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Thursday, 23 August 2018
Page: 5705


Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (13:49): I rise to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2018 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2018. I acknowledge the National Students Leadership Forum for these wonderful young people here who, I'm sure, will have a great deal of interest in these two pieces of legislation.

These bills, which work in conjunction with each other, do two key things. One is to legislate certainty that all premises in Australia can continue to access high-speed broadband infrastructure beyond the NBN rollout. This obligation already exists, but this gives it certainty, and Labor supports this. The second thing they do is to introduce a telecommunications levy that will add $84 per year to the bills of up to 400,000 consumers and businesses on the non-NBN network.

Before moving on to the broadband levy, I wish to note that Labor supports schedule 3 of this bill. The proposed statutory infrastructure scheme will provide certainty as we move beyond the initial NBN rollout in 2021. The community will continue to have certainty about their ability to get access to broadband services at their new home or business. Schedule 3 largely codifies an obligation that already exists in the NBN statement of expectations. Labor supports this and considers it to be a sensible and natural step.

The original commitment by Labor in 2009 was historically significant, particularly for regional and rural communities. Our National Broadband Network was established to ensure every Australian would have access to high-speed broadband, irrespective of where they lived or worked. As a result, nearly three million homes and businesses across regional and rural Australia will have access to high-speed broadband, a sizeable portion of whom had no access to any broadband after 11 years of inaction under the Howard government. This was the single most important initiative to bridge the city-regional divide when it came to broadband in this country. Labor is proud of this achievement, and those who supported it in the Senate should be as well.

On the other hand, the government has nothing to be proud of in terms of what we uncovered last week. Last week, before the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, the NBN Co admitted to plans to charge regional Australians on the fixed wireless network $20 more per month than customers on the same 50-megabit speed who lived in the city. Simply put, a regional consumer could pay 44 per cent more than someone in the city for the same 50-megabit speed under this plan. This is an extra $65 per month, or $240 a year, that regional consumers would have to fork out. This is how this government views regional Australians. It takes them for granted. It doesn't view them as being as important as the city dwellers.

Where were the Nationals on this? Sitting on their hands as usual. The Nationals, as we all know, are the doormats for the Turnbull government. They were quite happy to sit there and let regional Australia pick up the bill for the Prime Minister's NBN mess. They come in here and cry crocodile tears but do nothing when it comes to standing up for regional Australia on these important issues.

Two hours after Labor called on the government to drop its regional broadband price hike, NBN Co reversed their decision, and so they should. The ABC has also revealed that the NBN sought to modify a record of their own opening statement to the committee on their website to include passages that were not in the original statement and were not spoken by the NBN executives.

The minister has also been pretending that no decision was ever made. In fact, he has claimed that consultation on the pricing changes was ongoing. The minister's argument began falling apart on Friday when an iTnews article, citing documents belonging to the NBN Co, noted that the $20-per-month increase was presented to the telecommunications industry as a done deal, not as something under consultation. The iTnews article also noted that the regional broadband price hike was due to come into effect on 20 August. That was this week. Had it not been for Labor, regional consumers would be paying more. This could have been a disaster for my home state of Tasmania, where up to 40,000 households could have been slapped with an extra $20 per month just to order the same 50-megabyte service as someone who lives in the city.

The intention of the NBN was always to bridge the digital divide between regions and the cities, not create a new one. We need to ensure these levies do not deepen the digital divide and make broadband less affordable for regional households and businesses. We need to make sure that regional communities have access to a broadband network that is fit for the future so that they can participate in the digital economy. Under this plan, if you live in Point Piper, the wholesale charge for the 50-megabyte plan will be $45 per month, but, if you live in regional Australia and want to order the same speed over the fixed wireless network, the NBN has proposed to charge $65 a month. This $20 per month is an extra $240 a year that regional consumers would have to fork out. Thanks to Turnbull's NBN shambles, a regional consumer could be paying—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Fawcett ): Order! Senator Polley, I remind you to address members in the other place by their correct titles.

Senator POLLEY: Thanks to the Turnbull government's NBN shambles, a regional consumer will be paying 44 per cent more than someone in the city. There's one rule for Mr Turnbull in his Point Piper mansion and another for rural and regional consumers. At the same time as energy prices are going up and cost-of-living pressures are increasing, a broadband price hike by this government is the last thing people in regional Australia want to have to deal with. Regional Australians and regional businesses should not have to pick up the bill for the mess created by this Turnbull government.

Now I'll turn to the broadband levy currently before the Senate. The introduction of this poorly designed levy is highly regrettable, but Labor will not be opposing it outright, given the economic deterioration of the government's multitechnology mix. Rather, Labor will be seeking an amendment to the bill to reduce the scope and impact of it. This will ensure it is fairer, more targeted and better aligned with the sensible policy objectives. I recall years ago when Mr Turnbull talked about the NBN like an excited child at Christmas. He doesn't do that anymore. In fact he doesn't speak with any excitement on anything anymore, unless, of course, it's about giving a $17 billion tax cut—

Opposition senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Polley, resume your seat. Senators on my left, one of your own colleagues is on her feet and I can hardly hear her speech because of your interjections. I ask you to extend to your own colleague the courtesy of allowing her to be heard in silence.

Senator POLLEY: The Prime Minister doesn't speak with any excitement on anything, unless, of course, he's giving a $17 billion tax cut to his mates and the big banks, and a $60 billion tax cut to multinationals and corporate Australia.

Mr Turnbull thought he would be the great savour of the NBN. Instead he's been a great disappointment. The NBN has turned into a shambles under this government, and, as we can see, there has been leaked report after leaked report. The lack of transparency in relation to the NBN and the denials and consternation of the NBN Co reflect the paranoia that has gripped the Turnbull government and the NBN infrastructure program. In fact, this would seem to be behind the times if I were to note the deterioration of this government. This government is in paralysis, and who can blame the Australian people for not listening to it anymore. You can only let someone down so many times before they switch off and stop listening.

Over the past few years, Labor has held NBN consultations with consumers and small businesses across the country. I can tell you that the Australian public is dismayed that the Turnbull government abandoned Labor's fibre-to-the-premises NBN under the false pretence that switching to a multitechnology mix would be faster and cheaper. The bungled installation of the NBN is costing local businesses in my home state of Tasmania, where Mr Turnbull made the callous decision to leave Tasmanian businesses and households off the map. Consequently, Tasmanians are still crying out for better NBN services so they're not left behind and can operate and take advantage of the digital economy. None of the Turnbull government's pledge of 1.5 million premises to be connected to the new fibre to the curb will be in Tasmania.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Polley, you will be in continuation upon the resumption of the debate. It being 2 pm, I call the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Birmingham.