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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9382

Mr HALE (1:37 PM) —I rise today in support of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures No. 1) Bill 2009. I note the comments of the previous speaker in regard to broadband and how it was going to be done in the coalition’s 13th year of government—like a lot of other things that were going to be done in their 13th year of government, such as real action on climate change, a fairer industrial relations system and all of the other things that they said. So it is great to see that, just like all the other things that they were going to do in their 13th year of government, broadband has been put on that list as well!

I rise today in strong support of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures No. 1) Bill 2009. I support the comments from the member for Bonner where she said that it gives her a great deal of pride—as it does me also—to be part of a government that will, over time, deliver a high-speed broadband system to Australia. The purpose of this bill is to establish a regime to provide access to network information held by telecommunications carriers and other utilities where it is important to the planning and the rollout of the new National Broadband Network, or NBN, initiative.

It is important to the planning of the NBN and its rollout that information about existing infrastructure that might be utilised in the rollout of the network is accessible. For example, information on the location and availability of facilities such as poles, ducts and pipes can be assessed to ensure the network can be rolled out as cost-effectively as possible. Of course, the preference is to acquire this information on a cooperative or commercial basis from telecommunications carriers and other utilities such as suppliers of electricity, water and transport services. This legislation will provide a safety net to allow the Commonwealth to seek the necessary information where cooperative or commercial approaches may not be successful. This may be necessary to ensure the project is not delayed or otherwise frustrated by firms that have important information but have strategic or other reasons to withhold this information.

Earlier this year the Prime Minister announced the establishment of a new company to build and operate a new superfast national broadband network. The Prime Minister described the initiative as a historic nation-building investment focused on Australia’s long-term national interest. The NBN will fundamentally transform the competitive dynamics of the telecommunications sector and underpin future productivity growth and our international competitiveness. The reason we need to act is the appalling legacy the previous government left the nation regarding broadband and critical economic infrastructure. That neglect is the basis of our nation’s current broadband situation when compared to other developed nations.

The latest OECD figures show that Australia is ranked 16th out of 30 OECD countries in terms of broadband take-up. The figures also tell us that we pay more for broadband than do people in most other OECD countries—in fact we are ranked 20th out of 29 countries. And, in terms of average monthly subscription costs, Australia is the fourth most expensive for low-speed connections and the fifth most expensive for medium-speed connections. When it comes to something as necessary in day-to-day life as the internet, these are less than impressive figures.

The National Broadband Network is to be built in partnership with the private sector and will be the single-largest nation-building infrastructure project in Australia’s history. The new National Broadband Network will connect 90 per cent of all Australian homes, schools and workplaces with broadband services with speeds of up to 100 megabits per second—100 times faster than those currently used by many households and businesses. The NBN will see remaining premises connected with next-generation wireless and satellite technologies that will deliver broadband speeds of 12 megabits per second. The proposed eight-year project will directly support tens of thousands of local jobs.

In Solomon we often suffer from the tyranny of distance. Just like other communities in regional and remote parts of Australia, we have become ever-increasingly dependent on reliable internet access. Whether you are a small business operator, a student, a teacher, a medical professional or a tourist, or if you are a mum or dad who works from home, you need the internet to go about your day-to-day business. I know there would not be too many Territorians who would forget what happened in April this year when the Territory was cut off from the rest of the world because our major internet and phone services collapsed for more than 10 hours. I raise this point not to have a go at the telecommunications sector—I know that they do their best and that these sorts of accidents and interruptions do happen. But anyone who has experienced an entire network collapse will understand just how reliant on the internet we are.

That is why I was extremely happy when the very committed Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy announced earlier this year that Darwin will be one of six priority black spot locations under the Regional Backbone Blackspots Program. A new optical fibre broadband link to Darwin will increase access to broadband services, which we in Solomon need more than other capital cities because of our distance from other commercial centres. It will put downward pressure on prices by increasing competition. I am advised that we experience broadband backbone prices that are three to five times higher than the costs of similar routes elsewhere. And of course a new link will increase the reliability of services, as we are the only capital city with no competitive broadband backbone link.

The minister and I understand that new competitive broadband backbone infrastructure is critical to the rollout of high-speed broadband services in rural and regional Australia. Access to competitive broadband backbone infrastructure on an open access, equivalent basis will stimulate competition and allow retail broadband providers to offer better services. The government has received positive responses to the $250 million Regional Backbone Blackspots request for tender, which closed recently. The level of interest in the request for tender provides further endorsement of the government’s decision to invest in competitive broadband backbone infrastructure in regional Australia. This program is just one part of the government’s National Broadband Network, which will deliver superfast broadband to all Australian homes and workplaces. The government and I look forward to delivering this vital piece of infrastructure for Territorians and the nation as a whole. The NBN will add new potential to the lives of so many Territorians in so many areas.

I have heard many speakers talk about the benefits that a new superfast national broadband network will bring to their electorates. I know the member for Kingston spoke about the significant impact the NBN will have in the health sector. Recently, the Minister for Health and Ageing and I had the pleasure of witnessing the signing of a memorandum of intent between Charles Darwin University and Flinders University, which is in the Kingston electorate. This collaboration came about because our government committed over $32 million dollars to establishing a medical school in the NT. That is a significant commitment. One of the problems we have had in the Northern Territory is getting doctors. A lot of our young people who go away to study medicine do not come back but go interstate, so having that commitment in the health sector to train doctors locally by 2011 and to have 40 doctors coming out to do their final year’s on-the-job training by 2015-16 is certainly a benefit to the Northern Territory. No longer will our local students be required to travel and live interstate, as much of their training will be done at home. No doubt the NBN will significantly improve the capacity of the new medical school as well as provide great potential for all our medical professionals.

But it is not only in the health sector that we will see the benefits of a new superfast national broadband network. This government wholeheartedly understands that Australians need improved broadband services no matter where they live, study or work. An improved broadband network will improve the productivity of small business. It will improve how schools, universities and TAFEs deliver education and change how we communicate with each other in the future. A superfast national broadband network will enable us all to do things in the future that nobody could even anticipate today. The NBN strikes the right balance between supporting growth and jobs now and delivering the investments needed to strengthen the economy for the long term.

As the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy said in his address to the Australian Telecommunications Users Group conference earlier this year:

For these reasons, the Rudd Government is driving forward with its investment with the private sector in the National Broadband Network.

The project will exceed our election commitment and deliver high-speed broadband to every home and every business across Australia.

It will ensure our nation is at the forefront of the global digital economy.

Importantly, it will revitalise our regional economies, provide new job opportunities, drive efficiency, enable new trade links and improve the delivery of social services.

The National Broadband Network is a bold nation-building project.

In fact it is the largest infrastructure project undertaken in Australia’s history.

It will ensure that all Australians, no matter where they choose to live or work, will have the best opportunity to participate in the digital economy.

I would like to speak on another matter just briefly, if I could. During the adjournment debate on Monday last, the member for Ballarat informed the House of White Ribbon Day activities in her community. White Ribbon Day is dedicated to raising awareness of domestic violence against women in our community. I put on the public record my support for the member’s contribution as I fully support all programs that address the disturbing levels of violence in the Australian community. As a member of the Australian parliament, I condemn violence in any form—be it physical, emotional or psychological—against any member of our community. Thank you for that indulgence. In regard to this bill, I fully support the bill and I commend the bill to the House