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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1632

Mr HUSIC (6:32 PM) —In making my contribution to this debate on the National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 and the cognate bill, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures—Access Arrangements) Bill 2010, my mind turns to an email from a Chifley constituent and Woodcroft resident, Christopher Jadhav, who writes:

I am writing to bring to your attention the plight of the residents of Woodcroft regarding bad internet connections. Telstra has not bothered to invest in infrastructure and therefore we are unable to get cable or ADSL2 connections. Also for some unknown reason we cannot connect to other providers and we are the mercy of whatever Telstra will provide us at an exorbitant and uncompetitive price. Woodcroft is the only suburb which is disadvantaged as far as internet connectivity is concerned … could you please look into this at the earliest and raise this issue in Parliament and get it sorted.

This is not the first time that I have raised in this place the plight of Woodcroft residents, who are trying to get something that is becoming an increasingly important feature of modern living: reliable, high-speed communication and information access via the net. Only a few weeks later, last month, I received the details of a petition that residents were sufficiently moved to go around their neighbourhood and prepare. It states:

We are living in Woodcroft for a long time but we are disadvantaged by a slow internet connection at a higher price, normally $40 to $50 for ADSL2+ landline, but here, up to $90 to $100 for ADSL1. Telstra is having a monopoly in this area and we don’t have any other provider with cables in Woodcroft, where only secondary loops are available, no primary loops. We pay double the amount paid by customers in other areas and we don’t get access for ADSL2. We would like to have your kind attention about this issue. Some of our friends working in software jobs left this area due to slow speed of internet and some of our friends are thinking to leave. Please take action to stop years of rip-off.

That is signed by 17 neighbours who got together because they were frustrated by the lack of access. I want those residents to know not just that their concerns are heard but that I will do what I can in this place and elsewhere to stand up for them and ensure they get some sort of help, having been failed in the past by a former government who had no ability to solve this problem. This week I, along with the member for Greenway, will be meeting with NBN Co. to press the case for Woodcroft residents along with residents of Greenway.

I am pleased to say that residents in Chifley have the potential to benefit from being amongst the first wave of Australians able to access the NBN, after the government announced last year that Riverstone would form the centre of a second release site in New South Wales, specifically within Western Sydney. Potentially 3,000 homes will be connected. This rollout cannot come quickly enough, with residents across generations united in their desire to get access to superfast internet. At this point I would like to recognise the work of two special groups in Chifley who are helping older Australians connect with the net: Blacktown Computer Pals and the Rooty Hill and Districts Seniors Computing Club. Those groups have said to me they would love to see the benefits promised by the NBN.

These bills build on the historic reforms that the House agreed upon at the conclusion of the 2010 sittings. The companies bill sets up a framework for the operation and legal status of the NBN. It also puts in place mechanisms for potential private ownership. The access arrangements bill makes the necessary adjustments to competition laws to ensure the NBN can be the platform for open and non-discriminatory access to retail carriers using its wholesale services. This legislation provides something that we have been lacking for years—the ability for competition to grow from the basis of a uniform, wholesale network. We really have to stand and congratulate the government on this legislation.

While the rest of the country relishes the prospect of gaining the superfast internet access enjoyed by many other countries, there is one group determined to do whatever they can to block the community’s access to this infrastructure—not for the national interest but for their own political interest. That group is the coalition. I can understand the Liberal Party doing their best to stop the NBN. It proves yet again that they have no interest in meeting the infrastructure needs of Western Sydney residents. But I am surprised at hearing the Nationals’ lemming-like support of the coalition approach to ‘demolish the NBN’, as the Leader of the Opposition has stated. It is, frankly, astounding. Regional Australia knows superfast internet access is critical to ensure that the regions enjoy tapping into an infrastructure that their city cousins have enjoyed for years.

My friend the member for Throsby highlighted some of the views of the media from a vibrant region of New South Wales, the Illawarra. The Illawarra Mercury, a great newspaper—despite its misplaced and frenzied support for the Illawarra Hawks NBL team—told it like it is on the coalition’s position:

Malcolm Turnbull is off the pace if he thinks the Australian people will accept a tiered system of broadband connection in which regional and suburban residents are treated as second class citizens.

I continue to quote from this devastating editorial:

… in his (the Member for Wentworth) view town centres should get a super-fast internet connection at 100 megabits per second, while those logging on in the ‘burbs are forced to settle for a slower rate.

There it is in a nutshell: the coalition defending haves at the expense of have nots. So what is the coalition’s preferred position? They do not want to rely on fibre, which hands down is the fastest way to deliver the internet. They recommend a method of internet delivery that would relegate residents in suburban and regional areas to being, as described earlier, second-class citizens. The coalition want residents in suburban and regional areas to rely upon wireless and HFC. People react vigorously to this. These are just some of the comments from people on Twitter and Facebook who have written on my page:

I have heard them say that fibre to the home is too costly and we’d be better off with wireless, because it is cheaper and faster. How the hell—

and these are quotes direct from the public—

can wireless ever be quicker than a hardwired connection?

Wireless is awful.

Bring on the NBN.

Wireless can only do so much.

Wireless is so damn slow.

The NBN—

I hasten to add that these comments from the general public, expressing their frustration—

can’t come soon enough. I just moved to the Central Coast and I was nearly bullied by Telstra into going wireless because of a lack of ports on the exchange. I ended up having my way with them. Wireless is not answer. I cannot stress this enough.

There are other people who live in city areas who say:

I live in Sydney’s CBD and wireless does not work at my house at all. The only way I can access internet is by ADSL. Why don’t they realise that the majority of us want it. Just because they did bugger-all for so long.

These are the comments straight from the public. They know wireless is a second-class option. Consumers cannot stand it. It clogs up when many users in one area are trying to get onto it. HFC faces the same hurdles if multiple connections exist in the one household, which is likely, given that it is used to deliver Foxtel.

Notably, not even the coalition believe in the viability of wireless to deliver superfast internet connections:

No wireless broadband technology is able to handle the data rates of the best wireline technologies but there are many situations where the latter cannot yet be used or is simply unavailable (such as remote and regional areas and even in some suburban metro areas).

That is from the report Connecting Australia! Wireless broadband delivered in 2002 by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Its chair was the member for Sturt, now the Manager of Opposition Business. Wireless has its place where fixed line is difficult to roll out. It is great when you are on the go and away from home. People using iPads with 3G capacity, just like the one I am using here today, will testify to that. But would one ever seriously believe that it would be the main technology platform on which we would deliver reliable access for residents, particularly those I have the honour of representing in this place? The general community knows the limitations of wireless technology. Even the coalition in government recognised the limitations. So why have they taken the position they have? Because, to paraphrase Sydney Morning Herald columnist Peter Hartcher’s reflections on why the coalition opposed the flood levy, even when they have a history of using levies themselves, he nailed it when he said it reflected opportunism—bare, naked, unashamed opportunism. And who loses out? Western Sydney residents and the regional residents mentioned by the Illawarra Mercury.

The coalition has used a variety of sham arguments to undermine the case, need and process for building the NBN. Some of them, frankly, are elitist. Other arguments they use here do not even stack up against their own performance in their own electorates. For example, in the electorate that the member for Wentworth represents, you do not hear too many complaints about lack of internet access. In fact it has some of the best access in the country.

You have heard me highlight the poor position of the constituents of Chifley. So we have an inequity—that digital divide—that we are trying to address in this government. The member for Wentworth says it costs too much money, we need cost-benefit analysis and we need Productivity Commission reports—all this to find some way to relegate us to an option that makes us ‘second-class citizens’ in the western suburbs. Sometimes, government infrastructure is going to cost money. We have to make choices. We are doing this for the good of those jammed in the digital divide. There has been significant market failure, so much so that the other side tried to address that failure 19 times and came up short 19 times. We are fixing this once and for all.

I want to see if word matches deed when it comes to the member for Wentworth. People know I used to have the honour of representing postal workers in this country through a previous role. I often fought tooth and nail to protect jobs and conditions. I was happy recently to see support from unlikely quarters: from the members for Bradfield and Wentworth. I almost wanted to bestow on them honorary membership of my old union, the CEPU! I turn the House’s attention to a terrific article featuring the member for Wentworth. It is a great photo. He has no tie and his sleeves are rolled up. I like the fact that he has no tie on. It is a good touch, knowing my distaste of quite an old style of fashion. He is out there mixing it up in the crowd. The title of this article is ‘Don’t close it down’. It basically goes on about the member for Wentworth standing up, and rightly so as the local member, for his local post office. He took delivery of a petition. This is from the Wentworth Courier 12 January 2011:

“Woollahra also has a larger than average percentage of older people who rely on its services,” he said.

The article states his saying:

Australia Post must balance making a profit against its public service obligations. Since the post office is part of a network and not an individual business this makes it possible.

I do not have a problem, obviously, with government’s investing in public infrastructure and services, but I am consistent. Based on what the member for Wentworth said on the NBN, I think he would want to be the same. After being projected to lose $160,000 this year, Australia Post wanted to close the Woollahra Post Office in the seat of Wentworth. That post office had lost nearly $400,000—nearly half a million—over three years. What was the member for Wentworth’s reaction? Again, off with the tie, roll up the sleeves and out in the public domain demanding it remain open. He never asked for a cost-benefit analysis for that, could not find demand for a Productivity Commission report and there was no cheap advice of accepting a second-class option. There he is demanding the government wear the half a million dollar loss.

Why do we have to bear that hypocrisy of telling Western Sydney residents that they have unrealistic expectations for wanting the internet in their neighbourhood while the member for Wentworth rails against the shutdown of a service in eastern Sydney. Be consistent. If it is good enough for your constituents, why isn’t it good enough for the residents of Chifley, Greenway, Lindsay, Prospect and Werriwa? Do not stand in the way of technology that can aid and enhance the lives of residents in Western Sydney because you are putting the opportunism and self-interest of the coalition ahead of the nation’s interests and the next generation of Australians, no matter where they live.

Some of the other quotes that have gone into this debate have been pearlers. The member for Bradfield asked, ‘Why did the government walk away from its initial proposal on fibre to the node?’ We know why: because, when the bids went out, Telstra put out a deficient five-page bid that signalled, for all intents and purposes, that the main company in this country was not serious about broadband, and we had to examine another way to deliver a wholesale platform that would deliver results for residents. We had the member for Paterson advocating support for wireless technology on the one hand but then arguing about mobile phone towers in his electorate. How does he expect wireless to be delivered? This is what constitutes the great thinking of those opposite.

What about ‘the US is going wireless’? The reason it went wireless is that the ideological brethren of the opposition, the Republican Party, opposed the plan to provide fibre to homes. And we heard, ‘Not enough examination or reports’. How many reports do they want? We have had implementation studies and we have had reports released last year. At the end of the day, it is not about reports; it is the fact that they do not have a report that they like. The other thing about this claim of national security that was brought up by the member for Forrest is that that was the one that was peddled around by Telstra when they were trying to spook everyone about the government trying to get into the space of actually providing a wholesale network that could not be provided by Telstra and that was the subject of 19 failed plans.

The opposition, as has been remarked by this side, do not have a plan. They are trying to stop people from getting access to a technology that the rest of the world enjoys. They need to recognise the huge demand for these services. They need to get out of the way and let us get on with the job that they were simply unable to do themselves.