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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1524

Mr NEVILLE (10:45 AM) —I rise to support the chair of the committee as her deputy on this progress report into the administrative side of the inquiry into the NBN. As you all know, the NBN and broadband in general is a controversial but very important matter that the parliament is now looking into in a variety of ways.

Minister Albanese gave us the terms of reference for this particular inquiry on 16 November last year, and we have been asked to look into the role and potential of the NBN with particular reference to government and service delivery; health; education; environmental sustainability; management of built and natural resources; regional growth and employment; business efficiencies; export opportunities, including for small business; research and innovation; and community and social benefits.

In the context of the above areas, the focus of the committee will be to examine the optimal capacity and technology required by the NBN. You can talk about the theory of it. What we want to see is whether this thing can deliver on the ground and, if it needs tweaking, what will need to be done. It is inevitable that it will involve discussing the primary fibre-to-the-home approach preferred by the government and the range of alternative technologies, including DSL and its variants, hybrid fibre-coaxial cable, fixed wireless, mobile wireless and satellite.

As the chair has said, we have had a rush of submissions. We had 47 as of our last meeting, and that has jumped by another 70, which we will be authorising this week. As she said, we have granted some extensions. Some things are emerging—for example, regional councils and RDA bodies are making submissions, as you would expect. Although we closed submissions on 25 February, I think the committee will be fairly accommodating if people still have something to say.

It is a very extensive program that the committee has mapped out. We will do Hobart, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide, Sydney and Perth and then a range of provincial cities such as Scottsdale, Launceston, Ballarat, Townsville, Willunga, Kiama and Geraldton. The first public hearing will be in Canberra this coming Friday. At that particular meeting we will have people like the National Rural Health Alliance, the AMA and Department of Health and Ageing.

As we move around Australia, you can see other themes starting to develop. For example, in the education area, the Australian Council for Private Education and Training, Adult Learning Australia and Australian ICT and education wish to appear before us as well as the ANU and the CSIRO. There is an expectation of big things from NBN and broadband in general, so it will be interesting to hear what these people have to say. Tasmania will be important as we will be going to two of the centres where the NBN has already been connected and talking to people like the Dorset Council, the North East Tasmanian Chamber of Commerce, which are both based in Scottsdale. In Hobart we will hear from the University of Tasmania and the electronic commerce centre. There is also a strong community ICT and neighbourhood cable aspect when we go to Ballarat. No matter which part of Australia we go to, there are emerging themes and expectations of the NBN.

I wish to take a fairly cooperative view of this. I have been ambivalent to the NBN but I will go into this inquiry with an open mind. As I said, the fibre-to-the-home approach will be one of the tests that we look at in this inquiry. I look forward, as the chair has said, to everyone participating fully and I invite people who have not put submissions in to do so quickly.