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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9569

Mrs MARKUS (8:50 PM) —I would like to note that the issue of broadband has been raised today in debate on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures No. 1) Bill 2009, but I would like to make some points which are particularly relevant to my electorate. The $43 billion broadband announcement of the Rudd Labor government is a farce. It is a cruel joke being played on this nation. The announcement, like many others, raised unrealistic expectations within the community that a modern, fast, broadband network available to all was just around the corner. It is typical of Labor governments to overpromise and underdeliver. They will underdeliver on access. Under the proposed plans some areas will apparently get 100 megabits per second fibre to their premises while those living in regional and rural areas will receive services almost 10 times slower delivered by wireless and satellite.

I have spoken in this parliament and in the media of my concern that over 5,000 people in broadband black-spot areas in my electorate, such as in Agnes Banks, Freemans Reach, Kurmond, Kurrajong Heights, Londonderry, Marsden Park, Pitt Town, Vineyard, Yarramundi and Colo Heights will either miss out or will have to take an inferior service. Labor will underdeliver on infrastructure. News reports in the last month that above-ground aerial cables strung between old power poles—old technologies—will be used in the broadband rollout. That is astonishing but not surprising giving the penny-pinching this Labor government will have to do because of its reckless spending and blow-out of government debt.

Labor will underdeliver on fairness. Under the plan, people living in regional and rural areas will have an inferior service to people living in cities who already have access to high-standard services and infrastructure. Is this an example of how Labor governments allocate infrastructure spending; of selectively providing more infrastructure funding into Labor marginal seats rather than spreading the funding across all electorates? This is an issue making headlines in the media and has been referred to a Senate inquiry, and rightly so. Why should people in non-Labor or non-marginal electorates miss out on vital communication infrastructure because Labor is making political judgments, not decisions that are in the best interest of the nation. To allay the concerns that this is a deliberate strategy to starve people in regional and rural areas of vital infrastructure the Labor government needs to explain why it will not release coverage maps which will show the areas that will get the infrastructure. So much for the rhetoric! Those people feel badly let down and abandoned by the city-centric Labor government. I am sure that when they are struggling with their broadband because of their inferior service they will remember who denied them the service.

Labor have underdelivered on timing. When the coalition was in government its broadband policy was that 100 per cent of Australians would have access to broadband by 2009. Under Labor’s plan, 98 per cent—a questionable number; it is more likely to be 75 per cent—of Australians will have access to broadband by 2013. Well, the Labor government had better get a hurry on. We are now in the latter part of 2009 and the expectation was raised that Tasmania would be the first state to have a rollout date. Despite expectations that a rollout date would be announced, all that happened was that the minister confirmed the release of a tender for the supply of fibre-optic cable. The Tasmanian announcement is being labelled as a stunt. Before any rollout can begin on the National Broadband Network, the implementation study commissioned by the Labor government which will deliver the rollout plan is expected to take eight months. Eight months will take us up to the middle of next year.

Labor again have underdelivered on cost. The implementation study is estimated to cost taxpayers around $54 million. If you add to that the $20 million already wasted on the Labor government’s failed National Broadband Network mark 1 tender process, the Labor government would have spent around $74 million, and we do not have one broadband connection to show for it. Labor have again underdelivered on probity. A greater issue in this broadband farce is the Labor government’s refusal to provide a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of the project. The coalition has repeatedly called on the Labor government to provide this information and the government have refused. Is that the action of a responsible and accountable government? I think not.

I congratulate my coalition colleague the Hon. Nick Minchin, who made a freedom of information request for documents relating to the failed National Broadband Network mark 1 tender process and for information on the formulation of Labor’s reckless mark 2 plan. The coalition believe such a move is in the public interest, but we are told the cost to have the freedom of information request processed will be $24,000, and there are no guarantees that anything will even be released. Our job as opposition is to hold the government accountable, and on the broadband issue the Labor government have much to answer for. Labor have failed to deliver on their promises. Labor have been in government almost two years and all we have in the broadband plan is an announcement for the supply of fibre-optic cable—and promises, promises and more promises.

As I said at the beginning, the Labor government’s broadband plan is a farce. On broadband, the Labor government has a track record of broken broadband deadlines. Now people waiting for broadband have to wait another eight months for the implementation study recommendations. How long after that will the rollout start? We have no idea. What we do know is that the delaying of the introduction of the Labor government’s broadband plan could see this parliament going through another election without the government having delivered a single new broadband connection. The $43 billion broadband proposal will take at least eight years to implement and will be funded predominantly from government debt. Adding to the problem is the massive $315 billion gross debt created by Labor’s economic mismanagement. The coalition is concerned that taxpayers will be forced to fund all of Labor’s risky $43 billion spend on their broadband plan.

It is important to note that the coalition had a broadband guarantee program that provided subsidised support for Australians living in broadband black spot areas. We had a plan because we had the money in the bank to spend on infrastructure for all. We had the money in the bank because of sound, responsible, conservative economic management. We not only paid off $96 billion of Labor debt but also created a $60 billion Future Fund, other funds for roads, health, education, water infrastructure and the Building Australia Fund. The coalition can deliver. On economic management, the Labor Party will be remembered for creating a mountain of debt that is not sustainable. This will lead to rising interest rates, rising unemployment rates and budget cuts in the future, which will impact on programs, services and benefits to the Australian people—the taxpayers who have every right to expect their elected government will be responsible with that money.

The Australian economy will have challenges ahead. Given the time it will take to finally roll out the plan and the enormous budget cuts that will have to be made, I seriously doubt that the Labor Party’s national broadband plan will happen. I again mention the suburbs in my electorate where 5,000 people will not have their needs met by this plan: Agnes Banks, Freemans Reach, Kurmond, Kurrajong Heights, Londonderry, Marsden Park, Pitt Town, Vineyard, Yarramundi and Colo Heights. They deserve a broadband plan that will respond to their needs and provide them with access to 21st century broadband communications.