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Wednesday, 9 May 2018
Page: 3607

Ms RYAN (LalorOpposition Whip) (17:40): I rise this evening to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017, cognate with the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2017. I rise with an intent to express my concerns regarding the contents of both of these bills. From the outset, I want to express my deep frustration with the current state of the National Broadband Network. When I say 'current state', I mean the state of the National Broadband Network since this government took office. Put simply, under the Abbott and Turnbull governments we have an inferior NBN that is slow and expensive—and these bills do not address these shortfalls So, while I'm pleased to join my colleagues here to speak on these bills, I think we have to have real clarity about where we are on the NBN and the need for both these bills.

Instead of creating a network that would become the digital backbone of our economy and drive social and economic opportunity, as Labor's proposal would have done, Australia is now stuck with a failed job—an internet network that doesn't seem to be able to connect for all Australians. Successive coalition governments have ruined, destroyed, Labor's vision for a world-class broadband system and they've imposed a 19th century, backward-looking model which relies on copper or a hotchpotch of technologies that is more expensive and does not, for a lot of Australians, work. The then communications minister, the member for Wentworth, promised Australians that his NBN would be delivered for $29.9 billion. It is now projected to cost $49 billion, and in these bills tonight we see a cost being passed on to customers. So what we now have is a broadband system that is in a state of disrepair and has blown its own budget.

So what do these two bills do? The first provides certainty that all premises in Australia will continue to access high-speed broadband infrastructure beyond the NBN rollout. This will enable Labor's initial vision for universal access to stay somewhere on the horizon. Our support for this bill speaks to us not giving up on that vision, on that equity of access that we hold so dear. The other introduces a levy of $84 per year to the bills of up to 400,000 consumers and businesses on non-NBN networks, significantly regional communities. Labor will not be opposing this bill; however, I do have some major concerns about these bills and the way they unfairly target Australians who live in regional or rural areas.

We have to speak of the failure of the member for Wentworth, both as minister for telecommunications and as the Prime Minister. As the former telecommunications minister, the member for Wentworth promised Australians that every household and small business could have access to the NBN by the end of 2016. Well, check your watches—it's now May 2018. We've watched budgets come and go and we're here again for another budget and a large proportion of people living in my electorate and residents living around the country are still eagerly awaiting any internet connection, whether that be ADSL, or NBN, and whether that be wireless or satellite.

My community is one of Australia's largest growth areas. There are homes being built and their owners are stranded without any internet access. There are businesses still waiting. There are businesses in my electorate running sophisticated logistic software who are paying top dollar for wireless access with no relief in sight. The Prime Minister's second-rate internet would be a dream for many residents who have moved into brand new homes and are forced to wait for months to be connected to even the most basic of internet services. In this regard, the statutory infrastructure provider regime will offer a degree of certainty or hope as we move beyond the initial rollout. But what we must remember is that it was Labor who was behind the principle that every Australian should have access to modern communications infrastructure. It was not the Liberals. It was not the Nationals. In essence, I'm convinced they don't believe in universal access or digital technology, because we're in the situation we find ourselves in now.

I will share with the Chamber the story of a local resident. We hear regularly from our local residents who cannot access the internet in their homes. We hear horror story after horror story. I'll share tonight the story of Sandeep Singh, one of many local residents who have contacted my office. He told the story of how he had moved into his home over 11 months ago and yet still had no internet connection to his home. He explained that there are no ports available for ADSL1 or ADSL2 in the area, so he is unable to connect to even the most basic access. The NBN rollout is not expected in the area where he's purchased his home until 2019, and this has very real consequences for Mr Singh, who is forced to make do with using expensive mobile data as a substitute. I don't have to explain to Australian families living without access to the NBN what that means. It means no access for kids' homework. It means no uploads or downloads for work. It means all trying to work off one little phone. That's what it means in reality in my community.

By way of an example of unaffordable costs, Mr Singh is currently on a mobile phone plan that provides 28 gigabytes of data per month at a cost of $85. Further to the financial costs, which are eating into the family budget, he and his family are unable to enjoy the advantages of having a normal internet service, something that very fortunate people—those who got Labor's initial NBN—have. If he goes to dinner at their houses, he's in for a shock. This is not good enough. We know 28 gigabytes doesn't go far on a mobile device, particularly if it's servicing an entire family. The government's NBN is a mess, and consumers like Mr Singh are being made to suffer.

This is the 21st century, in a world where everything is online. And, when I say 'everything', I mean everything. You can't access government support without going online. You can't apply for a job without going online. And more and more of our life is going online as we speak. So this is a real equity issue. The NBN that this government is attempting to deliver is second rate, slower and more expensive than what was promised. This government NBN is a travesty. It is people like Mr Singh and the hundreds of others in my electorate who have shared their pain about life without high-speed internet who have driven me and all my Labor colleagues to fight for Labor's initial vision of universal access. The digital divide in my community is alive and well, and it is faced both by families and by businesses. This drives us to pursue universal access. This is why we support the statutory infrastructure provider scheme—because it will keep that hope alive.

Another area that's been fairly criticised of late is the $82. We will support that, but we want it known that it is a failure of the government that it needs to be put in place in the first place.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Goodenough ): Member for Lalor, would you like to continue? There's a problem with the clocks. You've got about five or six minutes.

Ms RYAN: I looked up and went 'time's gone'. Nine more minutes? Nine or six?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: It's probably closer to eight.

Ms RYAN: Let's go for eight. I've got lots to say. An area that's been getting a lot of coverage lately has been the number of complaints about the NBN, and not just the complaints to members' offices. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman has reported that complaints have increased by 168 per cent. To put that into perspective, that is four times the level of complaints about the finance and banking industry, about which, through the royal commission, obviously, we're hearing disturbing stories of rorts and rip-offs—four times the number of complaints about the banking and finance sector.

What is more concerning about this bill in particular is that a high proportion of these complaints are coming from regional Australia. In terms of the second bill, residents in regional Australia, who are already experiencing an unsatisfactory service, will be hit with this new levy. This is just unfair. The Prime Minister and his government are responsible for this mess, and now Australians are being forced to suffer. Regional Australians are paying for it through a lack of service, as reflected in the complaints, and now through an $84 a year cost to those families.

A CHOICE survey reported that 60 per cent of people on the NBN had issues in the last six months; 44 per cent of these issues were related to very slow speeds and 31 per cent mentioned problems connecting to the NBN. This is alarming. Yet we don't seem to see the coalition doing anything productive about the issues that they have created. We have consumers, such as Mr Singh, with no internet for nearly a year, while the coalition continues to sing the praises of their copper failure. It is just not good enough from this government.

The Regional Broadband Scheme levy is what we're looking to introduce in this bill this evening. Schedule 4 of the bill proposes the introduction of the NBN levy. It is no surprise that in the week of the federal budget the Turnbull government is seeking to introduce a new tax—a broadband tax this time! I am reminded, at my age, of what we used to call the television licence but, this time, only people in regional areas will pay their telecommunications licence. The levy is designed to extend high-speed broadband to unprofitable areas which, under Labor, would have been funded through a universal wholesale pricing regime. As the member for Greenway, Michelle Rowland, said: 'This levy is expected to add $84 to the annual broadband bill for homes and businesses of non-NBN networks.' Schedule 4 of the bill proposes to apply a new broadband tax, really, of $7.10 per month that would apply to services on non-NBN networks. This charge is due to increase to $7.80 per month by 2021. The fact of the matter is: this levy is a direct consequence of the repeated failures of this government. Extending high-speed broadband to remote and regional Australia was in Labor's initial plan, and this government has failed to deliver it.

Labor understands that extending this infrastructure to unprofitable areas would require a universal wholesale pricing regime. This would mean that the NBN users in the city would help to cross-subsidise higher cost services in the regions. But this bill seeks to supplement the internal cross-subsidy with the new tax—a tax that will hit people living in regional and remote Australia. So I join the member for Greenway in calling on the Prime Minister to explain why the government is so adamant on giving the top end of town an $80 billion handout in the form of tax cuts while introducing an $84 annual fee to regional Australians for their access on non-NBN networks.

This bill reflects this government's lax work on the NBN. It reflects their mismanagement of the processes. It means that this government is passing on the cost to regional consumers rather than fixing the funding issues themselves. This cost is the responsibility of this government. Labor will support the bill but remind the House that this is a sorry tale for which the member for Wentworth, as minister and as Prime Minister, is wholly responsible.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: I call the member for Richmond. We're manually timing, so go to about seven minutes past.