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Wednesday, 14 October 2015
Page: 7643


Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:23): The Prime Minister has again broken a promise, and here I want to talk about Tasmania and the NBN. His solemn promise to Tasmania was that existing NBN contracts would be honoured. That includes the master contract that would deliver a fibre-to-the-premises network across the state.

On the 17 August 2013 in The Examiner,Mr Turnbull confirmed a previous pledge to honour all existing contracts signed by NBN Co to roll out fibre to the premises in Tasmania. He said:

…the alternative would be to breach them and that is a course we would not countenance …

I want to talk specifically about the West Coast of Tasmania. The West Coast of Tasmania faces twin challenges of geographic isolation and the need to build a diverse economic base. To achieve this, they need the fibre-to-the-premises broadband that was planned by the Labor government. When we were in government, we planned to have fibre to the premises to Queenstown, Zeehan and Rosebery. Those are the three major centres on the West Coast of Tasmania. What this government has now promised them is satellite. Satellite is fine. It is great for small remote areas—it operates quite well—but not for vital regional hubs, which these communities are. In fact, not only is it vital for the West Coast to have a proper NBN service of fibre to the premises, which is what was promised; it is economically sensible to do that. This is a region that has gone through a very difficult time over the past 12 or so months, with two mine closures, hundreds of jobs going out of that town and the town crying out for economic diversity to look beyond the mining industry to what other opportunities they can provide to the people who not only live in their region but also who want to come and live in their region or visit their region. But, more importantly, it is for businesses to build their base and for business coming out of that region.

One of the things that the West Coast Council has done is develop a West Coast Community Plan up to 2025. They did that in consultation with the entire community. It features a number of broad aspects, but there is one particular section in it that talks about our economy. In that section it talks about a sustainable, dynamic and resilient business sector. In that section it also talks about identifying opportunities to improve access to broadband and wireless technologies for business. The West Coast needs these sorts of things. They need it for e-health. They need it to diversify their economy and to grow business and jobs.

There are also emerging businesses on the West Coast. Last week, I attended an industry conference on the West Coast. There were about 10 speakers at that industry conference, and most of those speakers again focused on a proper NBN service for the West Coast to be able to deal with the business needs within that community. There is a lot that could be offered in that community. Mayor Phil Vickers and the general manager, Dirk Dowling, thought the best thing that they could do was to go up and talk to the local member, Mr Brett Whiteley. So off they went up the coast—about a 3½ hour drive—to visit Mr Whiteley on a Monday morning. They had a reasonable discussion, I understand, about NBN. But what he said to them was: 'Try the satellite. If, after six months, it is no good then come back to me.' That is no security for business. There is no future in that for this region to try and diversify. It is just simply not good enough that a member of parliament who represents a region that is going through a specifically difficult time could contemplate not even trying to fight for that region in providing them with a proper NBN service.

The service that is being offered to them via the satellite will not work on the West Coast. It simply will not work there, because it is a vital regional hub. Also, satellite broadband in that area is prone to failure and service disruption in heavy rain conditions. The West Coast averages 2,450 millimetres of rain a year. So it is just not acceptable. I wrote to the new Minister for Communications, Senator Fifield, on 23 September— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.