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Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Page: 7179

Senator WILLIAMS (3:25 PM) —May I just comment on Senator Pratt’s remarks in this take note of answers debate. She said that substantial progress has been made by the Rudd Labor government in the rollout of the national broadband network.

Senator Pratt —Eleven and a half years you had.

Senator WILLIAMS —The echo on the sideline said 11½ years. Let us look at the promises that the Rudd Labor government made before the election. I will take you to the first promise. Before the last election, Labor promised that within six months it would have chosen a tenderer for the national broadband network and that construction would commence before the end of 2008. Six months from 24 November last year would take us to around May. Tomorrow we are expected to hear something from the tenderers, and let us hope that they include several, especially Telstra.

The bids are due tomorrow. Telstra, which is one of the two key potential bidders, is unsure as to whether it will lodge a proposal because of a lack of clarity and because of a concern about the type of partnership arrangements and conditions the government will impose on it. Telstra says that it would be virtually impossible to build a national broadband network in the five years that Labor claim—another broken promise from their election promises last year.  Senator Conroy told the Age on 2 March 2008:

I expect to be able to give final Government approval by the end of August or early September, and hope construction will commence before the end of the year.

How are these time bands and promises from the government looking? Where are they taking us in terms of the rollout of a national broadband network? It is looking very sick. Senator Pratt talks here of ‘substantial progress’, and we are almost to the end of the year when the rollout is supposed to commence. We have not closed down the tendering business yet. We have not appointed a tenderer. How can we start in the next four weeks? Is Santa Claus going to start the rollout on his travels around the nation on Christmas Eve? That is about the only hope we have got for a start on it.

I make the point that the coalition’s policy, when in government, was to work in partnership with the private sector to deliver a competitive, state-of-the-art broadband network to increase availability of high-speed services to 99 per cent of premises by the end of 2009. Telstra’s words are: ‘It cannot be done and it is very unlikely that it will be done within five years.’ This takes us to 2013-14. My worry is: by the time the $4.7 billion is spent and the technology has been rolled out, will it be old hat technology? Is new technology going to come along and wind it out? Will we see $4.7 billion wasted? Minister Conroy says that the technology will go to 98 per cent of Australians. I wonder where the two per cent will be? Will it be in Pitt Street, Sydney? Perhaps Rundle Mall in Adelaide? I do not think so. I know where the two per cent will be: it will be people out in the rural and remote areas who will be missing out again.

This is where the government ought to sharpen its act, have a look at what it is doing to the very people who earn our export dollars and see that they get a fair go. All we have had is talk, political spin and the promise of spending $4.7 billion on a rollout, which up till now has delivered absolutely nothing. It is like many of the promises we got last year: the government was going to be fiscally responsible, and now the money tin is empty. Labor is very good at emptying the tin of money. We have seen that for decades. No doubt the first thing the coalition will have to do when they get back into government is clean up the finances again.

Question agreed to.