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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9385

Mr MORRISON (1:48 PM) —I rise to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures—Network Information) Bill 2009 in terms of the government’s broader proposal to introduce a national broadband network. In particular, I rise to speak in the context of the delays in delivery of this program against a government promise. This is a promise that the government made much about in the lead-up to the last election, and ever since that last election we have just heard excuse after excuse for why this is not happening. You could say that the Prime Minister, then Leader of the Opposition, made what you might call a ‘comfort promise’. I note that the Minister for Finance and Deregulation recently said the promise made by the government, when in opposition, that in relation to industrial relations no-one would be worse off was a promise to provide comfort, not an actual promise. In this place at the moment and particularly in the other place we are voting on and have voted on bills in relation to the government’s broken promises on things like private health insurance. So when it comes to the government fulfilling promises on broadband, what we have seen even from the speaker just before me are a government that are still talking about their promise, their vision and the things that may happen. What we are not seeing is something actually happen.

It was said before this bill was introduced that one thing that was supposed to be in the legislation introduced in this session was a requirement for greenfield developments to use FTTP technology from 1 July 2010 and for the government to acquire network information needed to assist in the design of the national FTTP rollout. That is what Senator Conroy said, but we do not see these provisions in the legislation. These are concerning provisions that have been the subject of much discussion with the housing industry. It is particularly from that context that I wish to address the House today. The housing industry is tremendously concerned that this amounts to a requirement for the developer—which will ultimately mean the person who purchased the house—to pay for this fibre to be connected to every single house in every single new development. The estimate from industry is that this will cost $2,500 per lot. One of the challenges we have in this country is housing affordability. It may come as a surprise to those on the other side of this chamber that 95 per cent of people live in the private housing industry. Ninety-five per cent of people are renting, buying or seeking to purchase homes in the private housing industry.

One of the reasons we have had rents rising—in fact, the key reason we have had rents rising—in this country, and the key reason we have seen housing prices moving forward and forward and beyond the reach of many Australians, is the excessive level of taxation, delay and charging that is shored up in the cost of developing a block of land. Then there is the failure by state governments to release land, the absolutely merciless taxation by state governments of that land and the failure of state governments to provide the infrastructure that services that land to make it a viable investment.

Instead of addressing these challenges in housing affordability, this government has sought to confine its activity only to things that it wants to spend money on. So we have the government’s program on public housing, but we do not have a program to address what is in fact the other 97 per cent of the residential construction market. Now that the first home owners grant boost is winding back—and that is something we supported both in its introduction and now in its winding back—and as that stimulus is being withdrawn from the housing market, which is the right thing to do, what we are going to be faced with in the residential construction sector is: where to from here? Probably the most important thing we can do in ‘Where to from here?’ for the residential construction sector is make sure that we do not tax them more—and that is what this proposal from the government will do. It will apply further taxation in the form of the requirement to pay for this fibre regardless of whether whoever buys the house wants it. They might want wireless. They might want some other form of technology. But Kevin knows best, and he is going to say, ‘You will pay $2½ thousand per lot to have this connected’—a further tax.

Here is another idea that the government might think of. How about saying to state governments, on whom they are spending absolute billions of dollars of borrowed money on behalf of taxpayers, ‘In return for spending billions of dollars to mop up your failure to undertake any repairs and maintenance work on your own housing stocks in the last 10 years, in return for us providing billions of dollars, particularly hundreds of millions of dollars to local governments to support local infrastructure’—many of which are very worthy projects—‘in return for all of this considerable expenditure, how about we insist on some reform from state and local governments when it comes to making sure that in north-western Sydney, for example, it does not cost $200,000 before you even put a brick on the block?’ It is $200,000 before you put a brick on the block in the electorate of the member for Mitchell. That is what it costs. In the electorate of the member for Greenway, that is what it costs: $200,000 before you even lay a brick.

The answer from the government is this: ‘Let’s add another $2½ thousand to every single one and let’s think that’s going to do something about housing affordability in this context.’ The government have recklessly, once again, forged ahead with a proposal which they have failed to consider. When I have the opportunity later on today to resume my remarks after question time, Mr Deputy Speaker, I am looking forward to taking you through the comments from the housing industry that set out how much damage this could do to an industry which is so important in times like this.

The other challenge to that industry from this government is what it is going to do to interest rates over the next 12 to 18 months, because as the first home owners boost comes off—as it should—the government has decided, by continuing to spend borrowed money, to put pressure on interest rates. We have a residential construction industry who will be looking for opportunities. They will be looking for people who want to come and buy and build new homes. I think this government has totally misunderstood the positive impact that lower interest rates have had over the last six to nine months in ensuring that there was a buoyancy in consumer spending and, in particular, that there was a confidence amongst new home buyers to go out there and build a new house. Once the first home owners grant has been rightfully withdrawn, what is the answer going to be from this government? The answer is going to be to keep recklessly spending money, which is going to drive up interest rates. That will mean that people will not be able to take that commitment.

There are 200,000 young people, as reported today, who have gone and bought their first home. The only interest rates they have ever known are the ones they have just bought their house on. The interest rates they are about to know are the interest rates that the government is going to give them by refusing to rein in reckless spending—refusing even to stop and consider. This is a government that can only see its own efforts. It cannot see the efforts of others out there, small business people working in the economy to create jobs and keep people in work—no, it was all created by the government. So the government is going to ensure higher interest rates for people who want to build houses, higher interest rates for people who want to buy houses and higher interest rates for people who want to pay off a house. It is going to do this by not withdrawing its reckless spending, because the government is of the view that there is only one way to support this economy, and that is with its spending.

But there is a contrast to that. The government can choose to rein in their reckless spending and keep interest rates low. Keeping interest rates low will support jobs, it will support the economy and, in particular, it will support the residential construction industry, who, as a result of bills such as this and the government’s refusal to withdraw their reckless spending, will see interest rates go up and will suffer from that. What we want to see from the government is the opportunity for the government to stop, to look and to listen about what the impact of their reckless spending is going to be on interest rates. They may well want to argue for stimulus, but they need to acknowledge that stimulus can be delivered by keeping interest rates low. Australia has some of the highest rates of interest in the world, so I do not accept the argument that they simply have to rise, as the government would suggest. They do not have to rise. They do not have to rise if the government will stop their reckless spending and not put this pressure on those interest rates. The government can choose between less spending and higher interest rates. The government have chosen to go for higher interest rates because they would prefer to deliver a stimulus through spending rather than give small business the opportunity and people who want to buy a home and people who want to pay off a home the opportunity to do that with lower interest rates.

We have a very real risk that we will see the residential construction industry come under pressure. They will come under pressure from higher interest rates. They will come under pressure from the proposals by the government to put more taxes on the development of land, more taxes that are preventing people from having the opportunity to buy a house and to buy it affordably. People do not want go into public housing; they want to go into a private house, like 95 per cent of Australians do every single day. If this government continues to spend recklessly, it will drive up interest rates and it will drive away the opportunity for homebuyers to buy a home and, more importantly, pay that home off. So I call on the government to rein in this spending, to choose to provide support to our economy through lower interest rates, not through more government spending. That is the stimulus the government has chosen: higher interest rates and more government spending. Those on this side of the House want to see lower interest rates. We want to see people being able to pay off their home, not just today. Those 200,000 people who have bought a home just recently want to see lower interest rates, Treasurer. They want to see lower interest rates, and they will not get them from you.

Debate interrupted.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2 pm, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 97. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member for Cook will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.