Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Page: 7641

Senator McALLISTER (New South Wales) (15:13): I rise to also take note of Senator Fifield's answers to my questions about the NBN. Unhappily, those answers confirm what most concerns us on this side of the chamber, which is that the big promises that were made about the NBN, a very cheap NBN with a very high level of service and a very high level of penetration that could be delivered by the then Minister for Communications—who knew everything about the internet!—have absolutely failed to materialise.

Senator Kim Carr: He invented it!

Senator McALLISTER: He did invent the internet, as Senator Carr observes!

Senator Fifield: I thought that was Al Gore!

Senator McALLISTER: Unhappily for Senator Bernardi—and I enjoy Senator Bernardi's contributions—these are not trumped up numbers. These are numbers that are available in the public domain. These are numbers that were presented to all of us when nbn co released its corporate plan earlier this year. The particular numbers that interest us most, of course, are that, despite the promise that all homes will be connected by 2016, we now learn that that level of penetration of high-speed broadband will not occur until 2020. We also know that—despite the promise that this could be undertaken for $29½ billion dollars—it could now cost as much as $56 billion. The rollout that is projected in the corporate plan sees a very, very gentle start and then a very, very fast ramp up, coincidentally, just after the next election, when it seems that the nbn co intends to connect most of Australia within just a couple of years. I suggest to people here who are observing the progress of this project that those claims really do stretch credibility. I politely suggest to the new Minister for Communications that he examine very closely the assumptions that underpin that rollout, because my very great concern is that that will be yet another promise that is not able to be delivered to the Australian people.

The very great shame about all of this is that Australia's international competitiveness is absolutely dependent on us making this project work. Even in our region we see our closest neighbours, our trading partners, making very great investments and pursuing the very kind of project—the very kind of excellent NBN—that Labor envisaged. What are South Korea pursuing? They are pursuing fibre to the premises. What are Japan pursuing? Fibre to the premises. What are Singapore pursuing? Fibre to the premises. In New Zealand, where they have fibre to the node, they are working swiftly to replace it with fibre to the premises.

As our shadow minister for communications, Jason Clare, told the CommsDay conference just today, two years ago Australia ranked 30th for average peak connection speed. That was just two years ago. We are now ranked 47th. We are falling behind in our connection speed and, again, when we look around our region, we see that, for peak connection speed, the No. 1 spot is held by Singapore. The No. 3 spot is held by South Korea. The No. 4 spot is held by Japan. The US, Canada and most of Europe are ahead of us. We are falling behind, and it is my very great concern that—in a desperate attempt to justify the decisions that were made by the former communications minister—this government is not addressing a very significant problem that is coming towards us as a country.

We know that there is significant research that links internet penetration and internet speed to economic growth, economic productivity and innovation. Internet penetration and internet speed help in so many ways. They work by facilitating the adoption of more efficient business processes, by accelerating innovation and by introducing new consumer applications and services, and they lead to efficiencies by better linking different parts of the economy—different labour pools, raw materials and different businesses to one another.

But we are missing out. We are at risk of missing out, because the former communications minister—who is, of course, now the Prime Minister—thought that he knew best. He thought that he could change horses midstream and that, through his own understanding of the industry, he could deliver this. Of course, what we are seeing is that the project—based on old technology based on copper—is not proceeding at the speed that is required, and it is a very great shame for this country.