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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3672


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (11:49): I'd like to make a few remarks on behalf of the Greens about some of the technical aspects of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017, but I'd also like to share with the House the impact on my constituents of the Liberal government's complete botching of what had been a good plan that was going to deliver some of the infrastructure that this country needs. Of course, Melbourne, being a capital city electorate, is home to many universities, knowledge centres and businesses, which are now suffering as a result. As to the bills specifically under consideration, there are some brief remarks I want to make here that will be expanded on when the bills proceed to the other place.

Firstly, we would make the point that, if and when the bills go to the other place, they should be considered separately. We welcome the introduction of the statutory infrastructure provider obligations, which are set out in schedule 3, because they will start to ensure that all people have access to high-speed broadband. In our view, these requirements seem to be consistent with the Productivity Commission's review of the telecommunications universal service obligations. We broadly agree with the amended network rules set out in schedules 1 and 2. We strongly support the rollout of the NBN to rural and regional Australia and acknowledge the need to cross-subsidise non-commercial services. But, certainly at this stage, we do not support the implementation of the Regional Broadband Scheme as proposed in schedule 4. We would recommend splitting schedule 4 of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2017 and introducing them separately. As I said, that matter will be pursued further—not here by way of amendments, but it's certainly something that we'll want to address if and when it goes to the other place, because it's clear that these two pieces of legislation in that sense are not related and don't need to be considered together. And it's important that we have the opportunity to debate them separately because of what's at stake.

I now want to share with the House the impact that the botching of this scheme is having in my electorate of Melbourne. Fast, reliable and affordable internet should be a right for everyone in Australia. In 2018, people shouldn't be left wanting quality internet for use at home or in a business. But our internet is lagging behind the rest of the world under this government. Our internet is slow. In 2017, Australia was ranked 50th in the world for internet speeds, according to the Akamai State of the Internet report. This puts Australia behind nearly all other wealthy countries. Our internet speeds are less than half the speeds of leaders like South Korea. Not only is our internet slow; it's expensive. The Digital Australia: State of the Nation report ranks Australia 57th in the world when it comes to the affordability of fixed broadband. That's why we need to invest in a quality NBN that uses the right technology. We think the previous government had the right approach to this. That's why we supported it not only when we were in a power-sharing arrangement but also in the Senate.

But this Liberal government has botched the NBN, and, what's more, it has done so knowingly. What makes me really angry is that we know what needs to be done. Experts and the community are crying out for fast internet and a rollout of fibre-to-the-premises technology. The Greens have gone to election after election with clear policies that would deliver fast broadband for everyone. With political will, we could've already been rolling out high-speed, affordable and reliable internet to everyone in Australia for years. But this government has deliberately chosen to cut corners and use second-rate, outdated technologies. The government knows what would work; it has just decided not to use it.

The previous speaker made a very good point: why have they done it? They've done it for almost no other reason than for the sake of political differentiation; they wanted to be seen to be doing something different to what the previous government had done. As a result, they have completely botched it. They've taken a plan that could've worked and decided to botch it for no other reason than political differentiation, and it should be remembered that the current Prime Minister was the architect of that—destroying something that could've worked and, instead, turning it into something else, solely to put a different party's sticker on it. As a result, people in Australia and in my electorate of Melbourne are suffering. They are suffering as a result of the government playing politics with something that should be seen as an essential service and should be rolled out for the public good.

In today's Australia, just as we rely on being connected to our electricity networks and to our water and gas, we should also start looking at internet and telecommunications as an essential service. That's the way it has been approached for many, many years in the past. It's the way that we should continue to approach the question of internet access. But this government did not approach internet access as a question of the common good. Instead, it put politics above the public good and, as a result, we are all suffering. What the government has done will leave people around Australia, people in my electorate of Melbourne, worse off into the future. Because of this government, my constituents will lose out—and I say that's not good enough. Because of this government, many suburbs in Melbourne and elsewhere are only getting a fibre-to-the-node connection, meaning slower internet speeds and more cost to residents to connect. Upgrades can only be done at extra cost to residents. So the cost has been pushed downwards, and people are having to pay more out of their own pocket as a result of what this Liberal government has done.

Because of this government, in my electorate—bearing in mind that my electorate is one of the smallest in the country—there are now a variety of forms of internet connection within a very small defined geographical area. So, across the road in some places and across some suburbs in my electorate, they're only getting HFC technology, which was used for people to get Foxtel back in the 1990s. That's what they're getting, that's what they're being sold, instead of having fibre to the premises. Because of this government, most suburbs in my electorate have been left waiting for connection. Residents in Ascot Vale, Flemington, Kensington, North Melbourne, East Melbourne, Collingwood, Abbotsford and Fitzroy North have been told that, because of this government's botched job, they'll face another six- to nine-months delay in getting connected. And, when they are connected, for most of them it will be a connection to an outdated HFC technology that will just not stand the test of time.

This would all be bad enough if it only affected residential internet use, but the government's failure to properly invest in the NBN is going to harm employment too. Quality technology is critical to so many businesses, industries and employers, and nowhere is this more apparent than in inner Melbourne. Places like Richmond, Collingwood and Docklands are increasingly home to innovative industries, tech companies, start-up spaces and social innovators who depend on reliable and fast internet. If the NBN is slow or unreliable or it takes too long to get connected, employers will suffer or they will leave. This Prime Minister, who loves to talk about innovation and being agile, is on the verge of kicking out employers from places like Melbourne in the very industries that he purports to support, because they can't get decent, fast and affordable internet.

The government simply has not been accountable for any of these failures. Despite requests, I can't even get a map of the suburbs that have been hit by delays. My office has been contacted by Melbourne constituents who have had to wait for weeks or months without internet due to installation problems, and they've had to come to their local MP because there was nowhere else to go to get it fixed. You ask for a map about what's happening across the whole suburb and you don't get one. You have to piece it together by asking individual by individual, suburb by suburb, area by area and street by street.

I am furious that my constituents and the businesses that operate in my electorate have been left in the lurch by this government. It is not good enough. This government is actively blocking the sort of NBN rollout that would bring us into the 21st century, especially in a vibrant capital city area like Melbourne. Imagine if we had governments that had the vision to invest properly and continue investing in this key infrastructure and provide it publicly. In the 20th century, governments built transport, sewers and utilities because they knew it was in the public good. In the 21st century, the government should be investing in the NBN in the same way, not making a complete hash of it like the Liberals are doing.