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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 1845

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Senator IAN MACDONALD (9:37 PM) —In dealing with this amendment I just want to make the point that, had the OPEL» contract been honoured, Australia would by now have a national fast broadband network. What this amendment does is talk about when the minister may declare that the network is built and fully operational. Whether is it is 2018 or 2020 I guess matters little. What it does highlight to the people of Australia is that the minister will have 9½ years to declare that the whole thing is fully operational. The minister may well get up and say, ‘That is the outside date; we could declare this in two year’s time’—well, you could, but if you had any thought that that might be the case, why are you extending this period by another 18 months with this amendment?

You talk about greenfields sites. This just demonstrates to me that not even the minister—who I have to say has been consistently optimistic; nobody else knows why—believes that the whole network will eventually be declared to be built and fully operational. But even the minister is not prepared to put two bob on the fact that it will be built and fully operational before 2020 if you go by this amendment. It is has been like this from day one. The minister first said, ‘Look we can build this for $4.7 billion’—$4.7 billion! It is now—

Senator Fisher —Multiply by 10!

Senator IAN MACDONALD —Add everything together and it is up around $55 billion—$4.7 billion to $55 billion. To the people of Australia who might be listening to this: you have to pay that! Someone has to pay this $55 billion. The minister originally said it would be built quickly. Even when this bill was put down he said, ‘At the very latest it will be 30 June 2018, and everyone will have it.’ Now, with this amendment that the government is putting forward, we are extending it by another 18 months, to 31 December 2020. So not even the minister is confident that this is going to be built and fully operational any time before 31 December 2020.

My only lament, again, is that we lost the 2007 election fairly and squarely—not the 2010 election but the 2007; that was the decision of the people—and there was a legally binding contract in place, the «OPEL» contract, and this government came in and just wiped it. I said to those involved in the «OPEL contract, ‘Why didn’t you take them on?’ They said, ‘You know, you can’t fight with the government’—particularly one as focused as this one; I was going to say narrow minded, but I won’t—so they just rolled over. But had that gone through, everyone in Australia would have had that fast broadband network by today. By this amendment we are pushing back by another 18 months, to 31 December 2020, the time up until which the minister has the opportunity of declaring it built and fully operational.

If the minister has a response, I will be happy to hear it. But I suspect it is probably not a contribution that the minister could properly respond to. It is the fact of the matter; it is their legislation. They said it will not be finished until June 2018, but we are not even confident about that now, so we are going to blow it out to 31 December 2020. I think that is a very telling amendment by the government which just demonstrates clearly what this whole fiasco is about.