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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3665


Ms O'NEIL (Hotham) (11:19): It is a great pleasure to contribute to the debate today on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017. I want to build on some of the comments the member for Indi has made. She is an incredibly passionate advocate for her community, as all of us in this chamber understand and acknowledge. She is talking about potential here, and that just frustrates me in this debate about the National Broadband Network, because in the electorate of the member for Indi and in the electorates of other members in this House, and certainly in my electorate, we know that we have businesses and innovative, smart people—scientists—who could be doing so much more, who could be taking their innovation and their knowledge right out to the farthest corners of the globe, but they're stymied, and it is frustrating. Deputy Speaker, I'm sure you experience this in your community when you talk to people there. I've spent a lot of time talking to farmers on this issue, and they tell you they could build much better and bigger businesses, but they can't upload receipts onto their computers so that they can pay their bills. I've talked to farmers who actually have to get up in the middle of the night to do their accounting, because that's the only time at which their internet will work fast enough for them to download the things they need for doing their accounting. Every time I engage in this debate about NBN, it is always in the context of missed opportunities. I'm happy to have a discussion today about some of the technical things. As the member for Indi said, we are talking about pretty basic standard services here.

It's disappointing for Labor MPs and other MPs to engage in this debate, because we know what could have been. The truth is that Labor had a better plan for this. That plan would have delivered fibre to the home to 93 per cent of Australians. That plan was going to cost a lot of money—no-one can deny that. I would point out that the coalition's plan—their half-baked effort—has cost a lot of money, too. Labor's plan would have cost a lot of money and it would have taken a long time to do, but, as our friend Tony Windsor says, 'You do it once, you do it properly, you do it with fibre.' We had a plan that would be coming to completion right now, and all of my constituents and almost all of the member for Indi's constituents—I'm assuming, as it depends on whether the satellite was going to be connected to her area—would have had a broadband connection. That broadband connection would have had a fundamental difference to the coalition's plan in the way it has connected Australians up to broadband—that is, it would have been futureproof.

We know that when we lay fibre under the ground we can continue to upgrade the technology that sits at either end, the technical electronics that help us to connect to the internet, but fibre is what's needed as a starting point. That's what we've missed out on. That's why the member for Indi's constituents, the member for Chifley's constituents and my constituents are not able to build the innovative businesses they could, because they are struggling with an internet that frankly is just not good enough for a First World country like Australia.

We are here to talk about some of the technical aspects of how the NBN is being regulated. I will go those issues, which are in the context of this extraordinarily frustrating public discussion on where we have ended up with a second-rate NBN. I feel that not a week goes by in which another scandal or another issue does not come up, whether it be about the fact that speeds are lower than expected, that the internet is more expensive or that it is less reliable. A lot of people in my community—and I will speak about their experiences specifically—are telling me that after signing onto the NBN they have an internet service today that is more expensive, less reliable and slower than it was when they had an ADSL connection. It's pretty frustrating.

I want to mention a recent report that I found incredibly disturbing. There are organisations that rank internet speeds around the world. The last report from one organisation, Speedtest, found that Australia has dropped to 55th in its global ranking of internet speeds. This is an incredible report and I would encourage those of you listening to look at it. The report lists countries like Lithuania, Latvia, Barbados, Thailand, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Moldova, Estonia, Czech Republic, Russia, Ukraine and Uruguay—I could list 56 countries before I get to Australia. We have an average download speed of 29.5 megabits per second. The fastest country in the world is Singapore, which has an average download speed of 174.94 megabits per second.

Mr Deputy Speaker, it is not a mystery as to why we are 56th in the world and Singapore is No. 1. Those of us who have been following this debate will be able to tell you why Singapore has a high internet download speed, and that is that Singaporean residences have fibre to the home. It is a real illustration of how badly wrong we have got this. We are seeing that the countries in the world that made the big one-off investment up-front in building fibre to the home are the countries that are leading the world in internet speeds, while the system that we've cobbled together with the different mix of technologies and the 'one street with one type of technology and the next street with another' approach is seeing us decline. We are getting worse over time, not better. There are all the other issues that I've talked about, as well as the expense and the issues around reliability.

I will speak briefly about the Statutory Infrastructure Provider scheme. The bill that is before us goes into a bit of detail about some changes that will be made. I've talked a lot about the government's failures on the National Broadband Network, but I'm happy to admit when the government gets something right. It's not all that often that I have to make that concession, so I'm happy to do so now.

Mr Husic: It makes a difference.

Ms O'NEIL: Exactly. I'm glad to see that the government will be putting the principle that all Australians should have access to a high-speed broadband connection into legislation, for what it's worth—as they say on the internet. It is a sensible extension of the reform that Labor started while in government, with the statement of expectations that we provided for the NBN Co. That statement required NBN Co to ensure that the network was available to all Australians, and the bill before us means that this principle will continue beyond the completion of work. It is a sensible reform, and I think the least we could expect. Given that we've got the NBN so badly wrong, we should at least have regulation that allows people to have that sense of certainty. It is a bit disappointing to see how long it took the government to get to this position and to realise that this was an important principle, but we've been campaigning for this for some time and it is great to see the government join us on that and we can have a bipartisan approach on at least this small element of the scheme. Perhaps it might be wishful thinking on my part, but if the government had moved ahead on this principle a little bit earlier then maybe we would have also seen them admit their mistake in trying to use old technologies for the NBN rollout, because that's the issue of controversy between the two big political parties in this country that needs us to get to a bipartisan position. We simply can't continue under the current constraints. It is not good enough for a First World economy, and we need to do better.

The Prime Minister and his government told us that they were scrapping the rollout of Labor's fibre-to-the home technology because it cost too much. That probably sounded like a good political exercise at the time, but I have to say today that I think most Australians would agree it would have been much more sensible, much more beneficial, to pay a bit more at the time and get internet that was going to last us beyond this current iteration of technologies. What we've also seen is that the cost of the Prime Minister's NBN has blown out to $4 billion more than the cost of Labor's fibre NBN. So we are back again at this incredible frustration—and I'm just reflecting what I hear from my constituents—of having thrown billions of dollars at this problem, but, because we've done it in this cobbled-together way, because we've had this irritating policy change between Labor and Liberal, we've ended up with an internet that is slower, more expensive and less reliable than it otherwise would have been. Indeed, a lot of my constituents are having slower, less reliable and more expensive internet than they had before their NBN was connected. You just can't believe how frustrated people are about this, Deputy Speaker.

I've spent a lot of time talking to my constituents about the issues that they are having, because my goal is that an incoming Labor government will try to do something to help fix some of these issues. I've got large parts of my electorate which have not been connected at all to the NBN and in the parts which have been connected there are huge complaints about what's going on. We have received so many complaints about the NBN that we have actually had to set up a survey to collect them all. I want to talk about some of the comments that I've received from my constituents. The first is from Debra in Moorabbin. She said:

We've gone backwards in this house for speed and connectivity. NBN often drops out and speeds are sometimes like old dial up. It's so frustrating. We rarely do work at home as a result.

Tracey in Dingley Village describes Turnbull's NBN as 'an exorbitant waste of money invested in backward technology'. I couldn't agree with you more, Tracey. Andrew from Oakleigh South, like many, has had problems with the installation process. He said:

NBN have damaged my house … and they also managed to stuff up the installation in my elderly neighbour's property at well … All this hassle for obsolete technology.

Stephen in Hughesdale said:

This is the worst and slowest internet I have had in a long time.

Paul in Keysborough said:

The NBN is no better than what I had before, in some ways it is worse.

Joanne in Clayton South said:

Australia is so far behind when it comes to the internet. This is outdated technology. If the government wants to spend tax payers money, give us something to be proud of and that is useful. Not this crap.

Excuse my French, Deputy Speaker. That was a direct quote, telling it like Aussies do. I'll end with Matthew in Cheltenham, who said:

I can't say anything nice so I won't say anything at all.

I can assure you that these comments go on and on and on. Among the many people who responded to our survey and those I have talked to about their NBN, I would say there is almost universal frustration and dissatisfaction with the service that is being provided. In the survey work that we did in my electorate, we found that 77 per cent of those connected to the NBN in Hotham are either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the network. Of those not yet connected to the NBN, 84 per cent don't want the old copper and cable technology that's planned for them; they want Labor's fibre connection straight to their home. In Hotham—and no surprise here—the vast majority of people connected to the NBN who are unsatisfied have HFC or FTTN. Those are the Prime Minister's old technologies that he cobbled together. It's meant to be called 'broadband'; they call it 'fraudband', and this is why.

But it's not just people in my electorate who are upset and frustrated by this. Poll after poll and survey after survey show us that Australians are fed up with the inferior NBN. They're fed up with the customer service that they're receiving from the organisations. They are fed up and frustrated with the poor speeds. They are fed up with poor reliability.

The Prime Minister's NBN is a failure. He should have done it once and done it with fibre. He could have done that. As a country we are paying a colossal price for the mistake that was made in choosing to cobble together technologies instead of doing it properly with fibre. We don't want a second-rate NBN that costs more and does less. I think it's time that the Prime Minister listened to the public and started to make a concerted effort to try to actually fix the mess that he's created, rather than going ahead as he had planned. Broadband isn't a luxury; it's a critical public service that needs to be done right. It's essential for the people in my electorate, it's essential for our local economy, and it's the least we could do as a government to provide them with this basic service. Many countries that have a much lower GDP per capita are finding parts to give their constituents much better services than we've been able to do. So I regard it as a failure of the government in a most profound way.

We are now having to deal with the consequences of these actions. One of the concerns I have is with the implementation of an internet tax on 400,000 residential and business services on non-NBN networks. These are the same networks that the Prime Minister, when he was in the Communications portfolio, encouraged. It is the constant failures with the NBN that have led us to this debate in this place. You are going to have member of parliament after member of parliament getting up and telling you the same thing, Deputy Speaker. We have the same message for the Prime Minister: the technology that you have chosen and the way that you have decided to do this are wrong. It is not taking us in the right direction; it is taking us backwards.

As I said at the beginning of my remarks, every year I get sick of having to look at survey after survey telling us that Australia, instead of leaping forward as we rightly should be doing with all of the incredible assets that we have in this country, is slipping further backwards on this fundamental technology. We had a so-called 'infrastructure budget' announced by the government a couple of days ago. What do you think matters more? Is it building a road or is it giving us a highway that is going to provide a foundation for the future growth of our economy? They can't get that right. I don't think that anyone looking at their record on the NBN would trust them to do any of the other things that are in that budget. It's good to have the opportunity to express the frustration of my constituents, and I've been pleased to do that today on behalf of the people of Hotham. Thank you.