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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3674


Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (12:00): Oh, the NBN and the way in which this government has spectacularly failed to roll out the NBN, particularly to regional Victoria and my constituents in the Bendigo electorate! The Prime Minister really needs to wear how he has failed. He turned up in Bendigo when he was the shadow minister for communications and he promised Be.Bendigo, the Bendigo chamber of commerce, that we, across the Bendigo electorate, would have the NBN sooner, faster and cheaper. Well, on all three promises the Prime Minister failed, first as the communications minister and then as the Prime Minister. There is his arrogance when listening to the people in the bush, engaging with the people in the bush and learning from the experiences so we can fix the rest of the rollout going forward. It is so disappointing that we continue to have delays and we continue to have problems with the NBN rollout.

I will give people in the chamber a bit of background about the diversity of the NBN experiences in my electorate, the Bendigo electorate, and why Labor support some of the reforms but we want to see others heavily scrutinised. We have quite a significant fixed wireless network in the Bendigo area. In the south of the electorate we have a number of towers and in the north of the electorate we have a number of towers, but the towers are not keeping up with the growth of Bendigo. The rollout under this government was so bad. Early on, Julia Gillard was the Prime Minister when towers were built in the north, around Huntly and around Junortoun, but these towers were not switched on until the 2016 election. People were trying to access the network. Retailers would sell people a product and then they tried to connect, but there was no connection—no connection whatsoever; they weren't able to connect. Only after it was made an election issue were the towers switched on. But it was a short-term fix and the service is very slow. Why is the service slow? A tower was due to be built at Mount Camel, near Heathcote, and it was never built, so the government is trying to link nine relay towers to one tower in Bendigo South. So, the further you are from the tower in Bendigo South, the slower your service.

We have been inundated with complaints from people around Huntly and around Junortoun who have a slow and inferior service through the fixed wireless network. One particular resident—and I shouldn't laugh, but he laughed with me about this—actually has a tower. He hosts a tower—it's on his property—but he can't get access to the fixed wireless service when it's on his property. So that people understand the close distance I'm talking about: Huntly and Junortoun are suburbs of Bendigo; they are five kilometres from the CBD of Bendigo. I cannot believe that the government is still saying to businesses and households less than five kilometres from Bendigo—the second-biggest regional city in Victoria—that you have to cop slow, fixed wireless services or, worse, compete with farmers and compete with really remote and regional Australia for Sky Muster. It's unbelievable that the government is still not listening to people in the regions. It would just make sense to roll out more fibre to the kerb and fibre to the premises in places like Bendigo. With more customers on the fibre network you would have fewer customers on the fixed wireless network or on Sky Muster.

I want to take the opportunity during this debate to raise a couple of other examples. When I stand up and raise examples in this place, NBN Co is actually listening. I will log a few service calls in the hope that NBN is listening and that they will actually act on a few of these. When I've had the chance to raise questions in parliament, when I've had the chance to raise issues on this floor, that's how I seem to get a reaction out of NBN Co, and that's definitely how to get a reaction out of the minister's office.

This one will be of interest to people: La Trobe University. We are trying to be a university city. In the suburb of Flora Hill there is a blackspot, and they're told there is no allocation of any kind of NBN at all. It starts at the edge of the university—can you believe it—runs through Flora Hill and takes in a couple of streets. There is no node to be built, there is no access to fixed wireless and there is no access to satellite. It's where people studying at the university live. It takes in part of Keck Street and part of Curtin Street, and it runs all the way to Somerville Street. It's right next to this blackspot next to Bendigo South East College. If there is ever a place in Bendigo that needs access to fibre to the premises and to fast internet, it's right near the university. Yet it is in the too-hard basket for this government and it is sitting to the side.

Then we have Bendigo Fireworks, a small business being run from somebody's home. Peter Daley has spoken to me and spoken publicly about the pushback that he constantly gets about trying to connect to the NBN. Unfortunately his experience hasn't been resolved. He can't get access to decent internet, and it means the end of his business. He's been told by NBN Co that the soonest he can be connected is 2020. Now, he is not that far. Bendigo is a regional seat. He is in Strathfieldsaye, a growing suburb. His house is before the shopping centre in Strathfieldsaye, and he cannot get access to fast broadband. It has been a failure of this government not to run fibre to the premises, fibre to the kerb or even fibre to the node in his part of the world, and it will mean the end of his business if NBN Co doesn't step in and fix this. There was a response from NBN Co in April 2018. They said, 'Look, he could have access to fixed wireless, planned to be available in January to June 2020.' It is still not good enough. This business needs access to the internet right now. It's not that hard. Peter is in a regional city and can't get access to the NBN.

Another constituent complaint that I've had is from Kelly Howard, who is running a business, Accountable Bookkeeping Solutions, from home. If we want to encourage women back into work, to be entrepreneurial and to set up businesses, they actually need fast internet to do it. NBN Co have said in relation to Kelly's case:

It appears the reason for the delay relates to a physical network shortfall. At this stage, it has been identified in the field that the network design is incorrect—

and that there needs to be a change. It's not good enough. If you know it's a problem, get the technicians out there and get it fixed. Kelly Howard and her business need it now. It shouldn't have to be up to me to raise this in parliament for NBN Co to employ people to fix it.

David has fixed wireless with unsustainable, slow speeds. He is one of our people living in Redesdale. He is living a little bit further from Bendigo, but, in saying that, he is living between Bendigo and Melbourne. He is less than 50 kilometres away—not that far from Melbourne at all. It takes him about 50 minutes to drive to Melbourne.

We are talking about people in Woodend. A tower is not being built in Woodend. As a result of this government not building a tower in Woodend, the poor businesses and households of Spencer Street continue to have multiple versions of technology rolling out. Spencer Street is one that I do wish to highlight. There are some people on ADSL2, some people on ADSL1, some people who have been told to use satellite and some people who have been told to use a dongle. They will have absolutely no access to the internet. This is one street in one part of my electorate, only 45 minutes by V/Line to Melbourne. It's faster for them to go to Melbourne to do their work than to wait and sit at home and do it on their computers. That is the disgrace of this government when it comes to rolling out the NBN.

I could speak for hours in this place about this government's failure to roll out the NBN across Bendigo. There are problems in Golden Square. There are problems in Eaglehawk. I am disappointed that this government will not listen to the community of Bendigo and our businesses and the fact that its rollout is now starting to cost us jobs.

One of the businesses that I have raised in this place is Industrial Conveyancing Australia. The response from NBN Co was just unacceptable. They design systems. They are an advanced manufacturer. They've had contracts with Coca-Cola and with Qantas. When you drive to their place, when you turn left at Howard Street, you drive past housing estates that have either fibre to the premises or fibre to the node, but all this government can offer them is fixed wireless. If this government were serious about supporting our manufacturers, if it were serious about supporting regional Victoria and helping to unlock its potential, then there would have been funding in their budget for NBN Co to roll out fibre to the premises to every single one of our industrial estates and to every single one of our businesses.

We are a smart city that wants to engage more. We want to build up advanced manufacturing, but, under this government, we are unable to. Quite simply, under this Prime Minister and this government we have an inferior NBN. It's cost $4 billion more to build than what was originally committed. It's delivered slower speeds—and I've highlighted some examples in my speech today. It is less reliable. Dropouts are constantly occurring. It is costing more to maintain. The skill level of some of the contracted technicians coming out is below standard. It's exposed more competition for more wireless. The cost of upgrading is greater. It's generating less revenue from those willing to pay. This is a real problem when it comes to what's in the bill that is in front of us, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017: because the government have rolled out an inferior NBN, the NBN is not going to make the money that was first forecast. If we had rolled out fibre to the premises to begin with, the original Labor plan, we wouldn't be in this situation.

We hear report after report of NBN Co having to write down its expected revenue. We know that there are problems with the product that retailers are selling. We know that people aren't getting the speeds that they're trying to buy, and yet this government continues to do too little. This bill was late in coming to this place, and it needs more work to ensure that people in the regions will get access to the internet. It's really easy for a Prime Minister living in the inner city of Sydney and for metro based MPs to just dismiss this, but it is a real issue in the regions. In the regions, where people have no access to the internet other than Sky Muster or fixed wireless, we need to ensure we end the digital divide that exists.

I do want to acknowledge that, after I raised a question in this place, the minister's office and NBN Co did fix the issue for our 76-year-old friend who lives in Castlemaine. I want to repeat this story because it's one of hundreds across my electorate. Our friend is 76 years old. When the NBN Co contractor came out, they ran the cable for her new NBN connection over the fence, across the yard, under the bushes and through her bedroom window and basically put everything into the bedroom. She contacted my office because she could no longer lock the window. The NBN Co contracted technician left. After I raised the issue in question time, NBN Co did react, and they sent out a directly employed NBN Co technician, who had the skills and qualifications, who was able to do the testing and to fix the problem—and it was fixed within a couple of hours. It shouldn't take a question to the Prime Minister in question time to get an issue fixed. That was one of hundreds of complaints that I've received, and they are ongoing. There is a skill problem with the technicians and the contractors that NBN Co have engaged. There are people being exploited, working in these jobs, and the government needs to address this.

Quite frankly, what this government needs to get serious about and fund is decent NBN technology in the regions. We need to start fixing these problems. There are far too many problems sitting in the too-hard basket. The levies, the charging, and how the government is trying to make the numbers stack up will not make up for the fact that we have areas around the university that have no access to NBN and that we have businesses who are being told they will get Sky Muster and not fibre to the premises. This government is killing productivity and connectivity in Bendigo in central Victoria, and it needs to step up.