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Thursday, 24 February 2011
Page: 1438


Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (3:39 PM) —We just heard from the person who was appointed by the Leader of the Opposition ‘to demolish the National Broadband Network’. That is the charter that the member for Wentworth was given by the Leader of the Opposition. He just spoke about how inadequate current services are. There is a direct reason for that, and that is that he was a part of a government that had 20 failed broadband plans in a row. Australia fell behind the rest of the world when it came to broadband. When those opposite left office, where did Australia rank against developed countries for optic fibre penetration? Australia ranked last—dead stone, motherless last. How many Australian cities ranked in the top 100 for broadband speeds? None—not a single one. Where did we rank on broadband speeds? We ranked 50th. As the rest of the world moved past us, the Howard government was frozen in time when it came to dealing with the National Broadband Network and the needs of tomorrow.

We just heard from the shadow minister for communications and broadband—who knows better than he says. He spoke about downloads of television channels. He knows that the National Broadband Network is not about downloads. That is just part of it. It is the uploads that will transform the productive capacity of our economy—in education, in health, in transport. The NBN will deliver competition, lower prices and better services. It will bring a stronger and more productive economy, with 25,000 jobs a year on average. The NBN will generate tens of billions of dollars of activity over the life of the project and will boost national economic output by some 1.4 per cent. It will transform competition in Australia’s telecommunications market. It will drive growth in our regions and overcome the tyranny of distance that exists within Australia, given our vast geography and relatively small population, and also our distance from markets in the world. It will give us major economic advantages.

What we see from those opposite is an extraordinary campaign, and we heard it again today—part of the dishonest campaign when it comes to wireless. The shadow minister knows that the Gillard government will deliver fibre to the home for 93 per cent of Australians and next generation fixed-wireless and satellite services to remaining areas. We are speeding up next generation wireless so that regional Australia gets faster broadband sooner. NBN Co. just last week acquired spectrum in regional and rural Australia to start building the fixed-wireless network.

Experts agree that, while wireless is one part of the picture, it is not a substitute for fibre. If you are going to rely on wireless broadband, you need a fibre network to support it and you need mobile phone towers on every street connected up to each other in a system through the fibre network. That is something that the member for Wentworth might have an interesting time explaining to his electorate when those towers go up on every corner of every street. That is the only way that it would work. That is why the experts all agree with our plan. Google chairman Eric Schmidt said last week:

Australia is leading the world in understanding the importance of fibre.

…            …            …

This is leadership from Australia …

Hugh Bradlow, Telstra’s Chief Technology Officer, said in November:

Could we eight years and not require high-speed networks? The answer is no because of the capacity issue.

It is simple physics: fibre can deliver data at the speed of light directly to people’s homes in ways that wireless simply cannot. Fibre is the future-proof technology. It is as simple as that. And I believe that the member for Wentworth actually does understand that that is the case.

We have again had arguments about value for money and assessments. Once again, Infrastructure Australia has been raised. Infrastructure Australia is the body whose formation was opposed by the coalition and the body which they have continually tried to undermine. NBN will be value for money. You do not have to take it just from the government and from ministers. The McKinsey KPMG implementation study, with 543 pages of comprehensive financial analysis, was released on 6 May. We then had, when we reconvened after the government’s re-election in August, the call for the corporate plan to be released: ‘Give us the corporate plan. Show us what’s in it, and then we can make an assessment.’ We released the corporate plan on 20 December and it found that NBN will be an income-generating asset. As with all sound investments, taxpayers will get their investment back in full with interest—a rate of return of 7.04 per cent against an average 10-year bond rate of just 5.39 per cent.

The Greenhill Caliburn review found that the corporate plan is reasonable, commercial and contained ‘the level of detail and analytical framework that would be expected from a large listed public entity evaluating an investment opportunity of scale’. Alan Kohler, Editor in Chief for Business Spectator, had this to say:

Not only will the NBN not be a white elephant, it will almost certainly prove to be a great investment. In fact, without wishing to get carried away … it could represent, on its own, a huge national savings plan. When it’s finished the asset will be worth several times the government’s investment of $27.5 billion.

Google vice-president, Mr Vint Cerf, one of the ‘fathers of the internet’, said:

I continue to feel a great deal of envy because in the US our broadband infrastructure is nothing like what Australia has planned. … I consider this to be a stunning investment in infrastructure that in my view will have very long-term benefit.

The fact is that under the NBN plan, Australian taxpayers will own a world-class telecommunications asset. The industry understands, just like the Gillard government does, that the NBN will deliver real competition, lower prices and better broadband services for all Australians, especially in our regions.

When I have attended international conferences as the infrastructure and transport minister, our plan is highly regarded throughout the western world. Our competitors have taken note that after the sleepy era of those opposite—stuck in the past, 20 failed plans, nothing moving forward—this government is making Australia competitive once again. Those opposite continue to run interference and run opposition like they do for every single policy initiative of the government.

From time to time, oppositions will oppose government initiatives, but this opposition is so frustrated and angry at the loss last August—and we saw the festering anger today—so angry with the Australian people—

Honourable members interjecting—


Mr ALBANESE —And there we have it again. They are so angry with the outcome of the election that they have decided to oppose everything. They are totally divided, as we have seen on full public display this week.

The member for Wentworth went out there and made statements last night on Lateline that a decent Leader of the Opposition should have made when he slapped down the comments of the shadow parliamentary secretary assisting the Leader of the Opposition. When he did that, he did that out of desperation. Have you noticed how many questions the member for Wentworth has had about the National Broadband Network or anything else? Indeed, they sling him the Thursday MPI debate out of desperation so that he can make a single contribution to this House. Everything that they do is not determined by the Australian national interest; it is determined by their own internal political machinations. That is what we have seen this week with the Leader of the Opposition, who is opposed by the member for Wentworth, the mover of this MPI, and opposed by his own shadow Treasurer. The Deputy Leader of the Opposition has been busy backgrounding newspapers about shadow cabinet discussions. The shadow finance minister wants the job of the shadow Treasurer who wants the job of the Leader of the Opposition who wants a job of the government.

The frustration is there. The young guns at the back there who yell so loudly, and come up to you in the corridors—you can understand the frustration. You can understand the frustration with people like the member for Mackellar and the member for Menzies occupying the front bench, because the Leader of the Opposition says that any day now the government might fall over.


Mr Fletcher interjecting


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! The honourable member for Bradfield will remain silent!


Mr ALBANESE —That is an excuse to keep the shell there. That is his excuse, so those opposite feel that frustration. The only problem is that the Leader of the Opposition has his character flaw: the same people whose minds he wants to change so that they can help him form government are the people he is too busy abusing and denigrating day after day after day. And it is not just here in Canberra. They actually get on planes and fly up to electorates in order to abuse the Independent members of this parliament whom they want. They want them to change their mind and swap over and make Tony Abbott Prime Minister.

This is the year in which Tony Abbott enjoys his period as Leader of the Opposition. The only question is: will he make it to the winter recess? That is the question. I am very confident that he will not make it to December, to Christmas. One of his frontbenchers thinks parliament is sitting on Christmas Eve this year, you will recall—the member for Mackellar. She will be here in parliament but the Leader of the Opposition will not be.

The coalition has a dreadful record when it comes to delivering on national broadband. What you have from this government is vision when it comes to delivering on the National Broadband Network, like we have vision when it comes to delivering infrastructure across the board. This is a government that has doubled the federal roads budget. We have announced 87 of 120 major projects underway or complete, many of them running ahead of schedule. There is the Northern Expressway and Port Wakefield Road upgrade in South Australia, the Mandurah Entrance Road in West Australia—open two months early, in October 2010—the Kempsey Bypass which is on track to be delivered one year early. Those opposite did nothing about it. We provided the funds for it. We are busy building the longest bridge ever built in the history of New South Wales as part of that Kempsey Bypass.

We have delivered an investment in rail by more than tenfold. In our first term we have rebuilt more than one-third of the interstate rail network.


Mr Buchholz interjecting


The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The member for Wright ought not to interject from outside his seat.


Mr ALBANESE —As part of our stimulus plan, we have fixed 600 black spots projects and we have completed all 300 projects at high-risk level crossings from our investment into boom gates. We have shown that we can deliver on budget and on time, and the National Broadband Network, the most important infrastructure project, will future proof our economy. They know it; they just did not have the courage or the vision to do anything about it over the 12 long years of office and now they simply want to wreck and oppose rather than build what the nation needs. (Time expired)