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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3657

Dr MIKE KELLY (Eden-Monaro) (10:49): I'm proud to be able to support the amendment proposed to the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017 by the member for Greenway and to follow on from my friend the member for Dobell, who has so eloquently expressed a lot of the issues that we've been experiencing, particularly in rural and regional Australia, over this disastrous management of the National Broadband Network. This government has completely destroyed the complete transition of what was a clear, consolidated and efficient process to deliver effective broadband services to this nation.

Let's have a little historical reminder of how we got to this point. We had 13 years of the Howard government where there were 18 failed attempts to do something about this issue, and nothing happened. Every year we slipped further and further behind not only our like countries in the OECD but also competitors, trade partners and countries in the region. If you look at the economic success story that South Korea has been, the almost 100 per cent fibre penetration of their industry and homes has meant a lot to their growth as a country. Here was an opportunity for us to achieve that final breaching of the tyranny of distance and overcome the final barrier towards the full economic realisation of the potential of this country, particularly in human resources in rural and regional Australia. So it was critically important. There were so many things that could have been spun off it—the benefits to education, the benefits to health for remote Australians, and, in particular, the ability for businesses in the new start-up space and innovators, who only needed good, sound broadband communications infrastructure, to be able to operate anywhere. That was the beauty of it. Particularly in a region like mine—sitting where we do and offering a wonderful lifestyle—if they had had that support, businesses could have been operating for the benefit of their families and local areas and not needing to be in one of our big cities.

A really wonderful example of that has been what Jane Cay has achieved with her company, birdsnest, in Cooma, because we have reasonable communications there. She established her company and grew from a very tiny operation. Now, she has been announced as No. 1 in the top 50 people in ecommerce by Internet Retailing in 2018 and winner of the Hot Innovator award at the Power Retail All Star Bash 2018. Birdsnest was voted as the fourth-best place to work in Australia for the over-100 employees category in the Great Place to Work awards 2017. She employs over 110 local women. There's actually only one bloke there. They have incredibly flexible, wonderful working arrangements, Google style, for women who have kids they have to take to school or who have something to do on the farm et cetera. It is a wonderfully inclusive workplace that encourages innovation and ideas from all of the workers. They're loving it there. Birdsnest was also a winner of the best online marketing initiative for their changing room service. If you haven't seen that, you should check it out—at least women should. It's has a wonderful set-up where you can go into a changing room and it has an iPad on the wall where you can mix and match your clothing and accoutrements. They'll then bring it out from the warehouse and talk you through it. Also, they were a winner of the best online customer service in the Online Retailer Industry Awards 2015-16. They show what is possible in a country town by taking advantage of good communications infrastructure. But that opportunity is sadly missing in the broader reaches of Eden-Monaro and, in fact, in large parts of our landscape. That was what the NBN offered us.

When we came into government, we had a very simple three-technology approach to this. There would be fibre to the premises where that could be effectively and efficiently delivered. In remote areas or if terrain issues were a problem, you would have a mix of either fixed wireless towers or the satellite service. Labor commissioned the two satellites that are up there now, but it had been Labor's plan to put a third satellite up. One of the issues you have with services on satellites is that volume has to be managed carefully. Large volume on satellites will slow down the service. But what this government tried to do was create a multitechnology Frankenstein's monster disaster, which created a whole range of extra expenses and costs in the system. This bill, in introducing this levy, is a bit of a confession note to that. When we came into office, they were running with this OPEL idea, which some might remember. For Eden-Monaro, they put out maps of how this completely wireless service was meant to support Eden-Monaro. The only problem with their maps was they didn't take into account mountains or vegetation. I don't know if people are familiar with the terrain of Eden-Monaro, but we do have one or two hills. In fact, we have the Great Dividing Range right through the middle of it, we have Australia's highest mountain and we have a hell of a lot of vegetation. These maps were complete rubbish, and within 48 hours they had to be taken off the web. So the OPEL offering for Eden-Monaro would not have worked; it would have been a disaster. Nothing that the coalition put forward worked.

When we came in, we had some major public policy issues to resolve. There was the structural separation of Telstra, something that should have been tackled long ago. We had to do the deals with Telstra and Optus on the arrangements for setting up a wholesale platform on which retailers could compete and the universal pricing policy approach to that, which was really going to benefit rural and regional people. On top of that, we had to ensure that there was a wider spread of fixed wireless towers so that there wouldn't be so much pressure on the satellite services and everyone would get maximum benefit from the new service. Obviously, the design of that system required building a slow development of productivity as that process got rolling. If it had been left in place, we would have been hitting high straps of productivity and speed right now, as we were really swinging into that. In addition to those big public policy challenges, we faced the discovery of asbestos in the pits around the country. That was no small matter. I personally know the hazards of asbestos, having worked with asbestos victims when I first came out of university. That was a massive challenge.

It is completely hypocritical and disingenuous of the coalition to have pointed the bone at us for any delays in establishing this massive new infrastructure project. It's been the largest in our history, but we got it rolling. There are so many problems that the coalition has created through its approach to this. One is that it severely underestimated the failings in the HFC capabilities that existed in the cities and the cost of even creating the software management of the system, across this Frankenstein's-monster mix. It's estimated to have cost well over $1 billion to address that issue. And how absurd and insane it was that they had to go out and buy another 15,000 kilometres of copper wire for this system—unbelievable, in the context of where the rest of the world is going!

The copper has been a huge impediment. I'm getting so much feedback from constituents that the fibre-to-the-node process is just not doing the job. The further you are from the node and the greater the number of people using it—it's like an elephant trying to push itself through a garden hose at the end of the node line. It's a disaster. Worse than that, there is now a digital divide in some places, like Queanbeyan, right across the border here. Half of Queanbeyan received fibre to the premises while large areas of Jerrabomberra ended up with fibre to the node. That has not only created poor services—and Jerrabomberra is a very tech-savvy community with a lot of small business people who would have made the most of those services. Not only are they missing out on that level of service; this digital divide has created a devaluation of their properties. People now come to Queanbeyan and say, 'Does this premises have fibre to the premises or is it on the node?' It is definitely having an impact on decisions people are making when buying homes in Queanbeyan. This digital divide has created inequity across so many levels through this crazy multi-technology mix that's been created by the coalition.

In addition to that, we're having issues with Sky Muster, as I mentioned. Every time I hold a forum in Eden-Monaro, we get a massive roll-up. This is something that's really burning in the bush, on top of the issues about the forced mergers that we've had. The anger in rural and regional communities over the coalition's attempt to protect the banks—rural and regional people were the ones who were most upset about this banks issue, and communications is right up there with those grievances. I would have 100 people roll up to a forum in Queanbeyan, and dozens and dozens of people in other towns around Eden-Monaro, to discuss these problems. There's a huge volume of correspondence, as the member for Dobell referred to; we've had the exact same experience.

In Eden-Monaro in 2017, 33 per cent of all premises were only able to connect to the NBN via Sky Muster. That was well beyond what was originally intended. With that, we've had people seeking clarification on how the NBN services were allocated to certain areas. They can't get answers to those questions, because the government hasn't allowed the information on how they've been allocated to be released. We've continued to call on the government to commission an independent expert review of the NBN satellite service to set the record straight and provide a clear plan forward.

One really good example of how this has played out, if you need further proof, is that of the Barton Highway—and I'll be happy to speak more on the Barton Highway as a major disingenuous infrastructure deception that the government's committing on the people of the Yass Valley. The Barton Highway in Murrumbateman is presenting a great divide in NBN services. Residents on the western side of the Barton Highway are able to connect to fibre to the node, while those who are on the eastern side of the highway are only able to connect to Sky Muster. There's absolutely no logical, technical reason people can see for that, and no explanation has been given by NBN as to why there would be such a difference in technology based on this road border. It's just crazy.

We also know in Eden-Monaro that we're under one of the busiest air routes in the world. They're offering up services under Sky Muster to those airlines, which is putting further strain on the services available to my community. It's been plagued with ongoing installation and reliability issues as well as higher costs compared to other NBN services. We had data limits as well, which had to be addressed. The feedback I'm getting from the community is continuing to pile up. If the government had stuck to our original plan of putting up three satellites, we would have seen a bit of an easing of the circumstances there, but we certainly need more fixed wireless towers to take the burden off the satellite.

We've seen the huge volume of complaints that have emerged in the TIO report in April. There has been a 204 per cent increase in complaints. Certainly I've been experiencing all of that, with people coming to me to try and get their matters sorted out. We really have to get this sorted out, because it's holding us back. Many small business people have also come to me about the limitations that have been placed on what they want to do as a result of confusion over communications infrastructure.

This is going to be a mess that Labor will be required to unravel, because it's very clear that, in all the history of the coalition's dealing with this, they just haven't managed to come to grips with it. I remember, vividly, Senator Helen Coonan. She was a wonderful lady, a decent person, but she'd been pitchforked into this issue at the end of the Howard government and she clearly didn't understand any of the technical aspects. It was a shock to watch her trying to explain the OPEL plan to my regional communities in Tumut and elsewhere. She left people completely unimpressed. This was in contrast to Stephen Conroy, who was well and truly over all the technical issues. In fact, my only issue with Stephen, when I took him to the communities, was to try to get him to tone down the technical language so that people could get their heads around it. He was completely across all this. If we'd stuck with the original plan, how much further ahead would we be now and how many gains would we have made?

I remember at the time that one estimate of the benefit of our original NBN plan to our economy was that it would have added $60 billion worth of value to the Australian economy. That's the kind of investment that we want to see from government to address our growth and our new economy issues. We've seen none of that imagination, none of that understanding out of this government. The only plan they've been able to put forward in all the five years they've been in government has been a tax cut to big business. That's it. Where's the imagination? Where's the creativity? Where's the approach to addressing the skills and workforce needs of this country to address the huge technology curve that's presenting this nation with problems?

Instead of understanding that challenge, what have they done, Madam Deputy Speaker Bird? They've cut TAFE spending. I know this is a great passion of yours and that you've put so much love and passion into it and understand how important it is, particularly to rural and regional areas. We've seen not only the $3 billion worth of cuts up until now but this extra $270 million hit. We are seeing all this when we in our region are facing the challenges of supporting Snowy 2.0, which is likely to be developed. This will see another 5,000 jobs, but we don't want them hived off to 457 visas or skilled migrants from overseas. Our kids in the region deserve to have those opportunities, and our workers, our kids and our entrepreneurs deserve good-quality communications to support and give flight to their imaginations and their business opportunities, to make rural and regional Australia grow. That's how we do it—not stupid decentralisation. (Time expired)