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Thursday, 24 June 2010
Page: 4351


Senator CROSSIN (2:07 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy—

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Senator Crossin, resume your seat. I need to hear the question. When there is silence, we will proceed.


Senator CROSSIN —I am disappointed the other side is not so happy today.


The PRESIDENT —Just the question.


Senator CROSSIN —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. With the announcement of NBN Co. and Telstra having entered into a heads of agreement for the rollout of the National Broadband Network—

Opposition senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Senator Crossin, resume your seat. Now you may continue.


Senator CROSSIN —I will start again. With the announcement that the NBN Co. and Telstra have entered into a heads of agreement for the rollout of the National Broadband Network, can the minister explain why the rollout of affordable, high-speed broadband to every home, business, school and hospital in this country is so important to Australia’s economy?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Crossin for her ongoing interest in this area. The National Broadband Network will ensure that Australians, no matter where they live or work, will have access to affordable, high-speed broadband. The NBN is a critical nation-building project that will set our economy up for future growth and productivity. It will support massive opportunities to drive market efficiencies and create jobs. It will transform service delivery in the areas of health and education, and it will create small business opportunities around the country. It will connect our regional towns and communities to our cities and the wider world in real time, helping to overcome the tyranny of distance.

The rollout is already well underway. The first live services will start in Tasmania in just a few short weeks. The rollout of 6,000 kilometres of fibre-optic backbone links to 100 regional locations around Australia—including Darwin, Emerald, Longreach, Mount Isa, Geraldton, Victor Harbor, Broken Hill and south-west Gippsland—is progressing on track, with over 800 kilometres of fibre already laid.

NBN Co. has announced its first five release sites on mainland Australia, which will be rolled out in the second half of this year. The historic announcement of a heads of agreement between Telstra and the NBN Co., combined with policy reform— (Time expired)


Senator CROSSIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. This is excellent news for the people in Darwin and the seat of Solomon. How will universal and affordable high-speed broadband help small businesses around the country improve their competitiveness both nationally and on the global stage?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —The NBN will underpin Australia’s digital economy. It is essential for Australia’s productivity, global competitiveness and improved social wellbeing. Always being on high-speed, ubiquitous broadband will allow Australian small businesses to become more efficient, to open up new markets for growth and also to protect their existing businesses from the increasing customer preference to do business online. The Australian Industry Group has recognised that where Australian businesses fail to provide an ability to buy online traditional retailers are disenfranchising Australian consumers, especially those in remote areas. And all of this is threatened by the small-minded, backward-looking approach of those opposite, who have said they will shut down the NBN if elected— (Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order! Wait a minute, Senator Crossin. You will get the call when there is silence. When there is silence on both sides, we will proceed. I need silence on both sides so I can ask Senator Crossin to ask her further supplementary question.


Senator CROSSIN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Finally, how will the high-speed broadband open up new opportunities in the delivery of health services?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —The NBN will open up a world of possibilities in the delivery of healthcare services. People will have the opportunity, particularly in regional and rural Australia, to receive the best specialist health care regardless of where they live. Doctors in rural and remote locations will be able to access the best training and the most up-to-date information. For in-home care it will enable patients to remain in their homes, improving their quality of life and freeing up hospital beds for the very ill. Importantly, internationally renowned software company iSOFT predicts the NBN could pay for itself twice over just from the e-health benefits.

But, as the Age pointed out earlier this week, a grasp of how the NBN might transform life, including health delivery, seems to have eluded Tony Abbott, who plans to shut down the NBN and has no alternative policy— (Time expired)