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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1646

Ms O’NEILL (7:31 PM) —In listening to the member for Moncrieff I can tell that he is taking his lessons from the Leader of the Opposition. I am reminded these days of the big, bad wolf when I see the Leader of the Opposition get up—lots of huff and puff, all threat, all menace, but absolutely no plan or vision for the future.

What the member for Moncrieff was attempting to sell here today was fear on steroids—fear of technology, fear of investment and fear of the future. I say shame on him as the member for Moncrieff, shame on him for the selling short the future of those people in this country that he is supposed to be representing and shame on him for the future of the children that he certainly has a right to be proud of. What sort of opportunities do those on the opposite side offer in terms of a future that connects us into a world economy in a high-quality way using digital technology?

We understand, on this side, that we have an obligation to future generations. We want our young people to be able to participate on an equal footing with other world citizens whose governments have already positioned their people and their economies to take advantage of this technology. The member for Moncrieff asks why we cannot go ahead with wireless technology. He has not been listening. The member for Greenway made some very powerful points. It is very simple. We need a National Broadband Network to provide a backbone, a stable, speed of light backbone on which Next G and satellite can be added. It is very simple. What this technology offers is very clear to those who pay attention. Instead of the negativity of the other side, I am absolutely delighted to offer my support to this legislation which is going to enable our future.

To cast a new metaphor—this legislation is another junction box in the rollout of the NBN, which, as we all know, is the government’s most important long-term infrastructure project. It has been explained many times that the NBN will connect up to 93 per cent of all Australian homes, schools and workplaces with fibre based broadband services. The remaining premises will be served by next generation wireless and satellite broadband services. As many Labor members have consistently and persuasively argued in this chamber, the NBN will better position us to prosper in an increasingly digital world by enabling Australian businesses to compete on a global scale. I want to back Australian businesses every time, not the rhetoric of fear, misery and denial of opportunity which those opposite are offering. We have to invest in our people. We need to invest in this world-changing technology and give our people a chance.

In April 2009 the government indicated that it would legislate to establish operating, ownership and governance arrangements for NBN Co. Ltd and the regime to facilitate access to the NBN for those access seekers. The legislation achieves that. The government has consulted extensively on the legislative arrangements for NBN Co. Ltd and released exposure drafts of the bills in February 2010, and it has consulted, through the implementation study on the NBN.

As other government speakers in this debate have noted, the primary bill—the National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010—limits and focuses NBN Co. on wholesale only telecommunications activities, and that is consistent with its mandate. The bill sets out clearly the Commonwealth ownership arrangements and provides for the eventual sale of the Commonwealth’s stake in NBN Co. subject to parliament’s approval. The accompanying bill, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures—Access Arrangements) Bill 2010, establishes new access, non-discrimination and transparency obligations for NBN Co. and provides a level regulatory playing field for superfast broadband infrastructure.

Members on this side of the chamber have extolled long and in detail the benefits of the NBN. Last week the member for Greenway—a person of considerable experience in the telecommunications sector, unlike many of those opposite who continue to perpetrate myths and mistruths about the opportunities that the NBN offers us—eloquently gave us some more useful context in her contribution on a matter of public importance to inform the overall debate. I noted particularly the member for Greenway’s reference to comments last year by the Broadband Commission for Digital Development. The commission has called for broadband inclusion not for some but for all. Among other things, the commission states that broadband will be:

… a “game-changer” in addressing rising healthcare costs, delivering digital education for all, and mitigating the effects of climate change.

That is a pretty good rap. And let us just get a few facts on the table here, instead of this huffing and puffing and fear of the future. The reality, also referred to by the member for Greenway, is quite simple:

A high-capacity fibre optic packet transport backbone is the fundamental backbone infrastructure that countries need to deploy to support the growth in broadband services.

We need a stable backbone. We are talking about information moving at a speed of light. We are talking about stability. We cannot deliver that with the instability that is offered by 4G. Unless it has a backbone it is not going to meet our needs. I thank the member for Greenway for her informed contribution to this debate. It is much appreciated.

All of us come to this place from different backgrounds, but with a united purpose: to take the Australian people forward. As a teacher over three decades—and, just as an aside, I do not believe anyone can ever be a former teacher; you continue to hold that role—I am thrilled at the educational prospects that the NBN will offer future generations. As with most government infrastructure initiatives, however, those opposite love them in their electorate but loathe them when it comes to this place. I wish I had a dollar—it would be a great fundraising venture, actually—for every Liberal that has been seen at a BER school event. At the last one I went to, the Liberal member for the state seat of Terrigal, Chris Hartcher, was there celebrating a brand new library at Central Coast Grammar School. What a fantastic project that is. It is linking kids into a future. It is an investment in capacity and possibilities. It is not miserly, it is not negative and it is not fear—all of the rhetoric that we keep seeing from the other side of the chamber. It is a funny thing that those who do the least want to criticise the most when it comes to delivering infrastructure for our country.

Clearly, from his comments in this debate, the member for Wentworth does not feel a burning need for reliable, superfast broadband in regional areas like the one I come from on the Central Coast. There is no matter of urgency for fast and reliable broadband in Point Piper. ‘Let them eat copper,’ I think is what the member for Wentworth is saying to the people of the Central Coast. Well, I can tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, that the people of the Central Coast are itching for fast, reliable broadband. They are ready and they are waiting. Speeds of up to one gigabyte a second will transform the way the people on the Central Coast can do business and allow our businesses to compete on a national and international stage.

I was at a great fundraiser recently, speaking with a local architect who wants to enlarge his business and do work that will be in an international context. He simply cannot advance his business in the way he wants to, which would lead to more employment in our area, because, with the current restrictions in technology, the current speeds of broadband are not sufficient for him to be able to do that sort of work. He represents a body of architects, and there are many architects who are expressing the same need for high-quality digital broadband and the capacity to transfer large pieces of information. It is the upload capacity that keeps getting left out by those opposite in their comments on the possibilities that broadband offers. The NBN will also open up a host of new applications in the fields of health and education. We have e-health consultations and virtual classrooms that will remove the tyranny of distance that affects Central Coast residents. Those opposite try to gloss over the market failure that was the legacy of the Howard government’s broadband policies. I doubt very much whether the member for Wentworth has constituents like I do who contact his office looking for solutions to their broadband access problems—although I was intrigued to hear, via the member for Chifley, about his own home-grown protectionism for snail mail in his electorate.

As the member for Greenway has pointed out, we have been overtaken by Estonia and Latvia in the broadband stakes. I was recently at a citizenship ceremony where I met a young family who had migrated to Australia from Ireland. They were delighted to become Australian citizens. The gentleman, who runs a small business of his own in property development, had spent two years in Romania. When he compared the broadband experiences he had had in Australia and in Romania he described our conditions as ‘Third World’, with the speed of the internet in Romania outstripping ours by far. That is just one testimony among many from people coming here from various countries in Europe who are used to being able to click quickly and move through. We could have productivity gains that are absolutely immeasurable in terms of the speed of opportunity for people to download, and that is without even going to the possibilities of uploading and all of the applications that it might offer creative, brave and courageous Australians who do see the future is a place we want to go to, unlike those opposite who see it as a place we should be fearful of. The member for Wentworth must know that speeds and access in other parts of the world outstrip our by many, many times. But still, for purely political reasons, he proffers solutions that would consign Australia to a Third World broadband future. That is not good enough.

The opposition failed dismally at the last election to convince the Australian public of the merits of their broadband policy, but they keep on trying to rewrite history. They keep on trying to make out that Australian people do not need reliable, superfast broadband. Regional Australians where I live—businesses, educators, health professionals—are crying out for it. Regional Australians can see the transformational capacity of broadband. They want a game-changer to make their lives better. That is why I could hardly believe my ears when the member for Cowper got up to complain about the NBN. This is the same member for Cowper who has Coffs Harbour in his electorate—the same Coffs Harbour that was announced as the hub for that region’s National Broadband Network in July last year as one of the NBN Co.’s early release sites.

The member for Cowper clearly has not been talking to Southern Cross University or the 14 councils and the local businesses who all worked hard to be one of the early release sites. They are keen as mustard on the idea. I was a little surprised at the member for Cowper’s approach. I did a quick Google search and found an intriguing article from the Coffs Coast Advocate. The article, dated 9 July last year, is titled ‘Superfast broadband to hit Coffs’, by journalist Matthew Deans. The article reads:

IN a huge boost for Coffs Harbour’s future, the city got the jump on the rest of regional NSW with the news superfast broadband is coming here next.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced yesterday Coffs Harbour has been selected for the next roll-out of the National Broadband Network.

This stunning coup will transform the region’s economic future if we capitalise on the early-adopter window of opportunity.

“This is a fantastic result for all the partners involved in the submission urging NBN Co to establish the broadband network as quickly as possible on the North Coast,” said Coffs Harbour mayor Councillor Keith Rhoades.

“The partnership of Southern Cross University, Coffs Harbour City Council, the local businesses involved and our neighbouring councils has been key to persuading the company of the enormous economic and educational benefits that a high-speed broadband network would bring to the region.”

Clearly the member for Cowper is not on the same wavelength as many of the key players in his community. I know we often allege in our political debate that certain members on the other side are out of touch. But the member for Cowper is not just out of touch—he is off the planet!

I think it is pretty cheeky for him to stand up in this House and be so ungrateful for the investment that NBN Co. is putting into his electorate. That ungrateful demeanour comes in the absence, I might add, of any achievement on his part as a member of the former Liberal government for his electorate—lest we forget: the 19 failed broadband plans. I know those opposite have made some points about transparency, but what is abundantly transparent in this debate is that the opposition is trying to mitigate defeat with delay.

Again in this House we as a government find ourselves faced with a pointless, churlish attempt at opposition for opposition’s sake. As far as I am concerned, we had a referendum on the NBN last August in regional Australia. So I ask the member for Wentworth and his colleagues: please spare us and the Australian public all the strutting and fretting and the procession of irrelevant, straw-man debating points. The sooner we get on with it the better. I commend the bill to the House.