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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1639

Mr CHAMPION (7:02 PM) —I listened carefully to the contribution from the member for Mayo, the rebellious member for Mayo. We know that he is persona non grata these days in the Liberal Party for his outspoken advocacy on industrial relations and Work Choices. He must be commended for his candour on that front, his policy vigour. If only John Howard had put him in charge of broadband instead of Work Choices, who knows what the result could have been? We might not have had the failures of the previous government. He was frank about the failures: 18 broadband plans over 12 years and, at the end of it, people in my electorate—not just people out in the country, not just people out in towns like Riverton, Clare or Kapunda but also people in suburbs like Craigmore and Hillbank, vast suburban communities of 8,000 people—stuck on dial-up in suburban Adelaide.

We are not talking about the back of Bourke; we are talking about suburbs in our capital cities. It beggars belief to hear the member for Mayo get up and say his constituents will not want these services. I do not know where he gets it from. It is an extraordinary statement to say that people in Birdwood or Mount Torrens, where my mother lives, will not want these services. I find it extraordinary for him to say that about his constituents. Wherever I go in my electorate, people are clamouring for broadband services, and they do not ask for the bare minimum; they want broadband services that are going to back this country into the future just like the member for Mayo said.

The National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 and the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures—Access Arrangements) Bill 2010 are about shrinking the tyranny of distance in this country. There is no doubt about it: that tyranny has been with us a long time. I remember my days in high school where we had to study half a year of legal studies and half a year of geography because there were not enough kids in the class to justify having both classes run. That would not happen under e-education opportunities. We know that the tyranny of distance strikes the country areas hardest of all. We know that this bill is about shrinking that through superfast broadband infrastructure.

These bills are about establishing the Commonwealth’s ownership and eventual sale of NBN Co. and providing a level regulatory playing field for our infrastructure and superfast broadband. It is an important bit of legislation because it brings before this House the infrastructure that is going to pave the way to do all that. As I said before, I know how important this is because of places like Craigmore and Hillbank, places where they could not get broadband. I vividly remember going and talking to telecommunications providers about why a place like Craigmore, with 8,000 people, could not get anything but dial-up or wireless. It was explained to me that upgrading the exchange was not economical; that Telstra would not get enough customers out of it; and that no-one else was prepared or in a position to upgrade that infrastructure. We had industry failure. We had market failure and we had Howard government failure.

Obviously, we do not want that failure to continue. Part of our commitment, part of what this legislation establishes, is for NBN Co. to provide 93 per cent of Australian premises with fibre based services and seven per cent or so with next generation wireless and satellite technology, subject to the final design. That means that areas like Riverton, which lies on the Barrier Highway in my electorate, will be able to get fibre-to-the-home. It is an important opportunity for those towns because we will not be able to foresee the demands in those towns necessarily. I think business cases always tend to be a little conservative on this front. I suspect we will find that over time demand will grow rather than diminish.

We know currently our country lags well behind in the broadband stakes. We know currently we are ranked some 29th out of 50 countries for an average connection speed of 2.6 megabits. We know that no Australian city is in the top 100 for average internet connection speed. That poor comparison does not bode well for Australia’s reputation as an advanced Western economy. It does not bode well for our future when we know that productivity will be based more and more on information technology, creative industries and harnessing people’s imagination.

Some commentators and some on the Liberal side say this is all about playing computer games a bit faster, but in fact computer games are now a massive industry—bigger than the motion picture industry and that gives you some idea of human creativity. We only have to look at e-books and the like to know that more and more information will be online and more and more of our creative endeavours will be online. We also know that there will be more and more demand on the systems, not just in relation to downloads but also in relation to uploads. Uploading will be increasingly important as people, through business and other creative endeavours, put more and more information and content on the internet.

I recently read in the Economist about phone services in Africa. Some of these countries now have vast mobile networks and no fixed networks because eventually a technology came along that allowed them to get around not building a fixed network. They had 60 or 70 years without any telephone services and, of course, that retarded their economic and social growth. Not having phones was a pretty big deal in Africa until mobile technology came along. That is really at the heart of the opposition’s position. They say, ‘Let’s wait and eventually a new technology will come along.’ We know that might be a long way over the horizon, a long time indeed. Having told us to wait for the 12 years they were in government, they now want to put it off into the distance—so we will be like Nigeria, Kenya or somewhere like that for broadband services down the track. You can see that happening as the Liberal Party desperately wait for some new technology to emerge. I do not think that we should do that; I think we should act on the best available information that we have—that is, that fibre to the household is the best way to go.

Mr Ciobo —Why is that better than 4G?

Mr CHAMPION —The member for Moncrieff keeps putting forward the tired old arguments of the opposition, ‘Wait, there is this new technology’—and it has suddenly emerged in the last three years; it did not happen in the 12 years they were in government. All we had was market failure, regulatory failure and government failure. That is what we had for the 12 years they were in power and that is what the Liberal Party will promise for the future.

Only Labor has a plan that will accommodate this nation’s demands into the future. The Liberal Party will deny, obstruct and delay, endlessly pushing it off into the future and claiming the 4G network would be better—or maybe it will be 5G, 6G or 7G. Maybe somewhere down the track there will be a wonderful wireless network or some other technology that will resolve the Liberal Party’s problem, which is that they do not want to put in place a decent broadband service for this country. We saw this time and time again in my electorate. I remember talking to a journalist who was commuting to Sydney from Adelaide every week because she could not get broadband in her house in Hillbank.

Mr Ciobo —Couldn’t get broadband? What is her name?

Mr CHAMPION —It is true: that is what she was doing, as she could only get dial-up in her house.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms K Livermore)—Order! Members will stop interjecting.

Mr CHAMPION —It is an interesting story. She met her husband in Iraq. He was a member of the South Australian police. They got married, moved to Adelaide and lived in his house in Hillbank. They could not get broadband so she was commuting every week to do her job. These are things that my constituents tell me; they are no laughing matter. For 12 years, the member for Moncrieff and others laughed, joked, denied, obfuscated, delayed and never came up with a solution. They had 18 plans over the years. There was a denial of services and they never got around to fixing the problem. Time and time again they said, ‘There’s a solution, but just wait.’ We know who suffers when this happens. It is people in the suburbs and people in country towns.

I am stunned that members of the National Party would come into this place and say, ‘Just rely on the market to fix the problem. Just rely on some new wonderful technology which the private sector will bring to you.’ We know that that will not happen. We know that delaying, wishing this problem into the never-never and hoping for some future nirvana, is an approach that did not work in the past. It did not work during the Howard years and it is unlikely to work in the future, and that is why those opposite keep losing on this issue. They keep banging on and raising all these objections to the system because they do not have anything positive to say about it, they do not have a record to run on and they do not have a plan for the future. Personally, I think it does not win them one vote and, more importantly, it does not serve their constituents very well.

We had the situation where the National Party were all for this, right up until Barnaby Joyce became their Senate leader. Then he did a complete 180-degree turn and said he was against it. All of sudden there is some spurious reason for not backing it; that is the truth. Why? It is because he is appealing to the short-term conservative thinking of asking, ‘Why would we do this?’ If we listened to those opposite, roads would have been too expensive—the original phone would have been too expensive. They would have been here saying, ‘Why do farmers need phones?’ That is basically the tenor of their argument. And if they were back in Roman times, they would have been saying, ‘Why does the empire need aqueducts; we don’t need aqueducts. Who needs water? Who needs sewerage?’

For every great bit of infrastructure, you could count on the opposition to find some reason to oppose it, to find some reason not to do it, to find some reason to delay it and to find some reason to say, ‘We don’t need it.’ Of course, once it is in put in place, then we will not hear about those issues anymore. They will be the greatest supporters of it ever known, and they will hope that the speeches that they gave in this place with this short-termism, this ostrich-like behaviour, will be ignored. They will hope that they were not seen to be standing in the way of the future.

This government will press on with our legislation. It is important legislation for the future and it is well-balanced legislation for the future. It is legislation that provides the backbone for our important National Broadband Network, a network that will serve all of my constituents well, whether they are in the suburbs or if they are in country towns to the north of Gawler. It is an incredibly important program for this country and I commend it to the House.