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Wednesday, 20 June 2007
Page: 68

Senator CONROY (2:21 PM) —My question is to Senator Coonan, the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. Can the minister explain which of her confusing and contradictory claims about her second-rate wireless broadband package is her current policy? Is it Monday’s claim that the network would deliver up to 12 megabits per second for 99 per cent of Australia, or Tuesday morning’s claim that the network would deliver a minimum of 12 megabits per second for 99 per cent of Australia, or Tuesday afternoon’s claim that the network would deliver a minimum of 12 megabits per second for 100 per cent of Australia? Why can’t the minister get her story straight, and what grandiose claim will the minister make today about what her second-rate broadband package will deliver?

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —The only second-rate broadband package I know of is the Labor Party’s, which does not have a technical plan or one piece of paper to support it. I am very happy to talk about mine. As I have said on dozens of occasions this week, high-speed broadband will be available to 99 per cent of the population. I said it again in answer to an earlier question. The Australian Broadband Guarantee ensures that the remaining one per cent of the population, those in the most remote areas of the country who cannot get an alternative service, are entitled to a subsidy of $2,750 per customer for satellite broadband services.

The Howard government has always been firmly committed to providing a world-class broadband network to all Australians regardless of where they live. The OPEL network will extend high-speed services to 99 per cent of the population and provide speeds of 12 megabits per second by mid-2009. Under this government, 100 per cent of the population are guaranteed a broadband service and 99 per cent of the population will have high-speed broadband by 2009—about five years earlier, I think, than the very best the Labor Party can do. It is, of course, very cheeky of the Labor Party to run around trying to make a point about the difference of one per cent when with Labor’s plan we are talking about high-speed broadband coverage to only 72 per cent of the population—

Senator Abetz —That’s a 25 per cent difference.

Senator COONAN —and then only by 2013, Senator Abetz. Under Labor, the remaining 25 per cent will be left stranded without any broadband service. I repeat my clear challenge to Mr Rudd and the Labor Party to provide costings, coverage maps and technical information about their broadband proposal for the full scrutiny of the Australian public. I do not think they can and I think that is their problem. It has been 89 days since the Labor Party put out a plan and nothing more than a press release. I say to the Labor Party: if you are really serious about this you ought to get on with standing up for a bit of public scrutiny. We are very happy to do this. We have a fully costed, fully deliverable plan for fast broadband to 99 per cent of the population. No-one will be left out. A hundred per cent of Australians will be covered by broadband.

Senator CONROY —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Why did the minister last night secretly doctor her own media release of yesterday, which originally made the farcical claim that the government would deliver a minimum speed of 12 megabits per second to 100 per cent of Australia? Given that the minister also made this absurd claim in question time yesterday, why didn’t the minister immediately come back to the Senate and correct the record, as the standing orders require? Doesn’t the minister stand exposed as being grossly deceptive in trying to spin her second-rate service?

The PRESIDENT —Senator, I think the accusation you made against a minister may be unparliamentary.

Senator CONROY —I am happy to withdraw that and replace it with ‘misleading’.

The PRESIDENT —Not deliberately misleading?

Senator CONROY —No, she is grossly misleading.

Senator COONAN (Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) —Apart from throwing around a few descriptions here and there, poor old Senator Conroy could not even turn up to question time yesterday, so it is good to see him back and it is good to know that he thinks a mix of technologies is a very important thing to have. As we know, he has had to do an embarrassing backflip, having told a whole conference—

Senator Chris Evans —I raise a point of order, Mr President, which goes to the question of relevance. I know the minister cannot spend more than two minutes trying to explain her own policy, but the question was: did she in fact doctor or withdraw her press release yesterday, which carried the claim of 100 per cent coverage; why didn’t she come into the Senate and correct the record; and, what is the current claim she makes? It was a very clear question and she has made no attempt to answer it.

The PRESIDENT —There is no point of order.

Senator COONAN —As I was saying, the Labor Party are the ones who are all over the place on this. They have Senator Conroy suggesting there should be mixes of technologies and then coming in here and worrying about whether or not there has been some secret doctoring of a press release. What nonsense! Of course I have not secretly doctored anything.