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Thursday, 16 August 2018
Page: 5038


Senator WATT (Queensland) (13:45): This is now my third partial contribution on this bill, and it would appear I probably have enough time to finish before question time, so I will try and make this about as exciting as Star Wars: Episode III, given this is part 3 of my NBN speech. What I've really tried to do in my previous two contributions is to outline some of the complaints that my office receives on a regular basis—I know many others do as well—about poor NBN service quality and lack of coverage in too many parts of Queensland. I think in my first contribution I spoke about what this bill seeks to do, and I put forward Labor's position on that, so I may leave it at that in terms of the content of the bill itself. In my remaining time, I just want to pick up on some very concerning news that emerged overnight that demonstrates how much this government is leaving regional Australia behind when it comes to telecommunications and, in particular, the NBN.

As I say, on a regular basis my office receives complaints from people in regional Queensland—particularly Central Queensland, where I'm most active—about poor NBN service quality. When I ceased my previous contribution, I was talking about some of the horror stories that were put forward by Central Queensland businesses when I hosted a roundtable several months ago with our regional communications shadow minister, Steven Jones. I should point out two of the participants in this roundtable that stick in my mind most confessed that they were pretty much lifelong LNP supporters but that the poor service they had been receiving from the NBN under this government was actually most likely to shift their vote at the next election. So, even if the government isn't serious about delivering good-quality telecommunications and NBN to rural and regional Australia because it is the right thing to do—especially in a geographically decentralised state like Queensland, where good telecommunications are essential to businesses being able to compete with big urban centres and with the rest of the world—there is a very good political reason for this government to start acting on regional communications as well.

One of the instances from that roundtable that sticks most in my mind was a motorcycle dealership. The proprietor of that shop was talking to me about the immense frustration she had had with NBN services interfering with phone services and EFTPOS services. She was telling me that, pretty much from the time the NBN was installed in her dealership, she had technical difficulties that kept arising with all of her technology. She was able to point to numerous examples where customers had come into her store and walked up to the counter with, in some cases, literally over $1,000 worth of goods that they wanted to buy—it might have been motorcycle helmets, jackets or all sorts of motorcycle related materials. They'd go to pay by EFTPOS but couldn't actually pay, because the NBN difficulties were causing all of the shop's technology to go down, including their EFTPOS. They couldn't get a connection to bank services online, which meant that the customer couldn't pay for these goods, so the customer would say, 'Look, I'll go up the road and get a bit of money out of the ATM.' And, too often, customers would leave the store, leave their goods on the counter, walk out the door—allegedly to go out and get some money out of the ATM—and never come back. So, over and over again, this store was having customers walk out the door and effectively deciding not to go ahead with their purchase because of the EFTPOS and NBN related difficulties that this store was having.

Even worse was the example of a florist who attended our roundtable. Everyone who is in the habit of buying flowers for our spouses on Valentine's Day or for our mothers on Mother's Day understands that, if you are running a florist business, these are probably the two biggest days of that year. This florist was able to tell me that on both Mother's Day and Valentine's Day, the biggest days of the year—I am pretty sure she was talking about last year—her phone line went down, her NBN line went down, all of her technology went down because of NBN problems. You might as well cripple a florist store if it can't work effectively on Valentine's Day and Mother's Day—and that's what was happening here. Understandably, people who rang up this florist to try to get their flowers organised and were told that they couldn't pay for them, that it couldn't be done, went to the florist up the road and used that service instead.

These are real-life examples of how people in south-east Queensland are already suffering from the poor NBN rollout under this government. We got some more news about this overnight which showed yet again how out-of-touch NBN Co and this government, as its overseer, are with the needs of regional Australia when it comes to telecommunications. It emerged at the NBN joint committee last night that NBN Co was planning a significant price rise for regional customers. What came out in the questioning was that NBN Co is preparing to introduce new wholesale prices that discriminate between rural and regional areas on the one hand and big metropolitan centres like capital cities on the other. If you are a customer in a metropolitan area on a fixed line service—it might be Brisbane, it might be Sydney, it might be Melbourne—the wholesale rate that is going to be applied will be $45. But if you live in a rural or regional area and you are on a fixed wireless network—it might be Rockhampton, it might be Townsville, it might be Mackay, it might be Western Queensland—then the price will be $65. So there will be a $20 difference based on simply where you live and the technology that you are utilising.

Good telecommunication is really an essential tool of business no matter where it is located in this day and age. It is the way people can connect to their customers and their suppliers on a quick and efficient basis. But under this government the NBN rollout has been so poor that rural and regional Queenslanders and Australians are being left behind. Not only is that occurring as a result of the poor rollout; now NBN Co wants to discriminate on the basis of price as well. So rural and regional Queenslanders are going to be paying more for the privilege of having a worse service from the NBN than people living in Brisbane, Sydney or Melbourne.

It is unbelievable that a government that claims to represent rural and regional Australia would allow that to happen. We hear over and over again from our National party representatives in Queensland that they are the guardians of the bush, the guardians of rural and regional Queensland. But here is yet another example where they have let rural and regional Queensland down. They do it on penalty rates, they do it on my behalf, they do it on poor funding for rural and regional hospitals and schools—and now they are doing it when it comes to NBN as well. Is there a single National Party representative from Queensland who is actually prepared to get up and have a go at the government for the second-rate system of NBN that continues to be laid out in regional Queensland and for discriminating against rural and regional Queenslanders when it comes to prices? Unfortunately, we are still waiting for that to happen.

This bill does go some way to providing all Australians, whether they be city based Australians or rural and regional Australians, with the kind of guarantee of good service they are entitled to. As I mentioned in a previous contribution, the first aspect of this bill is to legislate with certainty that all premises in Australia can continue to access high-speed broadband infrastructure beyond the NBN rollout. It really says it all about this government's poor NBN rollout. Simply having the NBN say to people that they will ensure that all Australians can continue to access high-speed broadband infrastructure isn't enough. They have actually got to go the extra mile and now enshrine it in legislation because the NBN, under this government, cannot be relied upon to deliver. We are pleased to see this government actually put it beyond doubt in legislation that all Australians, no matter where they live, are going to have access to high-speed broadband infrastructure once the NBN is rolled out. But, as I say, it says something very grave about this government's rollout of the NBN that it actually has to take that step.

The NBN really has become one of the running sores of this government. No matter which electorate people represent here in the Senate or in the House of Representatives, every single day people are coming to our electorate offices complaining about the poor NBN rollout and service under this government. It has become an embarrassment. The number of countries that have better NBN services and better broadband than Australia, including in parts of the developing world, really put this government to shame when it comes to the NBN. So I hope that this bill is the beginning of a change of attitude, a proper rollout of the NBN, guaranteeing people the services that they need to be able to function properly in the new millennium.