with OPEL which was actually going to cover 98 per cent with superfast broadband.

So for that reason I stand here this evening to speak on the review of the rollout of the National Broadband Network. And, given the discussion this evening surrounding the progress of the NBN, I thought it would be fitting to give the House an update on the NBN's progress in my electorate of Barker. The rollout is way behind schedule. In the second half of 2011, the NBN's fibre network was not extended to a single household—not one single household. In fact, only 4,000 households across Australia have received broadband over the NBN. And, sadly for the people of Barker, there is no progress at all in the seat of Barker. A look at the rollout map on the NBN Co website shows there are no services currently available, no construction underway, and no sites earmarked for construction in the next 12 months. So every constituent in my seat—in fact it is more than constituents; every man, woman and child is paying $2,000 for nothing. So, after four years in office, this government's record on broadband is certainly disastrous not only for my seat of Barker but also for Australia. It is a huge cost that just does not bear any cost-benefit analysis.

The rollout is behind schedule, we all know that. There has been a whole swag of rorting, overspending and misconceptions by the Gillard government. On 1 November last year, I told the House about rorting occurring in the Barossa region of Barker. Barossa couple, Denise and Richard Mahlo, were asked by an affiliate of housing developer Hickinbottom to pay $995 for wiring to ensure that their new home would be NBN compatible. The Mahlos were told that if they did not pay the $995 they would have to sign a disclaimer warning of long-term consequences. A spokesperson from NBN Co. confirmed to the Australian newspaper:

... the Nuriootpa estate was 'not an NBN development', meaning 'we are not installing nor have been asked to install the fibre there'…

Yet the rort of trying to get $995 out of the Mahlos was happening. I called on the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy, to come clean about the hidden costs and rorting within the NBN. It is staggering to think that the NBN is now forecast to cost at least $50 billion. As I said earlier, that is 10 times the original budget that the Labor Party went to the 2010 election with. No other country is spending as much public money on broadband. Even their saint, Obama, the one they think is so fantastic, is going with wireless. He is not talking about this NBN suggestion.

In January of this year, Mr Deputy Speaker Symon—and may I congratulate you on your elevation to the position; I am not sure whether he heard that but I am sure if he reads the Hansardhe will know—I wrote in the Border Watchnewspaper, which is a large country newspaper in Mount Gambier, about the super-spending sprees of NBN Co. I was truly astonished to find out that the NBN Co had spent a whopping $108,000 on the launch party in South Australia. It is hard to imagine what one would spend $108,000 on just for one launch party. But it was not only the South Australian launch that racked up the NBN credit card bill. Launch parties were held around the country for similar gobsmacking amounts—reportedly, $138,000 was spent in the electorate of the Independent Tony Windsor and $90,000 in Townsville. The list goes on, with disgusting amounts of money being spent on these launches. This comes after Senate estimates hearings revealed that 27 people were employed just in public relations at NBN Co. So between 27 public relations people they cannot plan cost-effective launch parties around Australia. That is truly astonishing. If we as politicians did that and used taxpayers' money, I think we would be rightly on the front page for weeks on end.

On top of that, more than $800,000 was paid to the company Weber Shandwick for a six-month contract to develop and implement a communications strategy. Oh, we have to have that communications strategy! It was also revealed that 144 of the NBN staff have a corporate credit card. Well, we all know what credit cards can do. The whole program is just out of control. I question what exactly NBN is doing with the 1,000 staff. That sure is a lot of people to run a program that is hardly off the ground.

Honourable members interjecting

Mr SECKER: What is it? Four thousand people, so that is actually four connections for every person that works; that is not a good return. What is important tonight to my constituents is that the NBN will not be completed until at least the early 2020s. Technology will have made some amazing advances in that period. I would suspect, and I have been informed on very good authority, that we will actually be getting very high speed even through wireless. We have seen that in the last 12 months. Some areas with poor services will be waiting over a decade for a solution and they are not guaranteed that solution.

I point this out because currently there are no plans even in the next 12 months to roll out Labor's so-called superfast broadband in Barker. There are areas in Barker, being a country electorate, with some very rural parts. They have battled with telecommunication issues for some time. Originally it was phones, then it was faxes. Now they are having real problems and they are getting left behind. I have constituents who hear about this so-called superfast NBN and they quite rightly want to know when they will have that service at their door. The very simple answer is: not for a long time ever in the seat of Barker.

Ms O'Neill interjecting

Mr SECKER: It is a pity that the member could not be a bit more humorous; it was not very funny. In many regional areas and parts of our major cities the quality of broadband is poor. Performance and reliability do not meet the basic needs of most residential and business users. But with our plan it would have been already in place and the rural areas would have already been serviced. Broadband should cost the same in regional and remote areas as in the city, but this government wants to hide the cost of it all. The coalition wants to prioritise broadband black spots in both metropolitan and regional areas in allocating that funding. We have had success with that in the past. Broadband must first be improved in areas where this is most urgently needed, not where it suits NBN Co to roll out its network or to make a certain Independent happy. The coalition would provide subsidies to ensure high-quality services are extended to parts of regional Australia where they would otherwise be uncommercial.

I want to call on the minister once again to provide answers to the people of Barker. Can the minister please tell people living in Angaston, Barmera, Berri, Bordertown, Kapunda, Keith, Kingston, Loxton, Lyndoch, Mannum, and the list goes on, when construction will start on the optical fibre service they have been promised on the NBN Co website? Then can the minister please let the people of Beachport, Kalangadoo, Mount Burr, Nangwarry, Port MacDonnell, Tantanoola and Tarpeena why they are missing out on the same services as those in towns situated just 20 kilometres away? The minister should tell the people how much they will have to pay on top of the $50 billion taxpayers are already paying to have internet access and what standard internet that will be.

Finally, I would like to point out that there are 94 places in my electorate that carry a postcode and have some sort of concentration of people living there. Yet on the NBN Co website only 29 of those 94 areas have been noted. What about the other 65? What can the minister tell the people living at Glencoe, Cape Jaffa, or even Coonalpyn, on the busiest road in South Australia, on the Dukes Highway, the main road from Adelaide to Melbourne? What can he tell those people? What costs will these people have to pay and what service will they be paying $50 billion for?