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Tuesday, 22 November 2016
Page: 4042

Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (18:14): I rise to speak on the House economics committee review of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission annual report 2015, tabled in parliament this week. I support the work of the ACCC in promoting competition, fair trade and regulation of national infrastructure for the benefit of all Australians. I also support and thank the House economics committee for its work in inquiring into the activities of the ACCC and focusing in their report on matters raised at public hearings. The matters raised at the hearings are as relevant to my electorate of Paterson as anywhere across the country. I think they really do focus in on what is on the minds of Australian people. They include competition in the banking sector, petrol pricing and the consumer experience of the rollout of the NBN.

I want to start with petrol pricing and note that the committee queried why there can be a significant variation in fuel prices at the pump between towns and regional centres that are geographically quite close. For example, driving across my electorate, it is not surprising to see petrol prices differ by 20c a litre in one day between service stations 20 kilometres or so apart. For example, today at 11 am E10 petrol at the Metro in Kurri Kurri was 113.9c a litre whereas at the Coles Rutherford service station it was 134.7c, more than 20c in less than 20 kilometres—on a Tuesday at 11 am. Chairman Rod Sims told the committee that the ACCC's regional study on petrol prices in Darwin and Launceston had revealed higher than normal profits at the retail level, but this transparency and exposure had had a big effect on bringing fuel prices down. He noted that two further studies on petrol prices are underway at the ACCC and, at the conclusion of these, there might be more transparency and exposure on the issue. I, and my constituents, very much look forward to that and do not look forward to a 20c difference in petrol prices in less than 20 kilometres.

I now turn to the banking sector. Chairman Rod Sims said that the role of the ACCC in the financial sector was no different to any other sector in the economy, but it is restricted to competition matters. The ACCC is not the consumer regulator for financial services, so their focus is on mergers, cartels and anything that involves a lessening of competition. Mr Sims did say, however, that the ACCC does have some general concerns in relation to banking, in particular, 'There seems to be a lack of very robust competition in banking'—Rod Sims himself said that. The chairman said that the Productivity Commission was placed to conduct a review of competition in the banking sector. However, Labor firmly believe in a healthy and profitable financial services sector, but not one that takes advantage of its customers.

Confidence and trust in the fairness of the Australian financial services industry has taken a huge hit after a series of scandals and high-profile consumer rip-offs in recent years. Retirees have had their savings gutted, families have been rorted out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, small business owners have lost everything, life insurance policyholders have been denied justice and whistleblowers have suffered appalling treatment at the hands of their employers and the corporate regulator. Labor believe that the only way to improve the culture in our banks is through a royal commission. As a community, we need to understand how widespread instances of illegal and unethical behaviour are within Australia's financial services industry. We need to know how Australia's financial services institutions treat their duty of care to their customers. We need to know about the culture, the ethical standards and the business structures of Australian financial services institutions and the effect of their behaviour on other institutions, whether Australia's regulators are really equipped to identify and prevent illegal and unethical behaviour, and we need to know comparable international experience with similar financial service industry misconduct and best practice responses to these incidents. If banks have nothing to hide, if indeed they are beacons of financial fairness and organisational excellence then they should welcome a royal commission to showcase how well they do their job.

I would now like to turn to the NBN. The chairman of the ACCC said that telecommunications had been a sector of concern given Telstra’s control of the copper wire network. The committee sought advice from the ACCC on issues around National Broadband Network access and speed and the potential packaging of offers. The chairman said that the ACCC is looking at a number of matters in relation to the NBN but that speed and access were two different issues. He said that the ACCC was looking at speed claims made by internet service providers and whether, indeed, those claims could be delivered.

The ACCC said in its annual report that it wanted to see consumers provided with better information about broadband speeds to improve competition and consumer outcomes in the retail broadband market. It completed a three-month broadband performance monitoring and reporting pilot program this year, and next year it will invite comment from the industry and consumers' views on broadband speed and performance information. This is welcome. Labor can certainly provide plenty of feedback on consumer broadband speed and performance. Our offices are inundated with complaints. Some relate to services provided by the ISPs, but many relate to the rollout of this second-rate National Broadband Network itself.

Then, there is the buck passing that occurs between the two. On the issue of service providers, my office has been helping a resident of Vikki Avenue, Rutherford, who had connected to the NBN via a $90-a-month Telstra plan which has a capacity for 25 megabits per second download speed. She is not, however, receiving that speed and complained to Telstra. When she could not understand their response, she came to us. In a nutshell, Telstra said the service was advertised as being 'up to' 25 megabits per second, and that it did not, according to the service agreement, guarantee the top speed at all times—read the fine print. Another Rutherford resident who complained to Telstra about slow speeds was told that this was an NBN congestion issue because the exchange and lines were not set up to cope with such high speed.

On the issue of NBN Co, in the past week we have heard from residents of Bairds Close, Rutherford, which is clearly shown on the rollout map as being service ready. However, the entire street is unable to access the service. NBN Co is yet to give a reason for this, except to say, 'We're working on it.' All neighbouring streets are able to connect, but not Bairds Close. We have also heard from a number of residents of Cedar Wattle Close, Aberglasslyn, who have told us they are also listed as service ready but are unable to connect. Neighbouring streets are able to connect, but not Cedar Wattle Close. They are working on it.

We also heard from residents in Gillieston Heights, where more than 100 people were told by NBN Co they were able to connect, that ISPs were refusing them service, saying they were not able to connect. My staff members have spoken with NBN Co and Telstra and uncovered that, in the NBN system, the properties had been referred to as 'units', whereas, in the Telstra system, the properties were referred to as 'villas', meaning the systems were not matching up. It was a simple problem, really, but it was only solved because one of my staff spent considerable time trying to get to the bottom of it. If there had been consistency to begin with, these residents of Gillieston Heights would have been able to connect to the NBN months ago.

Also in Gillieston Heights, we have heard from several households in Saddlers Drive who are without service despite the NBN website saying they are service ready. The explanation is unclear, but it looks like they were not connected at all. They will need to wait for NBN Co to get back out there and finish the job. Surrounding houses and streets are all able to connect, but those few in Saddlers Drive are not.

It is a noble set of goals for the ACCC to want to see consumers provided with better information about broadband speeds, to provide competition and consumer outcomes in the retail broadband market. However, their work is cut out for them, given the second-rate NBN that ISPs have to work with—a result of the abject failure of the Turnbull government to deliver the broadband service the community both demands and deserves.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hastie ): There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned, and resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.