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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9442

Mr OAKESHOTT (6:00 PM) —I will be brief in offering my support for the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures No. 1) Bill 2009. I represent a region that is excited about the government’s announcement on improving access and the speed of access and the time frame of eight years that the government has set itself to deliver that access and speed of access. I represent a region that is excited about the government’s announcement on delivering equity of information flows throughout regional Australia so that they match those of metropolitan areas and places such as Parliament House. I have previously mentioned in this place that, during the by-election campaign for the seat of Lyne more than 12 months ago, I visited a year 10 student from Camden Haven High School who was on dial-up internet not for technological reasons but for financial reasons. How on earth would that student be able to compete with students in and around this building, where the internet speed is significantly quicker and significantly more reliable? The issues in regional areas include not only speed but also dropouts, and that is incredibly frustrating for everyone involved.

Unlike the previous speaker, the member for Forrest, several members have mentioned that this is probably the most important piece of legislation to go through this place in this session and potentially in the lifetimes of all of us in this place. I say that with the rider that I hope the government are sincere in their actions and, in particular, on the time frame they have mentioned for delivering the NBN rollout. There is, without doubt, a need in regional areas. So I certainly support the government’s decision of 27 April this year to deliver a National Broadband Network through public funding, and I urge them to stick to their commitment and stick to the time frame they have suggested. It will be life changing in regional areas such as the mid-North Coast of New South Wales if this is delivered. In my view, it is long overdue infrastructure for the ex-urban generation. Right around the world we have seen the dilemma faced in public policy on the urbanisation of communities. I would hope that this will see de-urbanisation happen in Australia in a significant way, which is sensible policy for the landmass and for the lifestyles in regional areas, which are so attractive. In many areas, the missing link in regional areas for many people is infrastructure being provided by government. This National Broadband rollout will make a huge difference to life generally in regional areas, and in urban areas as well, as it will relieve the pressures faced by so many in those areas. So I urge the government to stick to their proposal in this legislation and also, importantly, to do so within the time frames mentioned.

One concern I share with the previous speaker is the question of which 10 per cent of the population will miss out on the rollout and will be covered by satellite and wireless. I represent an area on the North Coast which contains many upper valleys and quite hilly country. Delivering information technology—or any infrastructure—into these areas is problematic. I worry that these areas will miss out on being part of the 90 per cent coverage of the NBN rollout. I would therefore take this opportunity to encourage government to drill down on the details of who, where and how, in terms of the 10 per cent who are going to be served by wireless and satellite internet. I think that will cover some of the areas on the North Coast and it should be front and centre of any considerations from government in the broader rollout. If that 10 per cent are left behind and not treated as seriously as the rest of the population then I think the policy will be the poorer because of it and the community of Australia will be the poorer because of it. So I certainly urge government to be active in engaging with the communities that are not going to be in the 90 per cent and will be picked up through wireless and satellite. They are an important part of this package and they deserve to be front and centre in any proposals moving forward.

My understanding is that this legislation does not change too much—except that it gives the minister some extra powers to gather some extra information. It is hard to judge the merits or otherwise of this legislation until we see what the minister does with these new powers that he can expect to have. I hope he uses them wisely. In expanding the power to seek information, I hope the government is aware of concerns about the competition principles, which are potentially being challenged through these changes. My understanding is that if NBN Co. does not release the information that they are seeking from a whole range of new utilities then it will not be a problem. However, I certainly hope government keeps an eye on those competition principles, issues of freedom of information and other clashes that might come in accessing information from this public company, and the competitive neutrality issues that might arise from that in Australia today.

I am also concerned about what the government might find out in the information search from the various traditionally state based companies and state based utilities. I would hope we are not seeing the start of a ‘blame the states’ exercise in any delays to this proposal. If the federal government finds that the state government or their semistatutories have not been lifting their weight in the last 10 or 20 years in keeping infrastructure up to speed with what we would all like in a modern Australia, I would hope there is some intent by this government to address those issues either through the states or through the semistatutories. I would hope this is not the start of any delays on the eight-year commitment in what I have already mentioned is the very important and life-changing rollout of the National Broadband Network.

I was not here but I gather that when this government came to power it was an exercise of dropping the blame game of the states. I certainly hope that commitment sticks in this issue of finding out the utilities and the various states that are going to be part of this network rollout. I hope that we see this government address those issues, if they are missing, through the states or through the semistatutories. I hope the government addresses the issues and does not use them as an opportunity to drop the ball in any way in this rollout.

I support the legislation. This is important in an area such as the mid-North Coast of New South Wales. It is not, I think, because of technological reasons. I think you can buy pretty well anything you want as far as information technology today. It is for economic reasons that regional areas in particular, such as the mid-North Coast, are left behind in an information technology sense. That is not right. Any policy in this place that brings the information-poor closer to the financial-poor is bad policy; they are bad principles. We should be trying to break any nexus between the two and either use knowledge to lift people financially or use money to lift people’s knowledge. But if we can break that nexus, we are doing good work. The NBN rollout is an opportunity to do that. I certainly support this change, with the considerations I have raised, and look forward to seeing some very active work from government over the next eight years to make sure this commitment is delivered in full to regions such as mine.