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Thursday, 18 November 2010
Page: 1668

Senator POLLEY (4:51 PM) —It is great to have the opportunity to follow on from Senator Macdonald because I always find his speeches if not inaccurate then certainly less informative, and they very seldom actually reflect any facts. He has a selective memory.

I am always at a loss to understand why the coalition endeavours to be recorded in history as an obstructive opposition, because in every imaginable way they continually want to be very destructive. They cannot see, nor will they acknowledge, the great benefits of this investment in infrastructure in this country. It is the greatest infrastructure investment in Australia’s history. It is what we need. It is what rural and regional Australians have been crying out for for a long time. In fact, those opposite had 12 years and did nothing. I think they came up with a few plans, and I am not sure now whether they are up to 19 or 20 plans. None of them come anywhere near what the Australian community expect or deserve.

I remind those opposite that it is their colleague Senator Guy Barnett who has lost his Senate seat—unfortunately in some respects, because I do share some views with Senator Barnett and I acknowledge that he has been a worker in the Tasmanian community. Apart from the fact that some within the Liberal Party were out to get rid of him, he also publicly acknowledged that it was the national broadband policy that helped him lose his Senate seat and led to the Liberals doing so very poorly in every electorate in Tasmania. It was actually quite embarrassing in Denison, where the Premier comes from. Our government is of the view that Australia must maintain and improve its standards of living, its healthcare system, its education system and its economy. These are comparable with other countries in the world and we as a government want that to continue to be the case. What are the opposition suggesting? That we go back to living in caves, spear our food and roast everything on an open fire? There is not one reputable authority that does not support the national broadband plan. In Tasmania, we have the Premier of the Tasmanian government, the Hon. David Bartlett, and we have the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Will Hodgman. As I have said, Senator Barnett has already put on the public record how he sees the Tasmanian community being accepting and open to the National Broadband Network. But there are other, technical, experts that are also in accord.

Andrew Connor from Digital Tasmania has been quoted as saying:

They’re calling it risky and reckless … fibre technology has been used for 30 years in telecommunications and now it’s ready for the home.

And as for reckless, the Telco sector and competition has just failed over the last 20 years in Australia and that is why the government needs to be put out this new infrastructure, that’s to get all customers up to the same level of service, not the patchwork of services we’ve got at the moment across the country.

It is not us saying that. Mr Darren Alexander, the TAS ICT president, is well known and well respected by both sides of politics in Tasmania. He said that the NBN was:

… a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Tasmania—

and I will repeat that for the benefit of those on the other side who are shaking their heads—

… a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Tasmania to be at the forefront of the new digital economy in Australia. This in itself has a myriad of opportunities for business and especially SMEs, which is over 96 per cent of Tasmania.

The vice-chairman of the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development complimented Australia on its vision and ambition, saying:

… broadband infrastructure was crucial for economic growth and competitiveness and would ensure efficient delivery of education, health and trade and business services …

Google Maps was a concept developed not in New York or in Silicon Valley but in Australia. Lars Rasmussen, co-founder of Google Maps, said:

The web means that it doesn’t matter where you are … you can live here in Australia and build products for the world …

Tony Barnett, the director of rural health at the University of Tasmania, says that e-health services could revolutionise healthcare provision in Tasmania’s rural areas. No wonder the Tasmanian people have welcomed the National Broadband Network. Mr Barnett said:

The federal government has done a terrific job and Tasmania has been fortunate to be in the front running in terms of trials.

The coalition is merely playing politics and being obstructive, and these are its most important concerns. It is nothing to do with acting in the interests of Australians, their health, their wellbeing or their economy. I hear the coalition talking about how the people who work at checkouts, in the sun or in small industries—average Australians, as they describe them—will have to pay for this for years and years to come. I am sure those people would much rather be in work than not. The reason they are still in work now, even with the global financial crisis, is that this government took decisive action to ensure that Australian families kept their jobs. If we had listened to those opposite, we would have kept our heads in the sand as their spokesperson at the time wanted us to do. They said, ‘Let’s sit back and wait,’ while we saw the world’s economies collapse around us. But no; we took action. They have the same negative attitude towards the rollout of the National Broadband Network.

Australia cannot afford to slip behind the rest of the world. Back in 2007, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Communications outlook 2007 report found that Australia’s broadband was amongst the world’s most expensive and slowest. Who was in government leading up to that time? It was the Howard government, including many of those on the other side. The OECD report studied the average download speeds for the incumbent telco—in Australia’s case, Telstra—in each of the 30 industrialised countries that are OECD members. What did they find? They found Australia was second from the bottom, beaten by countries such as Poland, Belgium and Mexico. What did the then communications minister, Senator Helen Coonan, talk about at that time? She preferred to talk about Australia’s relatively high level of domain name registration per capita. Wow! Yippee! She was certainly looking at the big picture there! Former Minister Coonan was quoted as saying:

This is an outstanding achievement considering the particular challenges of providing telecommunications access at fair prices over a vast continent with a small population.

Unfortunately, the former minister was somewhat alone. David Forman, chairman of the Competitive Carriers Coalition, said that Australia should be ashamed of its performance. He was quoted as saying:

The countries we are keeping company with [in broadband] are not the countries we should want to be associated with. This is a problem that has been 20 years in the making and it’s only going to get worse … If we measure ourselves in isolation then, yes, prices are falling, but they’re not falling fast enough [compared with the rest of the developed world] and we’re not catching up.

The OECD may have in 2010 talked about the speed of implementation of the NBN, but they certainly did not deny the essential need for the National Broadband Network. They did not deny the enormous benefits of the National Broadband Network to the economy and they did not deny that the wellbeing of the community would be enhanced.

Senator Abetz this morning talked about the lack of need for this development. That is what the coalition wants: to perpetuate the clearly inadequate junk that the OECD has already described as amongst the slowest and most expensive in the world, completely inadequate in any developed country in the 21st century. Senator Abetz also gloated this morning about the opposition to President Obama’s health plan and how the Democrats had had a real hiding in the US midterm elections. This is the attitude of the coalition. Forty million-plus people in the USA do not have any access to health care. President Obama recognised the situation as appalling, but the defeat of the Democrats was what was important to Senator Abetz. Pathetic. All that those opposite care about is politics and to be obstructive. They have no concerns for the real needs of our economy. The husband of one of my staff members’ friends in Washington state recently died of bowel cancer at home with no medical support, no pain relief and no assistance of any form—a shocking way to die. The 40 million are now one fewer. They are the sorts of things that those opposite gloat about. They put politics ahead of people.

The same staff member has done a considerable amount of volunteer work in South America. One of the surprises of his travel was how available and quick the internet was. It was certainly as good as in Launceston, my home base. We are talking about poor countries, populations where between 20 and 80 per cent live below the UN poverty line of an income of less than US$2 per day. Despite that, they have recognised the enabling potential of this technology. Countries like Peru and Paraguay, with due respect, are hardly booming economies, but they can see the need, and yet we are sitting here still debating when Australia needs us to stop the obstructive nature of those opposite and to get on and implement the national broadband rollout.

On 21 October 2010, Akamai Technologies revealed that Australia’s broadband is the 48th fastest in the world. This country now ranks 48th globally. This is what the coalition thinks is reasonable and good enough for Australia. It is not. We, the government, will not accept Australia being third rate. While we sit here and debate what other countries are doing, do you think countries such as South Korea, Portugal, Malaysia, Singapore and Japan are sitting on their hands? No, they are not. As concluded in the article ‘NBN 101: is Australia’s NBN world class?’:

… while the National Broadband Network is an important facet of the Australia telecommunications industry, we are by no means alone in our endeavours, and the types of access some countries already boast can be a humbling experience. With countries racing to beat each other to the next landmark in broadband speeds, though, the NBN or a high-speed network is ever more important in ensuring Australia becomes competitive, both economically from a data-centric and online services viewpoint, on the global stage.

But to turn to what is happening in Tasmania with the rollout of the National Broadband Network: the first-stage rollout has occurred in Tasmania. We have led the way—and Tasmanians are very proud of that—in Smithton, in Scottsdale and in Midway Point. In Scottsdale the vote in the last federal election was the highest vote the Labor Party has received in decades. Why? Because they led the way to have broadband. The business community, local government and residents are all appreciative of that opportunity. They were some of the most broadband-neglected areas in Australia thanks to the former coalition government.

The next stage will include towns such as Deloraine. I know that area very well. It also includes Georgetown, Kingston Beach, Sorell, South Hobart—

Senator Bilyk interjecting—

Senator POLLEY —Yes, Senator Bilyk—your areas. It also includes St Helens and Triabunna on the east coast of Tasmania. The third stage includes the remainder of Tasmania. It is major cities like Burnie, Devonport, Launceston and Hobart. I have been around speaking to the business communities along with my local member, Geoff Lyons, who also is very committed to this initiative and this investment in infrastructure. We have been talking to people in the local government, business and health. They can see the benefits of the national broadband rollout, but those opposite would rather play politics, be obstructive, not see the future and keep people back. We on this side of the chamber will not allow that to happen.

When we look at what happened at the Liberal state conference in Launceston just recently, we had Mr Abbott going along to the Liberal conference, trying to assure the Tasmanian community, ‘That’s all right; whatever’s rolled out now in Tasmania with the NBN we’ll leave there.’ He said during the election campaign that he was no tech-head, but his ignorance astounds me. This is a national rollout. This is a national broadband. We are not talking about pigeon carriers or playing on drums; we are talking about modern, 21st-century technology. You cannot have a national broadband network if you do not allow Tasmania to plug into the rest of the country. Of course you are then not going to be competitive. But once again those opposite want to keep Tasmania in the dark. The Tasmanian community have said no to that. They have said no repeatedly. If they have not got the message yet, I suggest those opposite who are shaking their heads have a talk to Senator Barnett. He will be able to reassure them about what the Tasmanian community thinks.

I can tell you the packages in Tasmania are far more competitive than they have ever been. For instance, Internode are offering 25 megabits per second for $29.95 per month and a 100-megabits-per-second service for $49.95. We know that the National Broadband Network will be rolled out in other states and we know that people are embracing it, whether they are in Armidale, Townsville, Brunswick or any other rural or regional areas of New South Wales, Queensland, WA or Victoria. The penny has just not dropped with the opposition. The National Broadband Network is happening, it is popular and it is what Australian businesses, health services and individuals want. The coalition’s opposition to this, especially in the eyes of most Australians, is about as irrelevant as they are becoming in opposition. I recently said in the Senate:

The agreement between the NBN Co. and Telstra further enhances the viability of the project. There are huge benefits. The use of the Telstra infrastructure will eliminate the possibility of duplication of infrastructure, with significantly less disruptive trenching and laying of conduits. The progressive migration of customers from Telstra copper and pay TV cable networks to the new wholesale-only fibre network to be built and operated by the NBN Co. will be an orderly transition for Telstra customers. There will be significant benefits to taxpayers: savings and faster construction and take-up rates.

In the long-term, full structural separation will be achieved when Telstra migrates its customers to the wholesale-only NBN and decommissions its copper network. In the future, Telstra and other retail services will have access to a single, wholesale-only network offering access on open and equivalent terms as enshrined in the legislation and overseen by the ACCC. The NBN will create and maintain thousands of jobs as well as creating opportunities for local contractors.

The coalition’s latest obsession with obstructing this development revolves around their claim that the government would not release the NBN Co.’s business plan. Therefore they claimed that debate on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009 could not occur. The link was nonsense. I am not going to reiterate what Senator Carol Brown so eloquently put on the public record, but those opposite, in their typical fashion since they have been in opposition, have no foresight. That is why, after 12 years and what—19 or 20 plans, Senator Bilyk?

Senator Bilyk —That’s right; I’ve lost count there’ve been so many.

Senator POLLEY —I think there were. It has taken a Labor government to invest in this infrastructure. Fortunately, Senator Abetz’s latest attempt to prevent discussion on the CCS bill was defeated. A bit of common sense is needed, something that seems to be in short supply amongst those in the opposition. We as a government are about ensuring that all rural and regional Australians have access to high-speed broadband. I would have thought that some of those opposite—and there are some who have worked in rural and regional Australia and have worked in health—would appreciate the great benefits that the National Broadband Network would bring to our community as far as health services alone are concerned. We can take medical records from bedsides in hospital back to the patients’ homes, their GPs, their specialists and their nursing homes. This is the potential that this great initiative will have.

In summary, the community in my home state of Tasmania has embraced this project. We are all anxiously awaiting the rollout of the future opportunities for local government, business, and tourism operators. (Time expired)