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Tuesday, 2 February 2010
Page: 40

Senator POLLEY (2:56 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. Can the minister inform the Senate on the rollout of the National Broadband Network? In particular, can the minister advise the Senate on the rollout in Tasmania and the priority regional backbone links to six key regional centres across six states and territories?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Polley for her ongoing interest in this important policy area. The rollout of the National Broadband Network, which as we know is the largest infrastructure project in Australia’s history, is of course detailed and complex. It is not a quick fix for an election, in the method favoured by those opposite. As we know, the opposition has taken a great deal of interest in this. In the just over 430 days that Senator Minchin was the opposition spokesman, he issued 180 press releases. That is 0.4 press releases a day. And do you know what? There was not one policy initiative in sight. Nearly a press release a day, and not a policy initiative in sight.

Unlike those opposite, we have a solution that will benefit this country into the long term. We are making significant progress on the NBN initiative announced last year. The rollout in Tasmania, as Senator Polley well knows, is already well underway. The trenching and layout of the conduit for the transmission link between Cambridge and Midway Point has been completed. We are on track for the first services to be connected in Tasmania from July this year. Community meetings are being held in stage 1 communities in the lead-up to July. Significant works have also commenced on the mainland. Last year we engaged Nextgen Networks to roll out almost 6,000 kilometres of new fibre optic backbone links under the Regional Backbone Blackspots Program. (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister, particularly for highlighting how Tasmania is once again leading the nation. Can the minister explain why investment in high-speed broadband to all premises in Australia is such a priority for this government? In particular, can the minister advise the Senate of the sorts of benefits that we can expect from this type of investment?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —High-speed broadband is about far more than downloading movies faster, as claimed by those opposite. That is like saying that investment in ubiquitous electricity networks in the 19th century was only ever going to be for street lights. The NBN will be the enabling platform for a range of applications in the health, the education, the energy and the aged care sectors. Investment in high-speed broadband is about investing in health by promoting things like remote diagnosis and telemedicine. It is about investing in education and giving students access to multimedia learning no matter where they live. It is about investing in energy efficiency measures and encouraging the use of smart grids and smart infrastructure technology to better manage the use— (Time expired)

Senator POLLEY —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister explain what other benefits high-speed broadband will deliver to the Australian economy? In particular, how will it assist our ability to respond to climate change?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Unlike those opposite who are scoffing at Senator Polley’s question, this government recognises the ability of broadband and a national broadband network to improve Australia’s position in climate change. High-speed broadband has the potential to drive a range of significant environmental benefits by enabling, for example, more flexible work practices that reduce travel and commuting and smarter and more efficient use of infrastructure resources. A 2007 Telstra study found broadband could reduce Australia’s annual emissions of greenhouse gas by five per cent and save $6.6 billion a year in energy and travel costs for both businesses and households. Videoconferencing and teleworking will remove the need for travel for in-person meetings, with flow-on environmental benefits. (Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.