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Thursday, 10 May 2018
Page: 3681


Ms SWANSON (Paterson) (12:30): I rise today to speak to the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2017. We find ourselves in an era that none of us could have foreseen. We can order our children's lunches from the school's canteen via a smartphone app; most of our bills are paid online rather than going to the post office, as we used to do; we can check the surf conditions through a webcam without even having to drive to the beach; and we can turn the heater on at home without even being there. It is indeed a time of wonder and innovation. I think back to my dad bringing home his pay packet, mum tearing it open and the money being there. It's just not like that anymore. It is a time of wonder and innovation bound by one common thread, and that is the internet—more specifically: high-speed, reliable internet.

With each day that passes, education, health, our businesses and transport all become more heavily reliant upon this invisible wonder web that connects us all, unless, of course, you are one of the 60 per cent of Australians using the National Broadband Network who reported issues with the service within the last six months—that's according to Choice, the consumer organisation—or you're part of the 44 per cent who experienced very slow speeds, the 42 per cent who reported disconnections, dropouts and performance issues, or the 31 per cent who had problems in connecting altogether. We find ourselves in difficult times, attempting to keep ahead of the global technological wave while being weighed down by Prime Minister Turnbull's inferior NBN.

We are here today to consider two bills before the House: the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2017. Labor supports the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017 and its establishment of a statutory infrastructure provider, known as SIP. A SIP would ensure that all Australian homes and businesses are guaranteed access to high-speed broadband. This may be provided through NBN Co or an alternative provider. This bill will enshrine in legislation Labor's long-held commitment to providing NBN services in regional Australia: the universal service obligation.

In my electorate of Paterson, we have a depth and breadth of industries—some pushing innovation with emerging technologies, others re-examining their ways of working to stay relevant in a rapidly changing world. In each instance, the internet is the enabler. It's the connectivity, the thought-sharing, the fingertip access to a wealth of research. When you take all that away, the costs are far more reaching. Let me tell you about Bohemia Interactive Simulations. They're a small software business located in Williamtown, in our major defence tech park in my electorate of Paterson. The ability to both upload and download software is imperative to the operations of this software business. To do so in a timely and cost effective manner is crucial to what they do. To be able to grow and expand their operation, businesses need reliable, affordable and fast internet speeds, yet Bohemia cannot get access to the NBN.

Bohemia are paying five times more by connecting through a private operator than they would via the NBN. This money should be spent on employing people, but they've got to pay more to do business because the NBN is not up to scratch. Ryan Stephenson is the director of Bohemia, and he says Bohemia cannot expand their operations because the speed of the internet just won't support it. He says Bohemia cannot employ more staff because more people using the internet would slow it down even more and make day-to-day operations even harder. What irony—not being able to employ more people in an internet software business because the internet's too slow! This is an example of how a substandard NBN rollout is stunting Australian small business. It's absolutely slaying that growth and innovation that our very own Prime Minister crowed and trumpeted about and told us we all needed to embrace. Well, it's a little bit difficult to embrace something that you can't even get hold of in the first place. And Bohemia's situation is in no way unique.

Clearly I'm outraged that innovative, world-class entrepreneurs and industries that choose to come to my electorate of Paterson, which is at the absolute vanguard of defence technology, are faced with an archaic stumbling block that has the potential to jeopardise their entire operations. It is clearly not good enough. Bohemia's experience is the result of Prime Minister Turnbull's inferior NBN, which, incidentally, has cost Australian taxpayers $4 billion more to build. It delivers slower speeds than were promised. In fact, the technology is so substandard that in many cases it's incapable of delivering at the level it was sold at. It's less reliable. It's so unreliable that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman has experienced a 160 per cent rise in complaints. That's 160 per cent! To put that in perspective, the banking and finance industry received four times fewer complaints—and there have been a heck of a lot of complaints about the banks.

Unsurprisingly, many of the NBN complaints came from regional Australia—well, there you go. They didn't just come from businesses; they came from individuals, families, schools, even medical practitioners unable to connect with patients. In this era of technological advancement, a great many students are learning in a bring-your-own-device environment. Their homework is issued online, it needs to be completed online and it needs to be submitted online. What happens, then, if a child lives in an area that has substandard connectivity? How does it impact their grades and, indeed, their potential, and what of study?

I can speak of my own experience. My daughter did the HSC last year. We used to have a family round table each week to look at what assessments were due, what was coming up and who would use which internet, because we're too far from the exchange to get ADSL and we haven't got the NBN where I live. We had to borrow dongles and figure out who would use what on the internet just so my daughter could achieve her Higher School Certificate. Clearly, this is not about me, but I'm just another example of the many people in my electorate and across Australia more broadly who are facing this problem. They're laughing—well, they're not laughing; I think they're completely dismayed.

The thing that adds injury to insult is the way the Prime Minister, who you'd be forgiven for thinking had invented the internet himself—and I'm sure he's quite capable in terms of things technological—was so caustic about Labor's plan to deliver fibre to the premises and how his model would be so superior, so much faster, so much cheaper. Well, none of this has been borne out. If he'd only had the decency to say, 'I'm sorry, but I really made a mistake on that, and we want to get it fixed up for you as quickly as we can.' But there's been no such backdown from the Prime Minister; we just see this arrogance.

Almost a decade ago Labor initiated an important reform that led to a statement of expectations issued to the NBN board. This statement of expectations required that the company ensure all Australians had access to the NBN. It was fundamentally about the equality of opportunity for which Labor proudly stands. It was about making sure every Australian could access high-speed broadband, no matter where they lived or worked. It was a fundamental part of this new and brilliant technology, a little bit like the telephone when it came along. I am proud to be part of a party that fought to ensure we reached the point we have now, where the fundamental reforms of the statement of expectations become legislation.

Even with the passage of this bill, however, we remain in a mess. Prime Minister Turnbull's NBN bears little resemblance to that which Labor planned. Fibre's been abandoned, and in many instances we have a $49 billion multi-technology mess. It costs more and does less, and it's four years behind schedule. In no way is the Turnbull government's NBN a first-class fibre network. The long-term economics of it are decidedly unsound. We have missed the greatest opportunity, and I weep for future generations, who really could have had something exciting—what this could have been, rather than the miserly expression of what it's become.

In 2013 the coalition committed to deliver the NBN for $29.5 billion and have it completed by 2016. What a load of rot—a bit like the rotting copper you've relied on. Between now and then, the cost has blown out from $29.5 billion to $41 billion to $49 billion, and the completion date has blown out from 2016 to 2020. Seriously, you should all hang your heads in shame. I don't know how you can come in here and gloat about it.

As Deputy Chair of the Select Committee on Regional Development and Decentralisation, I must impress upon the Prime Minister and his government the importance of ensuring every Australian home and business has access to high-speed broadband. We cannot sacrifice the rights of our regional, rural and remote Australians, and that's why my colleagues and I today stand here to support the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017. The companion to this proposed legislation, the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2017, is in some ways the bandaid that the Turnbull government is proffering to fix the broken economics around its NBN rollout. There is no substitute for the first-class fibre NBN supported by sustainable funding mechanisms that ensured sound long-term economics. However, schedule 4 of the bill is a way of ensuring that the NBN competes on a level playing field. This is an important market mechanism and can only benefit everyday Australians.

The upshot of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2017 is that the Turnbull government will introduce a telecommunications levy. The Regional Broadband Scheme levy will add $84 a year to the bills of up to 400,000 consumers and businesses on non-NBN networks. That equates to $7.10 a month. The cost will rise to $7.80 by 2021. This is, in Labor's view, a regrettable choice. There were better and more efficient ways to achieve a level playing field. Under Labor's plan, high-speed broadband would have been extended to unprofitable areas through a universal wholesale pricing scheme. NBN users in cities, who generally receive higher wages, were better placed to pay more and would have helped cross-subsidise services in the regions, which incur a higher cost.

With Turnbull's second-rate NBN, nearly one in two customers on the copper NBN were paying for plans the network could not deliver. They've been compensated but will not be able to achieve those high speeds or pay for them under the existing technology. But the government's economic plan assumes uptake of and payment for those high-speed plans, plans that would require an upgrade from the current copper footprint for which—surprise, surprise!—there is no funding set aside.

Prime Minister Turnbull's decision to bet on copper has undermined the entire economic plan of the NBN. It's been a liability for broadband consumers and for Australian taxpayers. This places pressure on the sustainability of the funding arrangements for the NBN. That in turn has the potential to jeopardise the services that NBN Co can provide to Australians.

As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker Hastie, NBN Co is required to provide broadband in areas that are unprofitable to service. No other provider shares this obligation. That means NBN fixed-line competitors can target low-cost, high-profit areas in the NBN footprint, in places like apartment buildings and central business districts, and leave the tough stuff—the regions—to NBN Co.

As I said earlier, Labor considers it essential that all Australians have access to fast, reliable broadband. Considering all that is at stake, we support the Regional Broadband Scheme. We consider it to be appropriate that the costs of regional broadband are shared among companies who choose to compete directly with the NBN. But make no mistake, this entire NBN mess will go down as one of the great travesties and shames of this time in Australia.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Hastie ): I remind members, in accordance with standing order 64, to refer to members by their appropriate title. The previous speech should have referred to 'Prime Minister Turnbull', not 'Turnbull'.