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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 8621

Broadband


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:13): My question is to the Minister for Communications, Senator Fifield. Can the minister update the Senate on why it is important to undertake detailed planning prior to embarking on large infrastructure projects like the National Broadband Network and to provide the public with accurate financial and operational information concerning taxpayer funded government business enterprises such as nbn co?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government) (15:14): I thank Senator Smith for his deep interest in and knowledge of the Communications portfolio. I think everyone in this place knows that the nbn is the largest and most complex infrastructure project in Australian history. It is national in a very literal sense. It is extending down every street, spanning thousands of square kilometres through fixed wireless and beaming in from 36,000 kilometres overhead in some places. It does require a colossal amount of taxpayer funding, running into the tens of billions of dollars, and it will be 10 years in the making. Yet, when those opposite were embarking upon this venture, they cut every single corner they possibly could. They avoided a cost-benefit analysis. They abandoned normal cabinet process. And, when Senator Conroy, as minister, appointed a board, not one person on the board had telecommunications experience—not one out of eight.

While Senator Conroy was in charge he waited for more than a year after appointing the executive chairman to actually issue a statement of expectations to the company. Where this chaos and mismanagement really showed was in the financial and operational targets. By the time of the election the rollout was already years behind forecast. And, after receiving $6.5 billion in funding, less than three per cent of premises were passed, and there were only 50,000 users on the network. Unlike those opposite, this government has required the nbn to set realistic financial and operational targets, and the company's most recent quarterly results prove that point.


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:16): On that very thorough response I have a supplementary question. What has the coalition done to improve the operational and financial performance of the National Broadband Network, particularly in northern Australia?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government) (15:16): The turnaround in the NBN rollout across northern Australia has been nothing short of spectacular. Right now, more than 110,000 homes and businesses in major cities, like Cairns, Townsville, Mackay and Darwin, can connect to the NBN. Possibly the best example is the Territory. The NBN is powering ahead there with 40,000 premises in Darwin now in the footprint and about 6,700 left to cover within the next year.

The next rollout site to kick off this week will be the centre of Alice Springs, with about 9,200 premises in the forward build schedule for Alice, starting with around 2,000 homes and businesses. That work is scheduled for completion in around six months, and I know that is something that Senator Scullion will certainly be embracing. That is just one example of the turnaround of the NBN under this government.


Senator SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:17): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate of any threats to continuing the NBN's rollout progress across northern Australia?


Senator FIFIELD (VictoriaManager of Government Business in the Senate, Minister for Communications, Minister for the Arts and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Digital Government) (15:17): I am tempted to just point to someone wearing a pink tie over on the other side, but I know that pointing does not come up in the Hansard

Senator Conroy interjecting

Senator FIFIELD: so I had better make it clear that 'Senator Conroy' is the primary answer to Senator Smith's question. And I think even those opposite know that if Labor did come back into government, as much as we like Jason Clare—and we genuinely do on this side—it would actually be Senator Conroy with his hands on the levers. I think that is something that not only those of us on this side but many on the other side might be more than a little concerned about.

Under our watch, the Northern Territory will be fully networked with the NBN in around 18 months time. By contrast, in built-up areas there were only 322 premises capable of getting broadband services on the network under six years of Labor.