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Thursday, 13 September 2007
Page: 76

Senator CAROL BROWN (2:20 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Does the minister recall admitting yesterday that the placement of the 1,361 OPEL towers had not yet been finalised? Given that the minister has no idea where the OPEL towers will go, how can she write to individual households, using taxpayers’ money, to tell them that they are ‘likely to benefit from the new broadband service’? Can the minister also explain why she is using these letters to advise residents that they are unable to get wireless broadband, when in fact they already have access to Telstra’s Next G wireless broadband? Why does the minister continue to mislead the Australian public about her second-class broadband network?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Thank you to Senator Brown for the question. It is, unfortunately, founded on a number of incorrect assumptions, which I will try to deal with yet again. The location of towers in the rollout of a new national network right around Australia is obviously subject to where they are placed. The indicative position is very clear. Whether they are one metre away from where they were supposed to be on the plan or not is totally immaterial. The towers will go up. We know how many there are and we know where they will go. The implementation plan, as to how the towers are placed and tilted to get the very best results, is clearly something that you need to consult on with experts as you roll out a whole new network.

The critical thing is that the government actually has a plan and a whole new network—and it is a comprehensive plan that will cover the whole population. What is second-class in the broadband debate is the fact that the Labor Party do not even have a plan to cover 100 per cent of the population. This is a complete and utter farce. The Labor Party do not even have a map. They do not have any idea where any plan will go. They have no map, they have no costing, they have no plan, they are going to miss out about three million people, and they have not fronted up to the Australian people to tell them why.

It is about time that Senator Carol Brown asked Senator Conroy—who is trying to duck this issue because he does not have a clue—where the mapwork is that the Labor Party advocate will cover 98 per cent of the population. How is it going to go around a curve and where there is built infrastructure? Senator Conroy misses question time now because he is a bit worried when we ask him to front up, stop hiding and try to be honest with the Australian people about the fact that the Australian Labor Party have a one-size-fits-all plan that misses out the most needy Australians. They are prepared to raid the Future Fund. They wanted to knock off the Communications Fund until we had the foresight to lock it up from the marauding Labor Party. What we have to do is continue to ask the Labor Party: come clean, tell us what you are hiding, what you are afraid of, and tell the Australian public that you do not have a plan for 100 per cent of the population. You would be lucky to have a plan for three-quarters of the population. Where and when are you going to front up with your own maps and show us where you are placing your own equipment? You have not got a plan, and that is why all you can do is ask us about ours. Keep asking; I am delighted to keep telling you.

Senator CAROL BROWN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the minister stand by her repeated claim that the wireless signal will broadcast a minimum of 20 kilometres from the tower? Is the minister aware that the Optus general manager, Mr Peter Ferris, said only last week that the signal would require a line of sight between the towers in order to provide a range of more than six kilometres? Doesn’t this reduce OPEL’s proposed coverage by over 50 per cent, exposing the minister’s claims as totally false?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —No, it doesn’t. In fact, I can say that the OPEL plan will deliver on the coverage and specifications contended for. I would say to Senator Carol Brown that it is now more than five months since the Labor Party put out a press release, and nothing more has been provided by the Labor Party on their fraudulent broadband claims. If the Labor Party cannot get their head around how to roll out a broadband plan without knocking off $5 billion from the taxpayer, how on earth could they ever be trusted to have the experience to manage a trillion-dollar economy?