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Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications
Role and potential of the National Broadband Network

TINGAY, Professor Steven J, Deputy Director, International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research


CHAIR: Welcome to today's hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you that the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as the respective houses. We have a written submission from you. For the interest of those listening to the broadcast, would you like to highlight the main issues in it, and then we will have a question-and-answer session?

Prof. Tingay : Sure.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Prof. Tingay : I am here to discuss a little bit about a project called the Square Kilometre Array, which is a next generation megascience project in astronomy. It is a radioastronomy project. It had its genesis about 20 years ago as an international project involving, roughly speaking, 20 countries. After that period of time the project has come into fruition, and over the next few years a site will be selected. Australia and New Zealand have bid as a consortium to host the SKA. It is one of the final two bidders, the other being southern Africa. A site selection decision will occur early next year. Following that, steps will be taken to undertake final design and then commence deployment of the instrument.

I will give a little bit of background. If you refer to the map of Australia, you will see an illustrative example of what the SKA might look like. The white lines across the map are existing fibre connections. The red dots represent clusters of radiotelescopes. You will notice a very large accumulation of telescopes in Western Australia and then a decreasing density of telescopes extending towards the east coast. The instrument is a continent sized, real-time-connected instrument. Each of those red dots produces large volumes of data that need to be transmitted back to a central location in Western Australia. From that combination of data, images are made of the universe. Basically, it is from those images that we undertake our science. That gives an idea of the scale of the instrument. It is really the combination of a few things that makes Australia a wonderful place to do this. We require a very radio-quiet environment. The cluster of telescopes in Western Australia is located in Murchison shire. It is a shire with a geographic extent equivalent to the country of the Netherlands with a population of around 100 people. So it is a very sparsely populated region, and that means no mobile phones, no TV transmitters, no FM radio transmitters, no cars and no industry. All of those things generate interfering signals that are many, many orders of magnitude stronger than the signals we are trying to detect from the early universe. So we have that in our favour. The other thing that is really nice about Australia is its geographic extent. We can accommodate maximum spacing between those antennas of greater than 3,000 kilometres, which is the distribution that you see.

I can talk a little about the data rates that we are talking about here. Each of those dots will hopefully produce something in the order of a couple of hundred gigabits per second and that may well be continuous—24 hours a day, seven days a week. Referring to (g) of the committee's terms of reference, the capacity of the NBN to interact with research and development and innovation investments, those data rates are clearly beyond what you would plug into the NBN via, for example, a household connection. This is a requirement to have alongside that capacity much, much higher performance capacity delivered by something like an organisation like AARNet. The data rates are very high. It is really pushing the envelope of technology and engineering as well as science.

I might give an example of how the initial phase of the NBN, the backhaul black spots program, is already interacting with radioastronomy. The first of those routes, Geraldton to Perth, connects on the Geraldton end to a CSIRO owned fibre that goes into the Murchison and connects on the Perth end to the recently funded, under development Pawsey High Performance Computing Centre, which is a new $80 million supercomputing investment focused on doing SKA science. The CSIRO owned fibre from the Murchison to Geraldton connects seamlessly with the black spots fibre from Geraldton to Perth and a collaboration between AARNet, the black spots program, CSIRO and the national research network has provided a seamless solution on that route with those disparate assets that could eventually carry 80 100-gigabit wavelengths—eight terabits per second. This provides a massive amount of future headroom for increased data rates and was done at relatively small levels of expenditure.

I think that is a nice example of how really cutting edge research has interacted already with that program. I note that that is a model that has evolved that may well benefit the full SKA. This is a model that could potentially be replicated across the country to each of those red dots that you see on the map. The potential for that to happen is quite a strong selling point for Australia and New Zealand to win the SKA bid. I could keep talking but maybe I will leave it for now.

CHAIR: You mentioned New Zealand there. Is there a view to connecting that? It is not showing on your map.

Prof. Tingay : It is not shown on the map because that is simply considering the potential of the NBN. This work has catalysed a much better research connection to New Zealand already. Only a couple of months ago we made the first science observations. We connected telescopes in New Zealand with telescopes in Australia via a new high-capacity link across the Tasman Sea. That would clearly need to be increased in capacity for SKA.

CHAIR: On the spread, are those other dots existing telescopes that are connected in, and existing fibre connections between them? Is that what you are saying to us?

Prof. Tingay : The red dots are new telescopes. That is new infrastructure that would be built specifically for the SKA.

CHAIR: Are you connecting into some existing telescopes?

Prof. Tingay : Probably not existing telescopes, because the next generation telescopes are quite different and would have fairly severe compatibility issues with existing telescopes, which are generally relatively old.

CHAIR: So the fibre connections you are identifying there are consistent with the NBN fibre rollout—is that what you are saying? And then that would advise where you would strategically place new telescopes to connect this.

Prof. Tingay : A lot of those routes are routes that AARNet already has access to, and a number of those routes are the backhaul black-spots routes.

CHAIR: Are they the two pieces that are filling the patchwork in so that you are able to create this network of telescopes and the NBN backhaul black spots?

Prof. Tingay : That is right, but I would just stress that that is an illustrative example. There are many, many other options that you could consider for the distribution of those telescopes.

CHAIR: Yes. I was just trying to get a picture of how the two of those fitted together to create those telescopes as a network that you need. The other thing I want to take you to is the part of your submission where you make the point that 'the NBN has the potential to play a very significant role for the SKA, supporting high-volume traffic in science data from a number of sites' across Australia, which is what is graphically presented there. When you say that this participation model could be similar to the Perth-to-Geraldton route, is it the case that you are seeing places where the combination of existing AARNet and NBN backhaul black-spots fibre needs a third player? As I understand it, the CSIRO was in the one you are talking about. I am just trying to get a picture of why you would say that model.

Prof. Tingay : It is all about the research partnerships. The way the Perth-to-Geraldton partnership has worked is that AARNet and the CSIRO were allocated fibres on that new route. They got together to lever those two allocations into a seamless system. Obviously that involves the RBBT program in that allocation, but there was also co-investment by the universities and there was some NRN money—

CHAIR: So the potential third or fourth players in those partnerships would be the research based bodies that were looking for access.

Prof. Tingay : That is right. I think that the really attractive thing about this particular solution is that the infrastructure is spec'd for lots of future headroom. For example, as a researcher, if I wanted 300 gigabits per second on that route I could implement that for the incremental cost of the terminal equipment, which is a relatively small expense. In particular, the thought that goes into the construction of the underlying infrastructure is what gives you that future capacity.

CHAIR: Okay. That is clarified. I have one other point before I go to my colleagues. I know it is early days yet, but perhaps you could give us some picture of how this work might reach the broader community. I noticed the reference to the capacity for school based activity. I am looking for those sorts of opportunities that are beyond the direct research. Do you have some idea of what that might look like?

Prof. Tingay : This is a growing area of what I would call science outreach called citizens science which is where people with a home computer and network connection can access these massive datasets, actually take some small part of the dataset, analyse it at home and return the results. For example, the very famous instance of this is called SETI@home which is people downloading data from radio telescopes, searching for extraterrestrial signals and sending the data back. This is growing in many different areas and that is one example of that sort of interaction with the broader community.

CHAIR: I think the government has an investigation occurring at this point on keeping people engaged in the workforce for longer. I would think with good connectivity to they are the sorts of tasks and activities they may well undertake.

Prof. Tingay : That is right. This is a great way to get kids involved because we know kids spend a lot of time sitting at computers. If you can give them something exciting to do that is also educational and even better has real science return—they are actually doing real science processing—then that is a good win for everyone.

CHAIR: I have certainly met retired people who do work for the National Archives in digitising the data and so forth. I could well imagine this sort of work would be an area of interest as well.

Prof. Tingay : Yes. It goes across a range of things. One instance is downloading images of galaxies and doing a by-eye classification—is it spiral, is it circular—so there is actual interaction with the person required.

CHAIR: It sounds very interesting.

Mr NEVILLE: Could you explain to us in layman's terms what one of the SKA sites looks like. We know it is a square kilometre but what sorts of things, transponders or mirrors, do you have on it to create this telescope?

Prof. Tingay : Each of those red dots would represent about 25 individual dishes. Perhaps you are familiar with the Parkes dish—you may have seen the movie. That is a 64-metre diameter dish. We are talking about clusters of 20 to 25, 12-metre diameter dishes with a footprint on the ground of approximately 200 metres in diameter. That is what each of those red dots represents. It would be the aggregated signal from those dishes that goes onto the fibre.

Mr NEVILLE: There would be a dish for each site.

Prof. Tingay : There would be 20 to 25 for each site.

Mr NEVILLE: There are more dots than that there aren't there?

Prof. Tingay : Each red dot represents a cluster.

Mr NEVILLE: I see.

Prof. Tingay : Each red dot represents 20 to 25 individual antennas.

CHAIR: I am picturing a square area with 20 to 25 dishes which are smaller than the Parkes dish, 12-metre wide dishes laid out side-by-side in a group.

Prof. Tingay : Basically in a grid or a slightly random distribution. It is not particularly important.

Mr NEVILLE: They will be in Western Australia?

Prof. Tingay : As you can see from the distribution the majority would be in Western Australia because there is a high density required at that location. Then there is a decreasing density moving across to the east. Again I stress that that is an illustrative distribution just to get the idea across.

Mr NEVILLE: Are any of these built at this stage?

Prof. Tingay : No.

Mr NEVILLE: So the idea is that you want the broadband to get maximum connectivity. Where will the nerve centre be, the feedback centre?

Prof. Tingay : Close to the centre of that high density of dots in Western Australia.

Mr NEVILLE: Who will run that—the government or one of the universities?

Prof. Tingay : It is likely going to be an international consortium with a legal organisation under some jurisdiction. It might be Australia; it might be some other country. That would be the legal organisation that formally runs the instrument but it would be with the participation of and funding from a large number of countries.

Mr NEVILLE: These lines on the second map—is any of that complete at this stage?

Prof. Tingay : Much of it is. The black spots route from Perth to Geraldton has been opened. The connection from Geraldton up to the north-east to Murchison is a new dig that is owned and funded by CSIRO. They have about 20 kilometres left out of their 380-odd kilometres to dig. So it should be completed and connected within two or three months. We have plans to do the first scientific observations immediately after that is completed.

Mr NEVILLE: What is the advantage of the dark fibre in that instance?

Prof. Tingay : It allows the higher capacity. So, for example, you would want to put terminal equipment for 100 gigabit per second wavelengths. Having control over the low level fibre is quite important, because it may need to do some slightly special things.

Mr NEVILLE: When these various fibre layouts are complete, will they all be dedicated lines or are they available to other forms of high-speed broadband? Are they purely for scientific purposes?

Prof. Tingay : However the network is configured, those light paths or fibres would likely be dedicated to the transfer of science data.

Mr NEVILLE: So this would be cutting edge stuff on an international level?

Prof. Tingay : Absolutely. Radioastronomy is currently by far the biggest user of research networks in the country. Even with our existing assets, which are minimal compared to the SKA, we regularly saturate the research network; we regularly saturate 10 gigabit links easily. So the SKA will multiply that greatly.

Mr NEVILLE: What is your best guess for where Australia is? You say that we are bidding for it with a consortium with New Zealand. Are we right in with a big chance?

Prof. Tingay : There are two bidders left, Australia-New Zealand and southern Africa. There is a very large and detailed international selection process underway at the moment.

Mr NEVILLE: What would be the total value of this project, albeit that a lot of the funding is coming from overseas? What would the gross value of this project be on completion?

Prof. Tingay : The build cost is estimated at $1.5 billion euros. The operational cost per year will be $150 million euros. Those costs are obviously spread over large number of participants.

Mrs PRENTICE: You mentioned that one of the reasons for the location is that there are no interfering signals. What about all the mining that happens out this way? Is that a problem for you?

Prof. Tingay : It is a recognised thing that we have to co-exist with other users of that land. The telescope would use a significant footprint in Western Australia, a region with a diameter of around about 360 kilometres. Obviously, there are other users of that land. The activity is finding technical solutions that can accommodate multiple users and not impact on the telescope's specifications. That is possible.

Mrs PRENTICE: This fibre that you say is mostly there already: will that be shared? With the NBN coming through, will you be sharing that with other users in the area?

Prof. Tingay : It is not me; it is a CSIRO-AARNet arrangement. I am what you would call a third-party user, I suppose. I believe that there are arrangements to service communities along the route from Geraldton to Murchison.

CHAIR: iiNET said that several thousand additional people had connected through the provision of that back haul.

Mrs PRENTICE: The capacity is there.

Prof. Tingay : Yes, but even the CSIRO owned fibre from Geraldton to Murchison, which is a new dig specifically for radioastronomy, is providing access to communities along the way. For example—

CHAIR: Because there would be such a small demand, really, compared to what you are using.

Prof. Tingay : Absolutely, yes—so towns along the way like Mullewa but also some of the homesteads that go up north of the bitumen.

Mrs PRENTICE: So if—I should say 'when'—Australia and New Zealand are successful, obviously with these sorts of projects you do share collaboratively with other science facilities around the world. What is our connectivity capacity with those other centres?

Prof. Tingay : The international connectivity?


Prof. Tingay : Currently, it is not at a level that you would envisage doing serious SKA work, so that will clearly have to improve. The SKA is likely to be arranged as a number of tiered centres, so you could think of tier zero as the nerve centre in Western Australia. That is where all the data would be generated. You might have an archive centre in Perth—something like the Pawsey centre. Then you would have lower tiered centres, regional based centres, perhaps in the US, maybe a couple in Europe and Asia. You need to transmit certain data products from the archive to those regional centres. So it would probably not be at the hundreds of gigabits per second but certainly in the tens of gigabits per second, easily.

CHAIR: Are we aware whether the African proposal has the same challenge in terms of getting an international connection out?

Prof. Tingay : Yes.

CHAIR: The fact that it is a fairly isolated, quiet environment would mean that that is the problem most would face.

Prof. Tingay : To meet the 3,000 kilometre specification, in Australia we can do that in a single federal jurisdiction. To meet that criterion in Africa you need to interact with a number of different countries to the north, so that is inherently already international and you need to worry about the connections between countries and different providers et cetera. The geographic advantage of Australia is that you can provide a solution within a single country.

Mrs PRENTICE: On that, what is the broadband infrastructure like—not that it applies to the terms of this inquiry, but just out of interest? What broadband infrastructure is there in the southern Africa area?

Prof. Tingay : Patchy but definitely on the improve—strongly on the improve.

CHAIR: Driven by the competitive nature of this?

Prof. Tingay : Partly driven by that but also driven by many other factors as well.

CHAIR: The normal international pressures that are going on for broadband.

Prof. Tingay : They are an emerging economy.

Mrs PRENTICE: Has that been provided by their own governments or private or foreign aid?

Prof. Tingay : I could not say with any authority.

CHAIR: That is okay. Mr Symon.

Mr SYMON: Thank you, Chair. It is very interesting listening to all of this. We are talking about the SKA Pathfinder at the moment. If Australia is successful we go to the full SKA. I understand it is around about 3,000 dishes spread across the country?

Prof. Tingay : Of that order, yes.

Mr SYMON: I suppose it is the same for SKA and the SKA Pathfinder then. Does each site need to have that high-capacity connection between where it is and where your data centre is?

Prof. Tingay : Yes, that is right. There are really I think two separate things here. For that high density of telescopes in Western Australia, within that 360 kilometre diameter region, all of that fibre would be completely new build at the cost of the project. So the nationwide connectivity would be servicing in the order of 10 to 20 remote sites moving across to the east coast. But, yes, that high connectivity is required from every antenna.

Mr SYMON: If we were to win the full SKA project, would that funding include connection of those remote sites across Australia? Is there fibre between sites included as part of that project or is that something that is Australia's contribution?

Prof. Tingay : That would likely be a mixture. It could be partly Australia's contribution, and the model that has been used already could be the model that is adopted. In that particular case the co-investment could come from the SKA project, so it would be again a similar style of partnership.

Mr SYMON: I am just extrapolating from this. Would that then take backhaul fibre past areas that may currently miss out? You were talking about very remote regions. If that is the case, would it then be an opportunity for communities in those regions to get some connection to fibre rather than relying on satellite or wireless?

Prof. Tingay : Possibly. As I say, there is a lot of flexibility in where you can put your antennas. So I think you would be driven in the first instance by cost effectiveness, given that you have that flexibility. But, as I noted, this has already happened in places like Mullewa and some of the communities along the existing build, and certainly for Geraldton as well.

Mr SYMON: One of the issues that has come up in the course of this inquiry is that communities that are sometimes close to backhaul fibre are not necessarily going to be connected in a retail way to the NBN. As I say, I am just thinking about the possibilities for this if fibre is to go to a place that is a very small dot on the map, somewhere close to nowhere. It may be a great opportunity, and if we get the full project of 3,000 antennas there will be a lot of places out of the way.

Prof. Tingay : Most of those 3,000 are in that high-density area of Western Australia—

Mr SYMON: In the one spot?

Prof. Tingay : which has specifically been chosen for its very low population density. But each of those remote dots, the 10 to 20 that are scattered across the country, will not actually sit right on the fibre. They might sit 50 kilometres away from the fibre, and so the project would need to dig a tail to connect to the backhaul. If there were communities close to the fibre, within 50 kilometres, I guess there is a possibility that that could provide connectivity.

Mr SYMON: With the full project, there are also some antennas located in New Zealand, I understand.

Prof. Tingay : That is an option that is under consideration, yes.

Mr NEVILLE: When you get these dishes focusing up into the universe, how does it record the data? Do you concentrate on one area or one pinpoint in the universe and all these 30 dishes bring back an aggregated and highly detailed signal? Or is it a more general thing where you study a segment of the universe through each of the 30? Where does the power come from? Does the power come from the cumulative effect of the 30 dishes, or does the power come from the fact that you analyse a certain part of the universe at the one time?

Prof. Tingay : The sensitivity comes from the number and size of the dishes, so the total collecting area, which is a square kilometre. Generally, all of the antennas will look at the same part of the sky, perhaps a few tens of degrees—a patch of the sky. All telescopes would look at that simultaneously and it is when you combine all of the data from those simultaneous observations that you can make an image of that patch of the sky. So it brings to bear the full sensitivity of the array for that patch of sky, for that slice of the universe.

Mrs PRENTICE: I noticed your research interests include active galactic nuclei and starburst galaxies. Is that something you will be able to do from home when we roll this out, or not quite?

Prof. Tingay : I think so. Instruments like the SKA will bring a shift in the way that astronomers work. As an astronomer, I go to a telescope, control the telescope, collect the data and come home and process the data. That is clearly impossible for the SKA. The user interface with the instrument will be via a very large archive database. So yes, you can interact with that archive from anywhere, provided that you have a sufficiently good connection to bring back the data products that you require.

Mrs PRENTICE: Once again, working from home. I will mention just for the record that that movie with Jodie Foster and all the satellite dishes I think was called Contact.

CHAIR: Thank you, it is nice to see that we are keeping our pop culture connections happening here. Mr Symon has a follow-up question, since we have a few minutes.

Mr SYMON: Although we are talking about the capacity of fibres between the various sites, are there any limitations at the moment on the speed of data that can be driven down those fibres due to the nature of equipment, or have we got equipment that can realistically do any speed that is available on the fibre?

Prof. Tingay : The current state of the art is around 100 gigabits per second per wavelength. For example, the installed fibre between Murchison and Perth right now I think is to take 80 100-gigabit-per-second wavelengths, so that is an aggregate of eight terabits per second. That is a lot—that is more than we will use this year, it is more than we will use next year. That is SKA quality capacity right now. So it is a function of how much fibre you bury and then how much you pay for the terminal equipment. 100 gigabits is top of the range now, but in time that will decrease in price. So 10 gigabits now is very affordable, 40 gigabits per second is quite affordable and 100 gigabits is becoming so.

Mr SYMON: And it will increase in speed in time as well, like everything does related to computers.

Prof. Tingay : Yes, exactly right.

Mr SYMON: So you have built that network with a fair degree of allowance for the future.

Prof. Tingay : I have not; I have provided some advice. I think it is worth noting that this solution collaboratively by CSIRO and AARNet and the Black Spots Program is one of the best bits of thinking and cooperation I have seen in science. It is a really wonderful partnership model. It has given us an unprecedented capacity here and now. I am highly complimentary of those organisations for doing this. It is really wonderful, from my perspective.

Mr SYMON: Thank you.

CHAIR: My follow-up question at the end is to take us back to where we started, to an extent. Are you aware of whether or not the international project has a broader educational agenda? I am conscious that the online classroom is allowing students to do collaborative research with students around the world and so forth. Would this sort of program come with the SKA as well? Would you assume it would or do you know whether they are doing something officially along those lines?

Prof. Tingay : Yes, there are massive education and outreach programs connected to the SKA and connected to all of the national efforts. If you go to the Australian SKA website or the international SKA website or the International Centre for Radioastronomy website you will see that we do a massive amount of education and outreach. We do that because astronomy is an easy sell. Everyone knows about the night sky.

CHAIR: Yes, it is a good entry point in science for many young people.

Prof. Tingay : Exactly. One of my colleagues calls it the 'gateway drug for science'. It is something that is easily accessible.

CHAIR: Given we are desperately short of young people studying the sciences and that our need for scientists into the future is an issue that the parliament has looked at in numerous other inquiries, I would think that these sorts of very exciting, real, interactive programs being able to be delivered in classrooms and in young people's homes, as you describe, actually being a volunteer with an organisation searching the night sky, would be quite exciting.

Prof. Tingay : Absolutely. For kids to get excited about it it has got to be as easy as playing a video game, so you have got to make it easy and you have got to make it accessible.

CHAIR: Though I must say the complexity of some of the games they play these days is of quite a high order. That has been fascinating; we really appreciate it. We have certainly had lots of evidence about the NBN's potential to address the tyranny of distance and isolation, whether it is geographic, economic or social. This is the first extraterrestrial attack on the tyranny of distance that we have had evidence on, so it is very interesting and exciting for us.

Mrs PRENTICE: I think it is fair to say that all the members here today would be happy to do anything you need in support of your submission.

CHAIR: Yes. Thank you very much for the very interesting evidence for us. In particular I appreciate the fact that not only have you talked about the research and development terms of reference but also the education one. I think sometimes we do not comprehend how much it is bringing real science to everyday reality for students and households. If there is any additional information you would like to provide, just forward that through to the secretary. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence to which you can make corrections of grammar and fact. Again, thank you very much. It has been very interesting.

Prof. Tingay : Thank you for the opportunity.

Proceedings suspended from 14:30 to 14:45

NICHOLLS, Mr Paul, Director, Strategic Projects, Office of Research and Development, Curtin University

CHAIR: Welcome to today's hearing. Although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, I should advise you the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. We have a written submission from you but, for the interests of those listening to the broadcast and subsequent to the previous presentations, would you like to make some opening comments? We will then have a question and answer session.

Mr Nicholls : Madam Chair, I have a statement. I am happy to present that and, if you want to interject at any time, I am happy to comment. As an introduction, our opening statement would be that, unless the government provides support for research and development in valuable broadband content for Australian communities, the NBN will be reduced to a platform for gamers and the entertainment industry. Support of research that is focused on different aspects of NBN uptake, particularly in regional and remote Australian communities, will be critical in ensuring the Australian government capitalises on this significant investment. Investment in the development of clever virtual laboratories, smart simulation centres and interactive learning will leverage the investment in the NBN.

Already we are seeing developments such as Skynet, a citizens' science project to support the general public's involvement in major megascience project the Square Kilometre Array, which I believe you have already been given a detailed briefing on. Without serious research support, these advances will not be accessible to Australians. More importantly, such developments provide the only engagement mechanism for regional Australians. E-research is also a major research facilitator across many disciplines and should be supported in conjunction with the NBN development to maximise this federal government investment.

A key driver for the NBN—and this will be one of Curtin's core statements—should be the provision of metropolitan-grade services for regional and remote communities, in areas such as health, education and government, that will develop sustainable regional communities.

The Australian education system has a shortage of well-qualified STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—teachers as a result of the status of these teachers in the education system. These teachers are in competition for a limited labour market. This is exacerbated in Western Australia, where a strong mining industry sucks up a substantial amount of our employees. There are also difficulties in getting sustained positions for teachers in regional and remote postings. As a result, primary teacher skills are low in these areas, while many high schools cannot deliver courses in demand.

The NBN has the potential to provide integrated course delivery across Australia from the very best teachers and provide the very best experiences. An example is virtual access to the best educational facilities and programs across Australia through institutions such as science centres and museums. Scitech here in Western Australia and Questacon in Canberra are obviously very strong participators in public engagement and driving informal science education initiatives. In addition, development of teacher professional learning networks will assist in improving access to resources and will support an improved quality of teaching in our regional communities—thereby increasing the retention of teachers in regional communities.

The NBN offers significant opportunities for improvement in regional health care. A shortage of GPs and specialists in regional areas means patients often defer or avoid treatment, leading to significantly poorer health outcomes, especially in Aboriginal communities. The establishment of telepresence suites supported by trained allied health staff will enable, under the supervision of specialists in metropolitan areas, diagnosis and treatment in regional locations—for example, eye and ear testing, heart testing and imaging work and, in the future, remotely controlled surgeries. There is a CRC being developed at the moment in telehealth and telemedicine, which Curtin University is involved in. From a productivity perspective, a patient with complicated musculoskeletal injuries—say, a possible dislocation—who may be currently be sent to Perth from a regional centre, at huge cost to the taxpayer, may in the future be treated through telepresence systems, saving considerable cost and time.

One of the serious disadvantages in regional communities is engaging in support networks with patients and carers facing similar medical issues, including cancers, strokes, disabilities and rare diseases. The NBN offers a potential to build collaborative networks of patients who can share their experiences, including details about their symptoms, treatments and side-effects. Equally, carers of patients, for instance stroke patients, can build networks where they can share the common issues that they face in their day-to-day lives with their loved ones. Equally, the NBN offers the opportunity for more regular check-ups in the home by health professionals. Currently, a regional health specialist can make four to six house calls in a day to patients. The delivery of the NBN may provide an opportunity to engage with up to 20 patients in the living rooms of those patients on a particular day—a 400 per cent increase in productivity.

With respect to small business, currently business cannot operate effectively in many regional centres. Access to online business tools, digital marketing, business advice and productivity tools are limited by bandwidth constraints, meaning many good ideas and businesses are either ignored or taken to the major centres. Broadband services can provide the collaboration tools required to develop new ideas, products and services—that is, innovation—and would see more small to medium sized enterprises being able to engage in the innovation process. Today we actually had the launch of the WA Innovation Awards and the Innovator of the Year program here in Western Australia. One of the key things that small to medium sized enterprises were facing was a lack of connectivity to other like-minded individuals and their need to drive innovation in that way. Productivity in these businesses will also increase, as will business-to-business transactions, delivering improved products and services. I know my wife particularly loves Coles Online, and it is definitely a big productivity driver. She fluctuates between Coles and Woolworths here in Western Australia, depending on who has free delivery on the day! But you can see those services being delivered by more and more small businesses in regional communities as the technology enables them.

As far as large businesses are concerned, industry in regional centres, particularly mining in Western Australia, have significant issues in recruiting and retaining quality staff due to the lack of services available in regional areas, including education, health and business. As a result many larger companies resort to fly-in fly-out options to enable a reasonable quality of life for their employees, or alternatively families move from regional areas as their children reach high school age so as to get a better education. The NBN has the potential to improve services in these areas, which will lead to better attraction and retention of these employees. This will result in more sustainable communities and decreased environmental costs, such as those faced by fly-in fly-out travel. The broadband access also has the potential to improve the mental health of these employees in their current situations by building telepresence suites and enabling them to engage in their children's education or just catching up with their wives or husbands.

The agriculture and aquaculture industries are also heavily reliant on terrestrial and marine data respectively, so access to real-time data in the field will have significant impact on productivity. Knowing the latest market prices, accurate weather forecasting and being able to instantly communicate with colleagues in similar geographical areas will be of immense value to these communities. Again, I would look at the mental health opportunities for joining people working the land together in a social way, even though they may be hundreds of kilometres apart.

The teleworking opportunities for large and small businesses are very significant. I understand iiNet presented today. They are a leader in the area of teleworking. I see some of the skills shortages we face. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry released a report here in WA in 2009 relating to a shortage of women in the workforce and being able to retain women in the workforce. Teleworking is an obvious tool to assist in improving those outcomes. Equally, a company like Cisco, who is a leader in the telepresence delivery area, is utilising this to decrease their international travel by hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

As far as local and state government services are concerned, improved access to local and state government services in regional and remote communities will reduce travel costs, improve community wellbeing and ensure sustainable communities in the future. The ability to acquire services, make inquiries and participate in community initiatives in a seamless way will reduce government costs and create a more engaged community. Curtin has been involved in research in Geraldton, Western Australia, involving a project called Participative Democracy, funded by the Australian Research Council. That involves the community having an input into the economic development of Geraldton in a sustainable way in the future, as they see this wave of development coming across their boundaries.

The potential impact of the NBN in universities is an area we are very interested in. Unfortunately, Curtin's CIO, Peter Nikoletatos, was unable to attend today. He is a board member of AARNet, who has a strong interest and will be presenting I believe to this group sometime in the future. He is also the Vice-President of CAUDIT, the Council of Australian University Directors of Information Technology. That group is very keen to look at how NBN impacts on universities and universities being very large businesses. Curtin in particular are working with the Town of Victoria Park, which is an early state rollout, on a project looking at how the local government can benefit from the NBN with a major client like a university sitting inside it. Curtin has 47,000 students. Many of them are residents of Victoria Park. How do we utilise the NBN to improve their outcomes?

A growing university like Curtin faces increased pressure on expensive physical infrastructure such as lecture theatres, computer laboratories and student facilities, including parking. That is a major issue, particularly at the beginning of terms. Broadband services for university students will reduce the need for regular on-campus student attendance at peak times and allow the use of these resources to be targeted for specialist functions such as visiting specialists, workshops and laboratories.

Universities do have good interconnectivity through AARNet; however, the expansion of broadband facilities will enable access beyond the campus into the field and into the home. I heard you talk with Professor Tingay earlier on. Researchers will obviously be able to improve their accessibility to eresearch infrastructure in particular as we move forward. I am happy to talk about the Skynet initiative, which will enable researchers and the general public to participate in a citizen science project of research and assist the researchers in the SKA.

Most importantly, the NBN will allow the university classroom to be expanded into the home, enabling improved accessibility for students across Australia and internationally, which is an important consideration for Curtin University. Also it will reduce the drain on limited physical campus resources. I could imagine universities willing to fund delivery of these services for students. We see this as a push benefit of the NBN. Many organisations and industries will be looking to push services and fund the cost of those services themselves to make cost savings in their business delivery models.

Australia is also facing a rapid expansion of the e-research capacity with projects such as the National Research Network; NeCTAR, which is the development of e-research laboratories; RDSI, research data storage infrastructure; and the Australian Urban Research Infrastructure Network, AURIN. These investments, totalling around $150 million, will be added to in their value through the ability of researchers to access them from their home. Equally, the 2011 road map consultation that is occurring at the moment in the development of the plan will be needing to consider how future eresearch infrastructure can be benefited by the rollout of the NBN. I encourage all participants to engage in that discussion.

Finally, for universities there is the potential for very significant sustainability savings. Travel reductions, networking of research equipment across Australia, telepresence, video conferencing, reduction in printing costs and reduced load on physical campus resources all add to the sustainability equation. Telepresence in particular offers the ability for more collaboration with researchers. As we know, the competitive grant processes in Australia are encouraging more collaboration. The five WA universities, including the independent university, are strong collaborators on a number of projects, including the SKA we have heard about today, and other energy research alliances and the mining industry.

In summary, the NBN has great potential to address issues in developing sustainable communities in regional and remote Australia. The university sector offers an important development ground for NBN content and for understanding how the NBN will be taken up by Australians. Understanding the dynamics of that is very important at the front end so we are not building content that is not going to be used. Also, there is the emerging business models and most importantly demand for services and the impact of these services on community development particularly in regional and remote Australia. The biggest issue in securing the potential is a lack of investment in development of quality content and quality research, a point I think I have made three times now. We think this is highly important. Equally important is the promotion of the NBN and how it is going to be used. There is a perception out there that this will be just increasing your internet access. We have to kill that as soon as possible because it is so much more than that. We have a lot of work to do. Curtin is well placed to contribute to the successful uptake and use of the NBN, especially in regional and remote Australia. We have a number of research centres that are working in this space, including the Telecommunications Research Institute, the Centre for Culture and Technology, the Institute for Multi-sensor Processing, the Curtin University Sustainable Policy Institute, the Centre for E-Learning, the Curtin Health Information Research Institute, the Communications, Economics and Electronics Markets Research Group and the John Curtin Institute for Public Policy. These groups collaborate very well. We believe that we can add value to any national activity focusing on research and the uptake of the NBN.

CHAIR: Great, thanks. That is a very comprehensive coverage of our terms of reference. Thank you for that. I want to take you to a few of the points that you have made. You talked about having this Australian National Broadband Strategic Research Facility. In explaining to me how that would sit within some existing facilities, you mentioned NICTA. We have visited the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society at the University of Melbourne.

Mr Nicholls : A wonderful institute.

CHAIR: Do you see this as being complementary to those or doing something different? Can you give us a bit of a picture of how it would sit within what is already going on?

Mr Nicholls : Absolutely. NICTA in particular are very keen to work with Curtin and particularly with the Institute for Multi-sensor Processing and Content Analysis. That group looks at anomaly detection and compression algorithms. We had an internal review of that institute by one of the directors of NICTA. That review found that there is some significant capacity there and they are very keen to work with Curtin University in that space. Obviously, Curtin University would want to ensure that it is obtaining the research benefit of that participation. We are also in discussions with the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society at the University of Melbourne. Those discussions are around a cooperative research centre, which is under development. That probably will not progress until next year. However, we are still very keen to participate.

Western Australia—and this is one of the issues nationally—has different requirements to other states. The tyranny of distance, our isolation, the variation between different communities and the up and down nature of the sustainability of some of those communities are things that are quite unique to Western Australia. That is why Curtin's focus is on the regional and remote impact of the NBN and broadband in general. I see that the participation of Western Australia, as well as nationalising any research activity in Australia, also ensure that full coverage is given to the different issues.

Curtin is a very good collaborator. It has worked in about 13 or 14 CRCs, so we understand the need for collaboration. We also collaborate very well in Western Australia. I talked about the Square Kilometre Array project in particular. The other area that I have not mentioned is the iVEC supercomputing facility, in which all four universities, along with the CSIRO, are strong collaborators. That underpins a lot of the SKA activity and is part of the investment in the International Centre for Radioastronomy Research, ICRAR. We believe that we have capacity and value to add. We offer that national perspective.

CHAIR: You have talked about a lot of innovative applications being developed and research being done on them. Another thing that is of interest to me and that I have put to the universities—and I think Mr Symon at a very early hearing made the point—is that the advantages from problem solving in the industrial and military sectors flowed through to the general community. Nowadays, it seems to be that the gaming and the entertainment industry is driving the innovation and then that is translated into applications for health and education sectors and so forth. We saw a great example of rehabilitative equipment in the home for people who have stroke that was basically based on game playing. They do the exercises while interacting with a peer group—they play a game. I have a little concern about whether we are having a close enough look at the training and development of young people going into those more creative sectors of technology. Whenever we raise it people talk about the traditional streams of the IT sector but it seems to me, when we look at these apps and try to imagine how they could be utilised, that perhaps we need that other stream for people who would be doing gaming development or movie making. I think we are really leaving that up to the private college sector. When I look at my own newspapers in New South Wales, all of the training and degrees for that area are in the private college sector. Do you have some views on that?

Mr Nicholls : Yes, I do. I totally agree. There is a shortage of students who are taking up ICT related subjects across the country. In Western Australia that is equally so. Part of that is around where ICT sits in the curriculum. What you find here in Western Australia—and I believe the national curriculum will address some of these issues—is that many of the ICT related teachers have come out of some of the non-science-maths areas. So you might end up with some of your metalwork or technology teachers teaching ICT. I think the key to that is actually about multidisciplinary projects and students working on projects that involve science, technology and ICT objectives in collaborative ways.

CHAIR: And arts and design.

Mr Nicholls : I was getting to that point. If you have a look at the 2011 road map for research infrastructure, it actually talks about how culture and humanities have been under-served in being supported by the research infrastructure and the need to embed that in some of the frontier technologies like space and defence, into areas of health and the sociocultural impact, and what is the creativity research that we can take and apply in some of these areas. If we look at the Geraldton project, for instance, one of the components of that is mood detection. As the public comment on a particular issue in the local government area, the software can actually pick up the semantics of the comments and say, 'Yes, the general feeling of this is yellow'—which is warm and fuzzy—or 'the general feeling of this is red, and we have got a problem. We had better not put the road there.' I think that is vitally important. Stepping back to the education aspect, there is a drive here in Western Australia in particular to develop a creativity perspective for our students. The innovator of the program, which is targeting developing innovation and commercialisation of products, has a student component, which is managed by Scitech, which is our science and technology centre. I have to declare an interest. I joined Curtin after 12 years at Scitech. That program in particular looks at, 'How do we take the best of creative design?' We have the creative design course for the year 11-12 students, and the inventor-of-the-year program in middle school and primary school, which helps those children understand that they are contributing to this pathway of creativity and idea-generation.

Scitech is a science and technology centre, and it has focused over the last 25 years on the science aspect and creating the motivation and enthusiasm around science but also building teacher skills in science. They are the biggest professional development deliverer of science, alongside the Department of Education here in Western Australia. That is a key aspect of it. Another part of it is: how do you create the motivation for that technology? Where do the kids get the excitement about going down those pathways? Rio Tinto funded at Scitech an ICT outreach program that is supported by the universities, where Scitech delivers programs to students where they get involved in programming, robots or doing technology dance programs. It is making sure that we are looking at, 'Where is the pathway of these students coming from? How do we support the teachers in the professional development of those teachers?'

The creativity is really important. I think creating motivating experiences for students is really important and helping teachers to be better teachers is really important.

CHAIR: That is encouraging feedback. It has always bemused me that we have both science and IT shortages of young people and yet look how many of them watch the Discovery Channel and are interacting with technology in their daily lives. Where are we missing that joining of the dots between those things—for the national interest?

Mr Nicholls : Can I pick up on the SKA project? I heard you talk about Jodie Foster earlier on. That project is based on—I cannot remember the woman's name, but she was the instigator of the SETI program. The SETI program was about the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and was about looking for radio signals in space. People could program their computer to download a bit of data and then crunch that data and contribute to that research initiative. What is under development at the moment is an initiative called Skynet. That program will take that to the next level. It will involve internationally people being able to commit CPU time to crunching radio astronomy data as part of the research effort. Initially some of the experiments are in small radio astronomy but we are hoping to prove up that concept so that once the SKA is developed, whether that is here or elsewhere, we will be able to contribute to that. That is about motivating students and teachers and helping them to participate in the broader science field. Having teachers that can provide context for students is really important: this is a real project that is really happening.

CHAIR: It is very exciting. I have a thousand questions, but I am going to go to my colleagues. I thought the point you made as well about teacher professional development is something that has not been raised a great deal with us. It has been with the health sector—about providing peer support and professional development across isolated health sector workers. The point you made about doing that for teachers and specialising is a really good one. When I was in the UK a few years ago I saw Teachers TV. The capacity of the NBN to on-demand deliver that stuff is significant.

Mr Nicholls : Absolutely.

CHAIR: You mentioned so many points. I will give the others an opportunity to explore some of those.

Mr NEVILLE: Just by way of clarification, you mentioned 47,000 students.

Mr Nicholls : Yes, not all in Australia.

Mr NEVILLE: Is that a gross number or full-time equivalents?

Mr Nicholls : I would have to come back to you on that exact number. It is a number we quote as far as the number of our students at Curtin University. It is the second-largest number of students in universities in Australia.

Mr NEVILLE: I liked your submission but I felt that a lot of it was aspiration rather than telling the committee what specifically Curtin would do. All strength to your arm, you have said in a not-too-subtle way that you would like to be the National Broadband Strategic Research Facility.

Mr Nicholls : No, I said that we would like to be a partner in the national broadband research facility, I believe. I will just have a quick look at the submission.

CHAIR: Do you see it as a cooperative research centre?

Mr Nicholls : No. Maybe I have not been clear. A CRC is one project that Curtin has made a commitment to contributing to with IBES, University of Melbourne, if that bid goes ahead. My understanding is that that bid may not go ahead until next year. In our submission I believe we talked about being a participant:

Curtin would like to express its interest in contributing to an Australian National Broadband Strategic Research Facility.

Ideally we would love to lead something like that.

Mr NEVILLE: Have you talked that through with other universities?

Mr Nicholls : We have talked to a number of universities about that concept.

Mr NEVILLE: Has anything gone forward to government?

Mr Nicholls : We have sent letters in the last 18 months.

Mr NEVILLE: But it has not got to developed submissions stage?

Mr Nicholls : Correct, it has not.

Mr NEVILLE: I am not being critical of your submission—

Mr Nicholls : That is okay.

Mr NEVILLE: As I have said, I think it was very aspirational. All of us, because we are interested in communications and we have received a lot of evidence, not only in this inquiry but in other enquiries, about what can be done in communications—I think all know the potential of broadband, whether it is by fibre or whatever other methods are used. This is on both sides of politics. But we are required to report to the government specifically on how some of this will be applied. I do not get that sense out of your submission.

Mr Nicholls : Thank you for that observation. I think that observation is accurate. What we are trying to say is that at the moment there does not appear to be substantial Australian government investment in the research to actually develop the content that the community needs. I guess the key message there is that we believe that there are a number of opportunities and we believe that we have the capacity to contribute to that understanding. We are doing that in a local government here in the metropolitan area. We are doing it in a regional community. We have a number of areas of expertise, but what we do not have is funding. The funding that came out of the department for broadband was $60 million over four years. That is really a small contribution to enable us to do effective research in the areas that the government needs to make the most of the NBN. Industry will come along and do what it thinks will turn a dollar. The government has the opportunity to improve its productivity but to do that it cannot expect everyone else to fund that work.

Mr NEVILLE: No, but, for example, as the Chair said, Melbourne University has its own institute and it has two projects and demonstrated them. One that resonated with me was not at the top end of technology. It was a camera in a young lady's mouth showing dental images and the start of decay, a split tooth and various other things. I could see that in the hands of a nurse at a bush nursing centre in the middle of nowhere knowing how she could treat those teeth—because you are not going to see a dentist for months—or whether that person has to go to a centre with a dentist. It is a very practical application of the broadband. The chair also mentioned exercise and supervised physiology for stroke victims.

I was on a university council once at the time when we first got what we would say today were the rudimentary connections to universities being able to transmit images from university to university on satellite. We were told with great gusto that that was going to revolutionise university education, that when we had a famous lecturer students from all over Australia would be able to hear that lecture and how marvellous it was going to be. The mother campus universities were going to become nerve centres for putting all this sort of material together. But the reality was that, although some faculties for convenience did send some lectures up and down the line, it was not nearly as well developed as it might be. Why is it going to be so much better with broadband?

Mr Nicholls : I can answer the question in part in that there are a number of projects happening across our university that we could go into in significant detail. I will draw a couple of them to your attention. One is a project out of the Institute for Multiprocessor Control, where cameras are fitted in fixed locations so you can end up with 100 cameras of video footage. The video footage has algorithms run over it and it is trained to understand what normal behaviour is. When it sees an anomaly it detects that and it captures that bit of footage and will send it to a central observation point. So, instead of securing people and having to manage and watch banks of video footage or not capture what is happening, they will actually have the car accident or the physical assault that is occurring. That is an application that would be better enabled by broadband technologies.

Mr NEVILLE: Would you like to do a supplementary submission on some of those sorts of things? I am looking at our terms of reference. You have given us, as I said, a great aspirational picture of where you would like to go, but we have been asked to report back to the minister on some of the practical applications. We are not the NBN committee that is examining the edifice of NBN. We have to show how the thing is going to work.

CHAIR: How it is to be used.

Mr NEVILLE: I am not convinced that we are getting enough of that sort of evidence.

Mr Nicholls : I would be very pleased to provide that supplementary information. I guess the other part of this is—

Mr NEVILLE: Four or five examples would be plenty, so we can see where Curtin is doing it. I must say we all came away with a great respect for what they were doing in Melbourne. It was obvious that it was not just at the laboratory theory level. They were already at practical application.

Mr Nicholls : There has been significant investment by the state government in Victoria in this space. In Western Australia we are currently talking to the state government about supporting the project in Victoria Park and looking at the practical applications for local government in Victoria Park. I think the fact that they have established a national broadband working group in Western Australia, which we are contributing to, means that we will start to see better support for some of these NBN related projects.

Mr NEVILLE: One final question: I have asked others this and it is particularly relevant in Western Australia. We know that the fibre and its associated wireless nodes will get out to about 93 per cent of the population. The remaining seven per cent is going to be in parts of Western Australia, Queensland and, I imagine, the Northern Territory and western New South Wales. Many of the sort of people we have been talking about, and you have been talking about in your aspirational picture, will be in the seven per cent. Has Curtin thus far or in its forward thinking devised any protocols or technologies that might enhance the ability of broadband to get to those people?

CHAIR: Satellite.

Mr NEVILLE: Satellite, yes, and other ways of extending the wireless network by microwave perhaps. I do not know.

Mr Nicholls : I will take that question on notice. It is a technical question. The WA Telecommunications Research Institute which sits in Curtin and also the Centre for eLearning may have some initial thoughts on where they see that happening.

Mr NEVILLE: Thank you.

Mr SYMON: I would like to extend this discussion to where you talk in your submission about soft infrastructure. Although we have spoken about the NBN it is really the content that comes in that is going to drive a lot of this. Far too many people say, 'Yes, that is going to be TV on demand' but of course there is so much more to it than that. I would like for you to expand on some of your ideas as to the type of content that you imagine can fill that space whether that be from the university's research and teaching angles or from a wider perspective.

Mr Nicholls : What I see is that we need to be clever about how we deliver government services both local and state. When we start thinking about local government services, the conversations we have had initially are about the value add that local governments provide for their communities. So within the town of Victoria Park for instance there are a couple of disability groups, so they know that they have a large number of people in assisted care. They have a number of retirement homes that are involved and they have a number of sporting associations. They want to be able to contribute and add value for those groups and are looking at the types of push services they can use the NBN for. So does that become the Town of Victoria Park TV channel? Maybe it does. Does that provide the general public access to actually come back to the Town of Victoria Park? Yes, it does. Does it mean that the officers that are out in the field can actually control the reticulation from where they are? Does it mean if they are driving past a particular house and they see a cracked footpath they can go online and quickly check what is happening? I think it does. That sort of customer relationship management is a key focus of that local government area. I started thinking about some of the areas in small business, and the isolation in regional areas is huge. The ability to open up broader markets outside where they currently reside and the ability to have better supply chains are quite restricted. So having access to stable, high-quality broadband will mean that all of a sudden they have the ability to connect to anyone as far as a market, but there is also the supply chain aspect. I think that is where the supply and demand economics needs to be really investigated. That is where a lot of research sits. How can the NBN really provide a better solution for these groups? We also know that there are a number of online providers like Salesforce, for instance, that provide beginning to end solutions for small businesses, for quite small fees. There is no way that a small business in a regional or remote community can actually reliably use that sort of service at the moment because (a) they do not have the market to be able to afford the product and (b) because they do not have the stability of the network. So what do you end up having? The business does not actually develop outside its own boundary, so it is limited to a market. A business sitting in Western Australia might have a turnover of $5 million. You take the same business and put it in the United States and the turnover becomes $50 million. So those are the sorts of economies that I think the broadband can help with. Someone coming up with a good idea in a regional location should be able to take that to market.

CHAIR: Could I add to that. Would you see the development of cloud based services exacerbating that for regional and remote businesses if they are not able to access those as well?

Mr Nicholls : If you mean exacerbating by improving accessibility, the cloud based services exist and Salesforce or eBay or whatever—

CHAIR: But the fact you cannot access it means that you are at a further competitive disadvantage.

Mr Nicholls : Absolutely. The whole idea about client based solutions is the economy of scale. At the moment, someone sitting in a small community trying to access a cloud based service just cannot do it, so they have to pay for the local supplier version, which you pay an arm and a leg for. So I think those solutions are there. We are talking I think 160 economies that have broadband actually active. I think there are a lot of lessons we can learn from the Canadas and Singapores about what we are doing, although the geographies are probably different in Singapore, but in Canada there are a lot of similarities.

Mr SYMON: I would like to go back to the example regarding isolation of people in rural and remote areas and the opportunities that broadband provides. Is there also a threat that it might actually increase social isolation as in face-to-face contact for some people? Has any work been done in that regard that you are aware of? If you are doing everything online, that is good; you may have more access to the world. But if you never get to see another person face to face as it were, is there then that flipside that maybe we have not thought of? We say it is a great opportunity, and certainly it is. But if someone is housebound for illness or infirmity or whatever it may be, instead of seeing the district nurse, who might come once a week to check on them, they do not; it is just someone on the TV screen. Have you done any work in that area?

Mr Nicholls : I am going to have a bet each way and say that I do not think a total technology solution is a solution. We need to be looking at mixed modes. I guess the experience I can draw on is professional development of teachers in regional communities. As a provider previously through Scitech, you could not replace the face to face. What you could do is have face to face and then a phone call or a very poor-quality video conference every three months after that to continue building that network. What the NBN offers is the face to face once a year and then a conversation every month not only with, perhaps, a provider in the metropolitan area but also as the network in a geographical area.

Mr SYMON: So you see it as an addition on top of what is already in place?

Mr Nicholls : In that sort of example, yes. For those people that are maybe confined to home care, I think any access is better than no access. But I still think that if we were to say that a nurse in a regional area was going out and doing a visit once every three months face to face, yes, maybe that only happens once every six months; but then in between, every month, that person is getting a video conferencing, a 15-minute chat: 'How are you doing? Have you been following up with your meds? Have you been doing these physiotherapy exercises?' et cetera. And that is one area that Curtin is pretty active in—allied health: the occupational therapy, physiotherapy space. So there are projects with Silver Chain that use these sorts of technologies, with iPads, looking at that sort of thing.

CHAIR: We did have evidence in Sydney from a provider of devices into the home that the key factor that made it work was that the person already knew the nurse—

Mr Nicholls : Yes, the relationship.

CHAIR: who they then became videoconnected with.

Mr Nicholls : Yes. There has been some recent research. In the last 48 hours there was some research reported about the criticism of the impact of children using social networking and whether it improved their interpersonal skills, and it was showing that it actually improved some of their interpersonal skills. But, again, that is not all they do. They do not just sit on Facebook all day; they do have that physical engagement in the classroom.

Mr SYMON: Hopefully!

Mr Nicholls : Yes, that is true. I sit on the board of a primary school and a high school, and those are the issues that they are facing in schools: how much do you open up the social networking? How much do you open up the network? What are the risks associated with that compared to the benefits of being able to access and communicate with others and access a whole valuable amount of material online?

Mr SYMON: Changing tack, in your submission you mentioned investigating reducing carbon footprints by using the NBN. We have heard of various ways that people do not have to travel to do things. Have you done any research in that area through your university, especially into the reduction of energy use, whether from smart grid monitoring or just better ways of using energy? Has that been part of what you are considering with this? I know that we are looking ahead as to what we can do, but, in terms of content and what goes on there, this is most relevant.

Mr Nicholls : I can answer on smart grid. We have looked at energy reduction research in our smart grid group in our engineering faculty. In the other area, because iVEC and the supercomputing, and Curtin's involvement in that, are so big in Western Australia, the efficiency of data centres is high on our list. We have a green IT strategy at Curtin, so we are looking at how we reduce—for instance, we are coalescing our printing services. How do we use these? How do we use mobile devices to replace our print activity? How do we reduce the energy consumption of the data centres? What are the alternative energies? One of our centres, the Australian Sustainable Development Institute, is looking at alternative energy sources: geothermal, solar and wind farm technologies.

Mr SYMON: Many of which are located remotely and obviously need real-time connection.

Mr Nicholls : Correct. That is absolutely right. So, when we are starting to talk about the SKA project here and data processing, are we talking about pumping data into Geraldton and processing it or are we talking about pumping data to Perth and processing it? There may be some pre-processing that occurs at the top end before it comes down to Perth, just because of, as you say, having the processing close to the data.

Mrs PRENTICE: Paul, earlier you spoke about telepresence centres, looking at delivering e-health remotely. As a guesstimate only, how many would you look at to benefit Western Australia, for example?

Mr Nicholls : I think 100 would be the sort of order that we are looking at. Any community over 3,000 to 4,000 people could benefit from this, anywhere that there is a sole GP and maybe a growing demand for more than a GP or there is not a GP but there is that sort of volume. At the moment we believe that you can have a telepresence system with a trained professional—a nurse—or a technical specialist who could then provide the interaction for the patient in the locality. It is not going to replace all the services that are required. From Curtin's perspective, because we are looking at the allied support, the occupational therapy and maybe the post care—wound care, for instance—are where we see that there is a lot of benefit for our university and for these types of installations. We are talking to people, to the state government, at the moment about how we can trial this type of service delivery in Western Australia.

Mrs PRENTICE: Back on your Australian National Broadband Strategic Research Facility: is that something you see as a chicken-and-egg situation, where maybe we should have done some more work in that area before putting all the money into the fibre build?

Mr Nicholls : Yes. As soon as the NBN was committed to, it was quite obvious that this was about a fibre rollout. The risk is that you have the general public looking at it and saying, 'I don't know what the NBN is going to be used for. All I can see is that it's going to be for better, faster internet.' It is quite obvious that that is what they would look at. There definitely should have been stronger investment, from my perspective, and I guess I can talk on behalf of the university, because we have been talking about this investment for 18 months. There should have been a stronger investment in looking at what the community needs are and what the opportunities are for the NBN.

Mrs PRENTICE: Indeed, we found that in places like Scottsdale, where the take-up has been very small, and in other areas, people said they were playing catch-up because of the lack of education and understanding. Is that a government role, or do we want to turn to institutions like Curtin to work on educating the community?

Mr Nicholls : I think it is a shared role. The Australian government made the commitment to the NBN, so the Australian government has a vested interest in making sure that it is successful. So I think that is the role of the Australian government. Having said that, I also believe that the states have a role in identifying how their state will handle the NBN and what the benefits to the state are. Should there be co-investment required? I agree that there should be. It probably needs to be driven by the federal government and at this point in time I would be saying that the Australian government should be talking to the states about where it can invest to do research and ensure that the uptake of the NBN in the future is maximised.

CHAIR: It is interesting that Jane used the term 'chicken and egg', because it has certainly been a frustration for this committee that we have to keep explaining to people that we are not discussing the technical build or the business case for NBN Co. We are trying to have a conversation about how as a nation we want to use it to improve productivity, efficiency, service delivery and all those issues, exactly as you have discussed.

Mr Nicholls : You will not have any problem with me wanting to turn this into a technical discussion.

CHAIR: Exactly. That is what we appreciate in your submission, because it is exactly the dilemma that we have been dealing with, very much so. Thank you very much. You have undertaken to get back to us with some information, which would be very useful to us. We appreciate that. My understanding of what you are talking about with the research facility is about overcoming some of the silos of these individual groups. We talk to health departments of universities, and the health department will be doing something in that area.

Mr Nicholls : Correct.

CHAIR: So if you want to put that together in your supplementary submission, that would be good. You can just forward that to the secretary, in the same way as your original submission went through.

Mr Nicholls : Absolutely. I greatly appreciate the opportunity, Madam Chair. I thank the committee for its time.

CHAIR: Once again, this was really interesting information for us. Thank you so much for your submission.

BONE, Mr Richard, President, Western Australian Internet Association

MAXVILLE, Ms Valerie Ruth, Private capacity


CHAIR: I now welcome representatives of the ICT Industry Collaboration Centre of Western Australia to today's hearing. Do you have any comment to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Ms Maxville : We are in a transition with the ICT Industry Collaboration Centre of Western Australia going to a different form, so what has happened is a lot of our member associations, like the Australian Computer Society and AIIA, have already presented. In that sense it was not quite the right thing to come in and do another presentation for them. So that is why I am appearing as a private individual.

CHAIR: I should advise that although the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and therefore has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. We do not have a written submission from you. Would you like to make some opening comments about your view and what you would like to contribute to the terms of reference and then we will have a question and answer session.

Ms Maxville : We looked through the terms of reference point by point, but one of the things we feel is that the NBN in itself is not enough. There needs to be a lot of work to get the community ready for it, business ready for it and educators ready for it, so incentives to encourage the innovation required would be good.

It is interesting that a lot of the things we are talking about are possible now. It is about the change in focus, to make people say 'This is going to be our primary way of doing work or a very important way of delivering services' that will get people moving on it. It is not that you do not have the ability to videoconference now or to have your e-commerce solutions at this point. I work in the education sphere as well and, from my perspective, it is the amount of training that will be required—even teaching my dad how to use his computer. There is a lot of the population in that demographic, and they did not grow through computers. I had a computer from the age of 13, so it is a different perspective. There are a lot of people that will be left behind and they will not know what they do not know. So it is a huge undertaking to get people ready for this change, where the expectation is that for certain services you need to use your broadband connection.

Mr Bone : Certainly, one of the things that I looked at when we were asked to appear was the principle of the NBN as distinct from the implementation that is being adopted by NBN Co. and I think there are potentially a number of ways to achieve the principle. I see that principle as being a high standard of internet connectivity for all Australians, so ubiquitous access. Further to that, as Valerie mentioned earlier on, we are well aware that the AIIA, the IIA and ACS have made national submissions and so we have not sought to reiterate what they have said, which is very similar to our view, but rather have looked at the things that are specific or perhaps more relevant to Western Australia and, certainly, my association is based here. The landscape here is a little bit different, as you would realise. We are the largest geographic area and so there are some challenges here that will not be the same as in other parts of Australia. We went through each of the criteria and made a few comments on them. Would you like us to cover those now, before questions?

CHAIR: Is each of those criteria from the WA perspective?

Mr Bone : It is, yes. We do not have a huge amount of material to cover there. We could certainly attend to it in questions afterwards.

CHAIR: If there are particular aspects of the experience here, as a state, for each of those criteria that would be useful to us.

Mr Bone : With regard to the delivery of government services and programs, one of things that you notice if you live in WA is that you are in a different time zone. My personal experience, for example, in dealing with the Taxation Office is that it is a challenge. I run my business through the day and I get home to find the ATO hotline has closed down. So the ability for the ATO and other federal government agencies to engage with the internet would certainly help to provide the service to Western Australia to a greater degree than it would to the Eastern States. Having said that, there is certainly ample opportunity for the government to engage in the internet today. Organisations like Centrelink and the ATO really have quite rudimentary engagement with the internet at the moment and they could do much more.

CHAIR: That is interesting because we have had evidence that the ATO is one of the leading organisations in government departments. That may just be off a low base.

Mr Bone : Yes. Perhaps part of the difference is that from my professional perspective I am in the process of taking people to the leading edge of engagement with the internet. I have six business activity statements to complete every quarter and a range of dealings with the ATO and, yes, they are not fully engaged. Whilst they might have spent a lot of money on it, it is still very difficult to get any form of engagement. They take three or four weeks to respond to an electronic message. To me, that is not engaging with this sort of technology. Telepresence is the opposite extreme to three or four weeks to respond to an email.

Ms Maxville : I think the recurring theme is going to be about training and support, because we have people, certainly in Western Australia, who cannot get to an agency; they are not going to be able to have access. At the moment, they are only using the phone help line. So that will make a bigger difference to our population. But, at the same time, from the work perspective, it is one thing to be responding to emails and being able to time that, but if you are looking at telepresence as people talking to you, that is actually in your space and you cannot multitask around it. In the workplace, that will make a big difference. If we are expecting people in Centrelink and the tax office to be able to deal through telepresence with all the people, that is actually an increase in the amount of time it will take, because they cannot be thinking of it while they are doing other work. It is synchronise time. While that is good for some things, it will impact on the way they do their jobs. I think what has been happening is that they have probably been distancing themselves further and further from people by being able to do things by email and by telephone, and that will be a big change in the way that the work is done. But it would be a big gain for the Western Australian population to be able to talk to someone and get that feedback. Far more information can come from a conversation with someone face-to- face, which it will be to an extent, than via email, which can take iterations to get a solution.

CHAIR: It is a really interesting point. It is something I have put to people on a number of occasions concerning all these wonderful new applications. Particularly in the local government area a lot of stuff is talked about. We are very conscious, as MPs with a public contact role, that between email and online generated mail and so forth there is this expectation that there will be all this contact; but, at the end of the day, you are one person, and so your capacity to do all of those things is limited. It is interesting that you raise the point in terms of the people in Centrelink and the tax office and so forth. Are we setting an expectation that people will get more face-to-face contact, or are we saying that it will only replace those cases where people have to have face-to-face contact anyway but they will have to travel into the city to meet with someone? Do you have a view on what might be a constructive model and what we should be thinking about in that area?

Ms Maxville : I think they would be able to look at when they think it is required to have that face-to-face meeting and bring someone in. That would probably be a guide to which times it would be. But there is also the record keeping. Once you used to have letters and you had to keep a record and answer any letter; now you have to do that with email. If it is somebody coming in via video conferencing, does that mean it is something that you have to record? Does it have the same status? All of these different modes of communication are going to impact on the way people work.

CHAIR: It is very interesting point. The time zone thing was really interesting too. That has not been raised with us previously but—

Mr Bone : It is specific to WA.

CHAIR: Exactly. Although, there is the Queensland experience, which is not quite as dramatic in terms of the amount of time.

Mr Bone : Three hours in summer for us, which is a big issue. The call centres really are closing down. Whereas they may have been open to 6 pm or 7 pm on the east coast, they are gone by the time it is 7 pm here.

CHAIR: You might have a niche market in WA that could provide call centres with extended hours when the eastern state ones are shut down.

Ms Maxville : There is some of that for the WA call centres.

CHAIR: Some of the businesses have said to us that being a southern hemisphere country we have a time advantage in providing services during the shutdown night hours of the northern hemisphere.

Mr Bone : We do have customers who do that. They do an overnight service, but they have a full working day to service a customer in an overnight scenario.

Ms Maxville : Some of the companies put their studios eight hours apart around the world. So anything that is not closed gets passed onto the next group, and they can have a 24 hour turnaround on developments. People have looked at Western Australia for that, because it matches very nicely with Europe and the US, which I am thinking must be the other one, as the three points on the globe to do that.

Mr Bone : On the issue of health, you have probably heard the story of the black spots, to which the answer is the ubiquitous access. Certainly Western Australia has its fair share of black spots, so that is obviously a concern where a telehealth solution would be rolled out but some people would not have access to it because they do not have the ubiquitous access. More relevant to WA, though, is the tyranny of distance. Even in a WA scenario, we may find that a health care worker might get assigned to Northam or somewhere from which they can still drive home on the weekend, but there are many parts of Western Australia from which you cannot drive home on the weekend and, if you are in an operational health role, potentially an employer will not pay for you to fly back on the weekend. It is very difficult to get people into the remote areas, and that seriously compromises the quality of care. In many cases, those people that are being compromised are Indigenous Australians and, as we are well aware, the standard of health for Indigenous Australians is very poor. So the ability to have a telehealth program in Western Australia is probably going to have more impact than it would in other parts of Australia.

It certainly requires commitment, though, as you know. I think the Minister for Health and Ageing has a number of initiatives on her plate at the moment regarding e-health legislation and the like, and certainly that is very much required. There is a lot that could be done today which is not being done, and it does need some legislative leadership there to help to encourage the private sector to invest in that space.

Ms Maxville : I think also that for the ageing population there is the monitoring in homes. I know there are people at Curtin University who are doing Smart Homes, looking at the way that people are moving around their houses. There are normal ways of moving around your house, but if there is a problem and the person involved might not move for a while then an alarm can go off. It is about those sorts of things—did they take their tablets? So that sort of monitoring would be possible, but then I think of the security and privacy issues that come with that. The independence may be enough to make it okay. But, with an ageing population, the interfaces to all of our software have to be so much simpler. My dad—I am sorry to bring my dad up—will not use text messages because he cannot work it out on the mobile, the buttons are too small and the writing is too small. All of those sorts of things are barriers to people in different circumstances. Again, there are people who will probably be using more of the government services and the health services, and that part of the population really has to be looked after. I think the other thing is specialists. Even in Perth, the waiting time for a specialist is high, let alone in regional WA, where there are not any of the specialists. So you have mental health problems and things like that where people cannot see anyone. So it compounds as these issues go along.

So we would look forward to seeing a way to do it, but—we were listening in the previous session—there should be studies to say what the value is and what we would lose in having it. Telepresence is great, but does it give you everything? We should get some specialists and some doctors to give their opinion on how it feels, what the difference is and how we can enhance those systems. Even though I am from the computing industry and I should be saying it is all great and will solve everything, I do not think it will. So there are other issues. It is not magic.

CHAIR: There is a danger of setting overexpectations.

Ms Maxville : Yes, I think that is possible, and we do like to get funding. The NBN is great, but there are things we have to be prepared for that will be new challenges that we have not met yet.

Mr Bone : Just coming back to this one, I know you asked the previous participant about examples. In the area of health, we have a customer that perhaps would be of interest in terms of engagement with the internet. They are providing a medical analysis service out of Western Australia, but their service is supplied around the world. Effectively, MRI images taken from locations around the world are transferred through a secure protocol to Perth. Perth basically processes them overnight and sends the results back overnight. So the internet, in that case, is being used to basically enable this company to deliver the service to the global market, and it is all being done electronically as well, so it is actually quite an innovative service. It is not invasive, which is nice and safe for the patients, but it is making good use of the internet. So those are the sorts of things that are possible. Interestingly, it is global market based, so you are able to access the specialists even on the other side of the world.

CHAIR: We have had evidence of people with very rare conditions being able to access specialists who deal with that and where there might be a limited number of cases in Australia.

Mrs PRENTICE: There were those support groups too.

CHAIR: It was certainly in a lot evidence raised in mental health issues. There is a lot of evidence around that. In the WA experience, Curtin University raised it several times that peer support and grouping of people in the mental health area are actually engaging. We have evidence that the two most resistant groups against walking through a door for mental health services are young people and men. With the tyranny of distance and the challenges the state deals with with remote workforces, being able to create those sorts of online peer support groups and engagement which may not be directly badged as mental health is great.

Mr Bone : They are making help available to people who feel that they may have or may know someone who has a mental health issue. One of the key aspects is to very quickly put them in touch with someone that can help them because if they sit at home and dwell on it then it is potentially a problem. If they reach out to the internet then we want them to take that next step and actually reach out to someone, get some help and get their problem solved. The internet is there and it certainly has the ability to do that. Obviously the ubiquitous access is quite important in that respect.

CHAIR: Richard, one of the other things that has been raised with us, which I would be interested in your comment on, was that it is not just ubiquity, it is synchronicity. If you are really going to make the capacity to deliver these services—whether it is education, training or health based services—remotely it has to be good quality video connection and not the tiny little screens that jump in and out, as you often get in the first generation, whether it is Skype or whatever. Valerie, regarding your comment on older people, we have had evidence that one of the biggest reasons that older people are taking up internet is because of Skype connections to family and so forth. Sometimes it seems that it is not technology but, as you say, how friendly the interface is and how valuable the service is. I would be interested in your experience and comment around that issue of the synchronicity issue.

Mr Bone : I will probably put a bit of a dampener on it. To a certain extent the plans that are being proposed by NBN Co are very similar in their technical structure to the DSL technology in that the ratio of download to upload speed is highly weighted towards the download speed. To have your synchronous communication, for example, my communication with you is as fast as you can send it to me so is limited by what your upload speed is. In that respect the telepresence type technology is going to be limited by the ability to have upload speed.

CHAIR: That is not the problem with the technology that is being rolled out, that is the service that is being sold on the technology. Is that what you are saying?

Mr Bone : It is the problem with the way the NBN is being implemented on the basis that the ratio is skewed towards download, because most people download. IPTV for example is a pure download service, there is minimal upload. But when you get into telepresence I have to transmit my image to you so I need to use the upload for that. A good quality upload will use three megabits per second where the NBN is proposing a five megabit per second upload speed, so it is going to use the majority of that speed purely for that one telepresence. If you are in a school environment and want to transmit five streams at the same time you would exceed the entry level capacity, so you would need to look at technology other than the standard NBN connection to do that. Having said that telepresence provides huge opportunities for multiple people to communicate at the same time. Many federal government agencies are making extensive use of this technology already because they realise that it lowers the carbon footprint and saves a lot of time and money.

Mr NEVILLE: In your collaborative centre, do you have a research facility as such?

Mr Bone : No. The Industry Collaboration Centre was about taking the industry associations and getting them together to collaborate on policy and on issues of significance to the industry rather than being fragmented. It was an initiative initially supported by the Western Australian state government, which at the time was a Labor government. They realise the benefit of being able to deal with the collaboration group rather than having to deal with in the order of 10 associations. Valerie mentioned earlier on that the Industry Collaboration Centre is now evolving into a new body which we are calling ICTWA. It is in a state of transition at the moment. Having said that, the subassociations are still relevant and I am here representing the WA Internet Association, which is one of the contributors. In answer to your question, we do not have research, no.

Mr NEVILLE: You have alluded to two things. One was, when we were talking about Centrelink, the advantage of having face-to-face interviews. I wonder whether the question has been tackled by your association and other like bodies with Centrelink. For example, are there studio booths in all Centrelink offices where, on a particular day or at a particular time, people can talk to a Centrelink officer who may be expert in a particular field. Let us say a person who may have cancer, a military veteran who was in the Maralinga exercise where there are particular difficulties and where expert knowledge of the field would be necessary. There is not going to be an officer in every Centrelink who would know about that, but if you could go into a booth every Friday or Thursday, if you do not have your own computer link—and we saw this face-to-face technology demonstrated at Melbourne University—you could get a ruling from that expert in that field on the spot. Has your association done any work in that field, to interact with government departments to bring them into that mindset?

Mr Bone : No.

Mr NEVILLE: It might not be a bad thing to start.

Mrs Maxville : There is a lot of work that can be done in terms of getting groups ready.

Mr NEVILLE: But if you speak for all these people in Western Australia, you have the right to put a point of view, have you not?

Mr Bone : We do. Potentially, Centrelink, for example, have their own agenda which is dictated by the minister. So we could approach the minister when we think there is an opportunity to improve the service. The bottom line is that Centrelink currently, from my point of view, are not highly engaged with technology. In regard to the terms of reference, the concept you spoke about does not actually relate to the NBN. Almost every Centrelink office in Australia will already have a very high quality of connectivity. If a consumer is required to visit the office, they could use that existing technology.

CHAIR: Part of the problem is your point about ubiquity. If as a government department you offer service and a whole lot of people cannot get ADSL—and there are people in capital cities who cannot get ADSL—then you immediately get, 'You're offering all this and I can't access it.' Is that back to your point about ubiquity being so important because these models will not develop while ever there is the potential to be criticised, that you are delivering it in a way that all people cannot access?

Mr Bone : That is right, and picking up Mr Neville's example, if that service was delivered through the NBN and we had a ubiquitous NBN so that every Australian got access, then everyone could access it from their home and that would be an NBN benefit. I want to take your example and say that it is a great idea and it could be done today out of existing Centrelink offices. That would the engagement and then the future will be, when the NBN comes, that it will also be available in homes.

Mr NEVILLE: But you are not getting a corrupted VoIP image if what Melbourne has told us is correct. You sit in a booth in life-size, person-to-screen contact, at high speed with good clarity, triggered by the voice and colour and the like. I suppose the same thing applies if you are a nurse in a bush nursing centre. This is one of the things they stressed to us in Melbourne. The standard of the picture, the colour definition—especially in medicine, where you are dealing with blood, bone and so forth—and, thirdly, the depth of field, for looking into a wound, for example, are available only through high-speed broadband.

Mr Bone : That is correct.

Mr NEVILLE: I just wonder if your association has needled some of these government agencies to start thinking that way, because you speak for all these other bodies in Western Australia?

Mr Bone : One of the issues regarding our associations and our role here in WA is that we have strong affiliations with the national bodies. The national bodies have far more resources. They engage with the ministers. The AWIA, for example, is very active in engaging with health and other agencies about what is possible using the internet and using information technology. They have the financial resources to do that, and they are based in Canberra, where they get access to the ministerial representatives. In WA it is a lesser part of our mandate. I am a volunteer. I have taken time off from my paid job to come here this afternoon.

CHAIR: Sorry—we should have asked you originally what actual businesses you are involved with individually, as we draw on your expertise.

Ms Maxville : My employment is with iVEC, which is the supercomputing and e-research facility in Western Australia. It is between the universities and CSIRO. I am the education program leader there.

Mr Bone : I am working as a senior consultant in a listed company that does software development, particularly software development in the internet space.

CHAIR: Okay. It just helps us to work out how technical to get with our questions!

Mr Bone : I also happen to be quite passionate about mental health. I am a director an organisation associated with mental health.

Mr NEVILLE: That clarifies my final question. Valerie touched on this when she spoke of how you might use broadband with aged care. You have this dilemma that a lot of people in aged care are not computer literate, but if they are literate or if they can be made literate then you can do a lot of home supervision by way of the internet. If we can now design touch screens for children and even more simplified versions for disabled children, why can we not do something similar for older people? The nurse who is supervising a particular person at home could engage with that elderly lady or gentleman, knowing that they would have sufficient skills to be able to carry out a limited number of tasks on the computer through a special program. Have you done any research in that field?

Ms Maxville : It is an area I was looking into a few years back. I know there are people who have done research into the user interface—a remote that can do everything and which is a mouse, so the computer is hidden. You have a screen that can do your television.

CHAIR: There is a manufacturer of appliances that they are currently putting in homes. It is a simplified box, is that right? It does not even look like a computer. Is that the sort of thing you are talking about?

Ms Maxville : Yes, that is the sort of thing. All the services that the person might be interested in can come through the television. It has simplified buttons. Most people have so many remote controls on their coffee table now that they cannot even turn the television on.

Mr NEVILLE: For example, the touch screen might ask the older person, 'Have you taken your morning tablets today?' or your evening tablets, or whatever it might be. I am just interested; are you actually in that field?

Ms Maxville : Yes. I was looking into that, and there are people I know at Curtin who have done some work in that area. It was actually discussed that having the screen talk to them might be confusing for Alzheimer's patients.

Mr NEVILLE: They are the sorts of things we need to be telling the government.

Ms Maxville : There are definitely possibilities there. Certainly the touch screens, which become very intuitive, would be good around the house. Also that needs to be connected to monitoring because, if they do fall, they are not going to be able to get that screen to ask for help. It would be a system and that interface would be the point they would get to when they are able.

Mr Bone : One point noted around the education side of things is that the Gillard government has adopted the one to one program for laptop computers in year 9. That is a fantastic program, but many schools are still not taking advantage of it, even though schools can avail their children with laptops at no cost effectively. The issue to a certain extent is to engage on top of the NBN. The camera, for example, is that thing sitting up there. People do not have those in their homes. To get a patient to be serviced by this fantastic technology someone needs to buy those. I suggest public hospitals need to buy them and need to buy the 42-inch touch screen and make them available to the patients who need them. As the NBN rolls out it would be ideal if there were a number of government programs that rolled out this sort of technology. People will not be able to afford to buy that for themselves; they need assistance.

CHAIR: Although the TV producers assure us that your TV will come with inbuilt cameras in the future. We already have 3D TVs in the home, which people thought were impossible five or 10 years ago.

Mr Bone : Yes, they certainly are. The point was around medical diagnostics. I have a camera in my computer but I am sure a nurse would be unhappy with the quality of the picture. The high-definition needed to make use of the full NBN is relatively expensive. You are right, it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, like we heard in the last session. As the NBN is there we will be seeing more manufacturers roll out technology will make more use of it. In fact, a colleague of mine bought a new TV the other day and was amazed that it came with internet connectivity on the box.

Mr NEVILLE: When we asked people how they would see this happening one person said: 'In Canada they have the Canadian national railway. They really did not know what it could do until they built it.' I think we have to be a bit more sophisticated in this argument and be able to say to the government in our report that these are the sorts of things that can be done. We need people like you to tell us that rather than just the aspirational idea of what the NBN might accomplish.

Ms Maxville : It is interesting because the people who would respond are these people in the computer industry. I guess universities have responded as well, looking at the submissions. What we talk about at a WA level is starting to work with the other industries and help them along with thinking of what the possibilities are. In the research space I do the same thing. How do you get the humanities researchers to take up these advanced technologies? What can it do for them? There is a conversation that has to happen.

Mr Bone : On the issue of what is possible: many of these products do not need the NBN; they are possible today if only someone took the step to make use of them. What the NBN does is deliver ubiquitous access. Still the majority of Australians could make use of telehealth services today if only the health system were to adopt them. Is that fair for every Australian? No, it is not.

CHAIR: That was certainly the evidence of the manufacturers who we spoke to the other day. They said they rely on particular health services seeing the cost benefit of actually engaging with their products. That is a very pertinent point for us to take on board.

Mrs PRENTICE: This is a little off the terms of reference but you indicate that one of your association's roles is to provide information about careers. I wonder if you could identify for us where we have a need in specific areas for promoting careers so that we can enhance the rollout.

Ms Maxville : In terms of software development, our software at the moment is quite often not very easy to use. One of my beliefs is that games technology is somewhere that we can look at for how we should be developing software and the equipment that we are using. If you have DS or Wii or any of those games consoles, they do not break, they do not get a 'blue screen of death'.

CHAIR: They also don't have your credit details!

Ms Maxville : It does not need a manual, kids can play it before they can read, and it does not break. All you have to do is reboot. That is so different from your Windows machine that is going to get a virus on it if you do not have all your protections up within 30 seconds of connecting to the internet.

Mrs PRENTICE: In terms of careers, at the moment are courses taught through the technical colleges more than the universities?

Ms Maxville : More of the software development and software engineering is taught at the universities. At the VET level it can be very specific things, and also getting people ready for what I would call the trades of computing, such as the people that do the installations and put machines together. They are going to be the ones that will help people with the cameras. There is going to be a lot of in-house support required, because if this is in every home then you are talking about 20 million homes that need—

CHAIR: To, say, set up the TV and all the integrated technology.

Ms Maxville : And then fix it when it breaks. It means every house will need a network. It is probably going to be wireless now, but every time you add a new device to it how do you set that wireless up securely? Most people have got the defaults on and anyone can use it and steal it. There are all sorts of opportunities there just in terms of what the penetration of these technologies is going to be.

Mrs PRENTICE: Have you as an association identified those needs?

Ms Maxville : It has been a tough time for computing in terms of student enrolments in general. Since 2000 it has plateaued, but it is the bottom of the plateau. There has been a five per cent reduction in student enrolments each year since 2000.

CHAIR: I do not know if you were here for our conversation with Curtin about that. I was making the observation that if I want to look for ads in my Sydney based newspapers on degrees in game design and web design it is largely private colleges, well connected into the industry, that are rolling them out. Usually the TAFE based ones are still offering degree equivalents in that area or at least diploma-level courses. Is the university sector part of the reason the enrolments have stagnated or even gone backwards because it is still teaching to the old concept of ICT? We had a gentleman present to us in Wollongong who has got an international software company and employs 20 people who left at the end of the second year of his degree because it was too stultifying. He went out and established his own business in software development. So is the way it is structured something we should be looking at?

Mr Bone : I think it definitely is. I believe that now is the dawn of a major change in the way much of our community operates. In particular, if you look at things like the laptop program the government is sponsoring, children will have a laptop in school. Soon, within a matter of years, all children will have a laptop. Teachers will need to teach how to do that, so that means teachers colleges will need to teach that. That means that those teachers that have already been through teachers colleges will need to relearn how to teach the material on a completely different paradigm.

We have talked a lot about telehealth. That requires a major change in the way that nurses and doctors actually treat their patients, and that will happen over the next 10 years. Over that 10 years we will see the National Broadband Network rollout, which will provide that service to everyone. So I think the real challenge around careers and education is to be teaching normal business activities in the context of a connected world. That means everyone needs to be retrained. That is quite profound, actually. The children that are at year 9 now that got a laptop three months ago are going to have a laptop for the rest of their lives.

CHAIR: They will be a different generation.

Mr Bone : It is going to be different. Valerie mentioned she got a computer at 13 and people who were older than her did not have a computer at 13. Now the kids actually have them all day every day. It is really quite a profound change that is commencing now, and the NBN is part of that change. I think that is a challenge for education and, yes, the universities do need to wake up to that. They need to be teaching teachers how to teach the students in a connected world.

CHAIR: In the innovation space too it is interesting. Mike Symon made the point right at the beginning of the inquiry that the industrial and military sectors drove innovation and technology for many decades. Now it is the gaming and entertainment sectors that seem to be driving the innovation that is then being adapted. Whether it is universities and schools having a presence in virtual worlds or whether it is peer-to-peer game-playing for health rehabilitation, it is those sectors that are driving it.

Mr Bone : I think we are on the crux of seeing marketing driving it. An example of that is Google. Google is one of the most successful companies in the world. It is a marketing company. It does advertising, but its advertising is dramatically different from anything you have seen before. The traditional media company puts out the Wall Street Journal and says, 'Here's 200,000 distribution. Here's an advert.' Google advertises only to people who are interested in the product that they want to buy. And they only charge when you are sufficiently interested to follow that link. That is a fundamental paradigm shift, and that is driving a huge amount of innovation, especially as their funding then allows them to reinvest in new and creative ways to sell more things to more people.

Mr SYMON: Richard, I had a look at your website and you do peering services between members. How does the implementation of the NBN affect what you do there? Or does it?

Mr Bone : The background to peering is that there was one large wholesale provider of internet connectivity, being Telstra, and most other service providers needed to connect to each other. As a result, they had to go through Telstra and pay Telstra lots of money, so the peering network shortcuts that, so internet service providers do not need to go through each other. What has happened beyond that initial implementation is that we are seeing the biggest growth in corporations. Corporations are now taking advantage of peering. They are pushing their internal content out to their employees and to their customers, and those employers and customers are using traditional internet service provider plans. Because they are peering, there is a benefit to the corporation.

Corporations still, at this stage, would live outside of the NBN, but they would buy their own internet connectivity and they probably would not make use of NBN connectivity even into the future. So, in that respect, peering is very much a wholesale service whereas the principle behind the NBN is that it is largely a retailer or a to-the-premises type service. So peering will continue to grow and will continue to be of relevance to the internet industry in particular. In fact, as of this week we have announced a peering service running in Victoria as well.

CHAIR: What infrastructure are you using?

Mr Bone : We use our own infrastructure. The association has points of interconnect, which are similar to the points of interconnect that the NBN has got, and they allow connectivity between the service providers. That same sort of model will exist. Where NBN Co. will provide a service that connects the point of interconnect to the premises, back at the point of interconnect, to get through to another service provider someone has got to create that bridge. That is us. Alternatively you buy it from your upline provider, which may be one of the other fibre connectors, or you may have your own network.

Mr SYMON: So the NBN provides an opportunity for your association's members to increase their business, because it increases its reach, hopefully.

Mr Bone : The NBN is very good for the internet, because it will actually grow the use of the internet. As a result we would expect to see significant growth in demand for peering. It will come from corporations wanting to peer with their employees and customers, and it will come from the retail service providers wishing to peer with each other.

Mr SYMON: The other question I wanted to ask you about is: earlier on you spoke about upload speeds of five megs a second and I am wanting to know what that limitation is or where it is coming from. Is that just picking out a point on the pricing plan, or is that a particular service and you do not have anything above that.

Mr Bone : The reality of how the internet traffic works is that the majority of it is download. As a result the internet protocols that they use actually weights the download against the upload.

Mr SYMON: Especially on ADSL.

Mr Bone : Yes. If we consider that there is a pipe where you can send something in either direction—I am trying to simplify this—there is no sense doing it fifty-fifty, because then what would happen is that the up would be empty whilst the down was queuing up, trying to come through. Those who have studied internet activity have worked out that the protocols suggest that it should be one-to-five/one-to-ten, or somewhere in that order, so that you maximise the use of that technology. Simplistically, that is how you get 20 megabits per second out of a piece of copper—you skew it in the direction of a download, because people want to watch YouTube and they want to download files and things, and they do not really want to send requests up very much.

CHAIR: But I thought that with fibre that was not the problem.

Mr Bone : With fibre, the pipe itself is there but still, to get the throughput, in particular as you rollout a fibre connection to a suburb, you are still going to find that there is a significantly greater volume of traffic going into that suburb than there is coming out. As a result it becomes a bit of a cost-effective game. NBN Co. will be able to release to consumers a symmetric plan which provides the same connectivity up and down—

CHAIR: But it then depends what the sale on it is.

Mr Bone : That is right. Potentially, though, that would come at a premium cost. You can buy it today, but it comes at a premium.

CHAIR: Sorry, you can buy it today?

Mr Bone : When you choose to connect your business to either a fibre service, or even to a copper based service, you can choose to have the same upload speed as download speed, but your price will potentially be 10 times as much.

Mr SYMON: DSL is not cheap.

Mr Bone : That is right.

Mr SYMON: I was then going to say: that is on current usage, but as demand in households and businesses changes over the years—because everything at the moment is delivered to your door, as it were—and as we progress down this path, I suspect from what we have been hearing during the course of the inquiry that more and more content will be generated at the end of the line and sent back up. At the moment I think you are right: most comes down one way. But that does seem to be, not turning around but changing in the way people connect with the world; they are actually putting more of their own stuff out—and still taking lots in, of course.

Ms Maxville : It will get a little bit close at the videoconferencing—

Mr SYMON: My point is that people are now more and more doing their own home videos and sending them up. That is one example.

CHAIR: And gaming.

Mr SYMON: Gaming is a huge one. Sharon is very up to date with gaming and its usage. That is becoming more and more so, and I think there may be some evening out. But going back to the actual specifications, you are right: if you want to have uploads, you can have more upload—you merely have to pay for it. Is that how you would put that argument?

Mr Bone : That is correct. I would just make the point that under the initial plans offered by NBN Co. you will also still have to pay to get a premium upload speed.

CHAIR: NBN Co. is not offering plans. This is what I am not understanding. Are you talking about the retail products that are currently being offered by retail providers on the NBN Co. or are you talking about the wholesale structure of the price? That is the point on which I am a bit confused, Richard.

Mr Bone : The services that NBN Co. are offering have that ratio built into them.

Mr SYMON: So, if I got a NBN wholesale service—100 meg down and 40 meg up, for instance—I can get that and then I can retail it down the line?

Mr Bone : That is correct, yes. And the RSPs will not be able to change that ratio. NBN Co. would have to change that ratio.

Mr SYMON: And isn't also that a technical limitation at the GPON, so it is twice as much down as it is up?

Mr Bone : Yes, that is right. Just on that, I do not think it is a problem. I answered 'maybe' to your question on the change in ratio. I think there are a number of issues that NBN will deliver which will actually push the ratio even higher in the favour of download—for example, the move towards delivering television through the internet. Television runs at a very high bandwidth and will push that ratio up through the roof in the favour of download. And, of course, internet is about aggregation: whilst I am doing a download and Valerie is doing an upload, there are 10 other people doing a download and the fact that she is doing a 40-meg upload is irrelevant in the context of us other 10 all doing downloads at the same time. It all gets aggregated up. It is an interesting game.

CHAIR: Thank you. It has been very, very interesting. There are some fascinating perspectives, particularly around the issues facing WA. It has been very useful for us.

Mr Bone : That was the focus.

CHAIR: It was very, very useful. Any additional information you have undertaken to provide please send it through to the secretary of the committee. You will be sent a copy of the transcript of your evidence, to which you can make corrections of grammar and fact. Once again, thank you very much. We very much appreciate your attendance and the feedback you have given us. It has been very useful.

TREASURE, Mr Bret, Member, Australian Web Industry Association


CHAIR: I now welcome the Australian Web Industry Association. First of all, Mr Treasure, I would like to say thank you from the committee. Our request for you to participate did come at very late notice, and we greatly appreciate your attendance here. It was only last night that we were able to get a commitment and have you along, so we do appreciate it. You have perhaps had the opportunity to hear some of the evidence and to have a look at the terms of reference. We are particularly interested in your association's comments and any contribution that you might be interested in making more broadly around the issues that we have been dealing with during our inquiry. I should indicate to you that the committee does not require you to give evidence under oath, but the hearing is a legal proceeding of the parliament and has the same standing as proceedings of the respective houses. Would you like to make an opening statement and then we will have a question and answer session?

Mr Treasure : Yes, thank you. Like many important institutions, the origins of the Web Industry Association lay with a group of people getting together to drink beer. The port80 groups were informal groupings of people working in the web industry I think about 10 or 15 years ago. They formed into the Australian Web Industry Association in 2004 with an agenda of educating the public a little bit about the industry and providing relevant services to people who work in the industry. There are about 400 members in Australia. The association began in Perth and is strongest here, although now we have 50 per cent of our membership in Melbourne. In Perth and Melbourne our association is well represented and WIPA, the other industry association, is very strong in Sydney. There are conversations happening at the moment about the possibility of those two organisations forming a single organisation. That is underway.

The make-up of our group obviously includes people who are developing web pages—so web developers, programmers, designers—and people who are start-ups. There are a lot of people involved who are interested in starting businesses over the internet. Generally they are people with technical backgrounds but there are some marketing people there as well. There are people like me who have marketing and search engine optimisation businesses. We are a smaller part of that as well. Many of the large web industry developers are in the association—most of them, I guess—and the rest of us are small businesses or freelancers. There are a lot of freelancers involved in the industry, as you would expect. So, in terms of the NBN, we are the group of people who will be developing applications on the network, and it is probably fair to say that there is a great deal of excitement amongst those people about the prospects of being able to develop—with even, perhaps, a competitive advantage in the world—with that speed of infrastructure.

The organisation has two principal things that it does at the moment apart from the networking, which is there in the background. The first thing is that it runs a technology conference specifically about the internet and web development once every two years in Perth. We have never had here before a world-standard industry conference until the last couple of these events. It has gone very well, and we now have international speakers volunteering to come here and pay their own airfares, so the thing has taken off to a good degree. Last time it was held, 200 people attended that event, so that is a strong focus. Obviously, there is benefit to the web development community in bringing that expertise over here and in the conversations that take part as a result.

The other thing that the association has been successful with is developing a web industry awards contest. That has been a focus for people in industry. Like most awards nights when they are properly done, it generates a lot of excitement and people get acknowledged for things that they do not otherwise get acknowledged for publicly. That has been done in good style and people look forward to it, and now we are at the point where we need to open up entries earlier because people are knocking on the door saying, 'We want to submit a site.'

The other part of that that is good from an industry viewpoint is that it is very much about bringing people up to standard. If you want to win an award you have to conform to W3C standards and various other industry norms, so it is about dragging people up and saying, 'That's all very well—you have done a beautiful site—but is it a standard site?' So that is really what has driven that, and that awards event is now held in Melbourne as well, and we expect to enlarge that on the east coast. So they are the two principal focuses of the organisation at the moment.

That is really all I had to say about the association itself. I was hoping to talk a little bit about some opportunities that we see exist as a result of the NBN and also to do a little bit of blue skying for you, if I may.


Mr Treasure : Thank you. The thing that has been talked about in terms of small business opportunities is local hosting. Most of the hosting of websites in Australia is done offshore; there is a very small hosting industry here. There is hosting at the very big end of town—it is very expensive—but almost everyone else is hosting in America because the prices are very low relative to what people charge here. The NBN would give us the opportunity to offer faster hosting locally. Then for the first time people could say, 'Here is an advantage—here is in a reason to host in Australia: you will actually get a faster loading time to website then you would get otherwise.' That has direct benefits not only in the users getting better experience but also in the fact that there are search-engine advantages in having that faster load time—Google rewards you for having fast load times; Google also rewards you for being hosted locally; if you have a and you are hosted locally, then that is going to help you in the rankings as well—so there are some side benefits to that. At the moment most of the people who are at the lower and middle ends are offering hosting in America, but we could produce a sizeable industry compared to what we currently have if we had that faster infrastructure.

The other thing I would like to do, though I am sure you have heard a lot of this before, is to say that there are clearly applications which have not been developed yet and there are developments of applications which already exist but do not have enough bandwidth to be successful. It is clearly difficult for us to blue sky about the applications that have not yet been developed, but I do not think that we should ignore that that is going to happen. We have evidence that that is what has already happened where—

CHAIR: History shows that it was only 10 years ago and so forth.

Mr Treasure : It is hard to predict. The case study for me is Ray Tomlinson, who invented email as an application. An interviewer asked him what, I thought, was a very good question: how did you develop this thing for which there is no market, no requirement and no identified need? He said, 'It just seemed like a neat idea.' And how could you predict where those neat ideas are going to come from? But they will change the world. So we are just giving those neat ideas a much bigger platform. It is a big juicy plate for those ideas to materialise. But it is hard to predict what those will be.

I would like to talk about the applications that already have proof of concept but are constrained at the moment. In particular, it frustrates some of us in the industry that we hear people criticise the NBN on the basis that it is all about downloading faster movies. For us, the potential is for use of video in ways that we have not seen yet. I would like to reference that to the virtual world. The opportunity for two-way interactive video is not just video conferencing; it is the opportunity to map onto the real world what exits in the virtual world. The virtual world has been prototyped but it is heavily constrained by bandwidth; it is a very bandwidth-intensive application.

There is one application that has been developed and the proof of concept has been done on it. It was done by Georgia Tech in the United States. I do not think everyone understands how the virtual world works—

Mrs PRENTICE: The audience is wider than just us, so if you could give us a basic picture of it.

Mr Treasure : Virtual world applications allow you to create a representation of yourself, which is called an avatar. You can then go into that environment and relate to other people who have created representations of themselves. It is very compelling. Compared to a Facebook experience or the social media in any other realm, there is no comparison. Social worlds are extremely compelling, but they are constrained.

The application that Georgia Tech has developed allows you to project what happens in the virtual world onto the real world. One of the advantages of the virtual world is that you can animate and program what happens to your avatar in the virtual world. What has already been done in that realm is spectacular. You can go into the virtual world and meet someone and have a dance with them and the animation will have you dancing like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. It is a different experience to what you get elsewhere. The application, with an appropriate headset in the first place, would involve you having, say, a projection onto the inside of your glasses that overlays what you are currently looking at. You have a video camera on the outside of your glasses that is mapping what you are looking at at the moment and combining the two of those things. So you have a picture of your real world with an overlay from the virtual world projected on the inside of your glasses. Have I made that clear?

CHAIR: I am following it.

Mr Treasure : For example, we are sitting in the room at the moment and we all have a headset on, but in the chair I am indicating there is an avatar that looks exactly like us, but the person is a projection on the inside of our glasses and it works in real time, so we can move our heads around and the avatar will still look like a real person. That person will be an avatar and therefore able to be animated, so, although they will sit there and look like a normal person—and they will have a map of our room; this is a person sitting at a computer somewhere else—they will be able to blow smoke out of their ears when they are unhappy with something that is said.

CHAIR: You knew I was an avatar all along, did you?

Mr Treasure : They will be able to get out of their chair and walk on the ceiling upside down, because they have a map of our room. That is not science fiction stuff; that has already been demonstrated as proof of concept. The thing that is missing is bandwidth. If you have the bandwidth to send video two ways, you can do that stuff.

Mrs PRENTICE: That is more than the three-dimensional holograms they are talking about?

Mr Treasure : It is a solid depiction. It will look like a person sitting there like we are now.

Mrs PRENTICE: You would not be able to see through them, for example?

Mr Treasure : No. It can be solid or it can be see-through. You can program it any way you like. Obviously that is a fascinating prospect from an entertainment viewpoint.

Mrs PRENTICE: We are thinking of our missing committee members.

Mr Treasure : Yes, and from a videoconferencing viewpoint it is very powerful as well. But it also suggests that there will be a metalevel of business that takes place, because if you are a bank you do not need people to come to your bank anymore; you can send an avatar to their home and the avatar will present exactly the way that you want them to present. They will be groomed the way you want them to look, and they will have animations that are appropriate. That person will appear in your lounge room and sit in your lounge room chair, an environment in which you are completely comfortable, and you can have a conversation about what you are going to do with your finances with that person, who is sitting in an office somewhere in the world. Those applications will happen, and when that happens we will have transformed business and social interaction, for better or worse.

CHAIR: I am just thinking of examples. Tell me if I have your concept right. We have had evidence from a specialist—I think from Rural Health, the AMA or one of the doctors organisations—that there is a real problem with people who get inner ear issues. They have to be taught how to do particular types of balancing exercises and things, and you have to get them very specifically right for them to have the desired effect. It requires an enormous number of people coming in to see him in the city all the time. He tries to do it with video, but current video is not specific enough for the person to get good-quality video. He was saying how great it would be if he could take video of them doing the exercise and then look at it and say: 'No, this is where you're going wrong. You're not leaning far enough this way.' I am now thinking that what you are talking about would mean that he could send an exercise specialist to stand in their lounge room, in effect, in three dimensions—

Mr Treasure : That is right.

CHAIR: and work with them.

Mr Treasure : Holding his left shoulder.

CHAIR: And saying, 'Further that way.'

Mr Treasure : Yes.

CHAIR: It is quite amazing. I do not know if you heard the evidence previously.

Mr Treasure : Some of it, yes.

CHAIR: There was a challenge to the view that the NBN would be able to offer this two-way—my understanding at the end of it was that that was about the pricing model that was being put out; it was not the technology. Can you just clarify this for me from your organisation's understanding. The fibre based technology will enable what you are talking about?

Mr Treasure : Fibre is fast enough to do it, yes, if it is proper fibre, high-speed fibre in two directions. The issue is the real-time communication between the video going out and the video coming in.

Mrs PRENTICE: And aren't we developing products so you can send more down less? That is the future of fibre?

Mr Treasure : More?

Mrs PRENTICE: You would be able to send more information down less fibre?

Mr Treasure : Yes.

Mrs PRENTICE: It is one of the advantages of fibre that it will not become obsolete?

Mr Treasure : Exactly, yes.

Mr NEVILLE: What speed do you need for one of these avatar people?

Mr Treasure : I am outside my area of technical expertise in telling you that, but eight megabits per second gets you normal video. I understand it can be done with fibre. It certainly cannot be done with the existing technology that we have, and you will need fast fibre to do it.

CHAIR: We had evidence the other day that 3-D holograms are actually not that far away.

Mrs PRENTICE: They need to be at 300, I think.

CHAIR: They need about 300.

Mr Treasure : Okay, so you can do that. That is exactly what we are talking about—3-D.

Mrs PRENTICE: Or the next step up—holograms.

CHAIR: One of the issues that has been raised—and this was part of the evidence from the ICT Industry Collaboration Centre—is that many of the things that we talk about are available on current web based internet services but that people do not necessarily take them up, and part of that is culture. It is all right to talk about government service delivery and the wonderful applications that can be developed, but the cultures of organisations may not change. We had evidence, I think in Sydney, about the difference between Japan's and Korea's experience, in that the technology was the same but the leadership from the government in driving things onto the net based services was the challenge. I would be interested in your organisation's perspective. There is probably a huge range of things that we could do. If we were making recommendations to the government, where would you say is the best place at this point in the cycle of rolling out technology to be putting some energy and effort into research and development, application development, education and training? Where do you think we could most usefully start to direct some of this? Perhaps there are some examples you have seen internationally where it has worked well and been taken up well.

Mr Treasure : I guess my advice would be that it would make sense to have some virtual world expertise. That would be an interesting thing to do.

CHAIR: What do you mean? Do you mean some more investment in education and training in that area, or do you mean developing that expertise in government service delivery? Where exactly?

Mr Treasure : I mean creating hubs of expertise, encouraging people to get together in training and giving them starts. I do not feel qualified to talk about what government initiatives there should be in that area—

CHAIR: No, just broadly.

Mr Treasure : Broadly, for me, those things are commercially driven. Our organisation is largely commercial people. We would say it is not sensible to bet on particular industries or particular technologies. Put money into science and then rely on the businesses to use those opportunities. Some of them will fly and some of them will not. Do not try to pick winners.

CHAIR: We should focus on the science, the research and development, the skills development—those areas?

Mr Treasure : Yes.

CHAIR: We have had some interesting evidence. The previous witness, Valerie, talked about her father as an example and a lot of our conversation was particularly about health and ageing service delivery and so forth. But there is this generation who will use it who are not familiar with it. Realistically, the generation now in their 20s are regularly engaged in the sorts of worlds that you are talking about. Indeed, I saw that the School of the Air in New South Wales is developing an online virtual school experience with avatars, as opposed to the old phone and radio type stuff. It has been hugely popular and successful.

Mrs PRENTICE: Do they have an avatar for each student?

CHAIR: Yes. The students walk into school and they can interact and chat to each other and recognise each other as avatars. The reality will be for us in government service delivery that that generation will expect nothing less. I am interested in your observation about how far off we are from that. I would suggest the baby boomers who are about to retire are big users of computers and computer services.

Mr Treasure : Exactly, and the fastest growing group of Facebook users are women over 40. When people identify a need for a technology, they will use it if they perceive value in it. It seems that it does not matter if you are a little older. If you still think there is value for you in doing it, you will learn how it works.

Mrs PRENTICE: Like Skype.

Mr Treasure : A good example, yes.

CHAIR: We have had somebody pull us up quite strongly, saying that the current retired aged population are big users of Skype because it allows them to stay in contact with family and so forth.

Mr Treasure : Yes. And if in the old days of ARPANET and Bulletin Board someone had said, 'We really should upgrade this network and provide more bandwidth,' they would not have said, 'because if we do that we'll allow grandfathers to talk to their grandchildren in different parts of the world.' But that application is unexpected and powerful and valuable.

Mr NEVILLE: Do you think then that in the selling of the NBN and fibre broadband that we have missed the point somewhat?

Mr Treasure : I think you have certainly missed the point, yes. I think most of the people out there think that it is an expensive indulgence which is all about downloading movies faster. I think that the message is about health, and health in particular has got through to some degree.

Mr NEVILLE: But how do we lift the level of the debate? You can say, 'Yes, health will be so much better, education will be so much better.' We get these aspirational things day after day, but what I am asking you is: what are the practical applications that we need to invoke to make it happen?

Mr Treasure : Let me say this to you about that. Why don't we say to people: 'Use your imaginations? Here's what happened in the past. Here's where we were, here's where we got to. Now we're going to do this, which is a quantum leap. What do you think we're going to be able to do with that?' And ask them to imagine what they are going to be able to do rather than trying to—we are not going to be very good at saying, 'Here are the new things that we will be able to do with that.'

Mr NEVILLE: Okay. I do not know if you heard me earlier, I have spoken a couple of times today with previous witnesses about engaging older people with computers, the internet, e-health and all of the various manifestations of electronic communications. Do you think there is a role for a simplified touch screen for older people? We have these in schools now for younger students, we have them for disabled students, we have them for deaf and blind people and so on. Do you see a way in web design and technology design in general that we can develop a system to, for example, keep older people in their homes longer. A touch screen would have a limited number of functions—it might only have nine or 10 functions—for their medicine, their food, if they have a fall, they have those things around their necks and they trigger that which sets off a computer and the computer alerts the district nurse or the Blue Nursing Service, or whoever might be supervising them. Do you know of any work that has been done in that field to simplify the computer to make it less intrusive for older people?

Mr Treasure : I do not know of any research that has been done in that area. I would say we should be doing the research with those people to identify what their needs are and then those applications need to be developed. The research needs to be done at a human level into what is working and what is not working, rather than imposing a technological solution on them.

Mr NEVILLE: It seems to me that 20 per cent or 30 per cent of the population will never use a computer unless it is made computer friendly.

Mr Treasure : I heard a discussion earlier about the use of gaming devices. Certainly when you get the interface right, that makes such a huge difference. You are talking about the hardware consequences of the network that you are putting together. There will be hardware consequences and people will innovate, so those things will be developed. What is obvious to me is that the opportunity in having that real-time interactive two-way video is that we shift the paradigm from a screen to a 3-D environment. That is going to be a much friendlier interface than a more mediated concept.

CHAIR: Unless it completely freaks them out!

Mr Treasure : That is right; that is also a possibility.

CHAIR: And that is when you need the human study.

Mr NEVILLE: The supervising nurse would come and say to Mary Brown: 'Mary, you have not taken your tablets today. What is the problem?'

Mr Treasure : Yes. The supervising nurse would appear in 3D form: 'You have not taken your pills today.'

Mr NEVILLE: Would they look at a screen or would they look at an avatar type image?

Mr Treasure : They will not have to look at a screen; it will be through your glasses. That is one possibility; there are probably others—that is just the one I am aware of.

Mrs PRENTICE: A new TV was launched this morning on the news, where the screen follows you into the kitchen so that you do not miss your show while you are cooking dinner. It is just amazing.

Mr Treasure : Screens are 2D largely at the moment. But we can do 3D.

Mrs PRENTICE: I am aware that at the moment there are departments, particularly Health, that are spending millions of dollars actually compacting programs and outreach products to fit down the tube that we have got now because it is so restricted. Are you aware of any of those applications that we can identify, where with NBN we will not have that expense?

Mr Treasure : I am not sure if this is an answer, but the other day I was in a remote area and we had a vehicle problem. We were close enough to a house so that I had access to an internet connection. I am no help fixing the vehicle problem, so I went inside and had a look on the internet. I found a service that is offered by Toyota in America where they make available a mechanic. You write down what the problem is, send it off and a qualified mechanic will have a look at that issue and will reply to you in a short period of time and have a solution to your problem. You pay for that if you use the solution and you are happy with the solution. That is great, but that is working around the constraints of the technology. If you have interactive two-way video then you can be showing him the underside of the car and he can be highlighting the bits that you need to unscrew next so that you can see those—

Mrs PRENTICE: It is not something you could do on an iPad?

Mr Treasure : It would be helpful on an iPad. It would be much more powerful in 3D looking at the actual thing that you are working on rather than something that is a medium.

Mrs PRENTICE: It would be great if the avatar could change the tyre!

Mr SYMON: I would like to go back several subjects to the faster local hosting for websites and ask you whether you could paint a picture for us of how big an industry that could become compared to what it is now for Australia.

Mr Treasure : If I am able to do it I would rather give you a written response to that and do some research in the meantime.

Mr SYMON: Sure. I am happy with that, yes.

CHAIR: It is something we have not had raised with us at all before, so it would be very welcome to have some follow-up.

Mr Treasure : Sure. The other thing that is going to happen in relation to that is the possibility that some of these large cloud hosting services may host in Australia, and the consequence of that will be that our international bandwidth costs will be substantially reduced. When you look at something like Twitter photos they are hosted on S3 by Amazon overseas, so if they had a bank here—and obviously they will make a commercial decision about whether they will do that—then we would not need to use the bandwidth to download those photos every time we look at a photo on Twitter.

Mr SYMON: That is not something anyone has mentioned before. That is quite valuable. I just have to raise another point, because you started off by saying that you have a company called Free Beer, and we have been talking about avatars. I was sitting here listening to that thinking of the Heineken ad, which of course does have avatars in it trying to drink beer. I could not get that one out of my mind. I know that that sort of stuff is not here now; we are making the basis for that to come in. I suppose that is one of the things we are looking at in this inquiry: what are the uses going to be? You have certainly given us something from an extra dimension that we have not looked at so far, and that is probably a good thing. There was another question that I wanted to ask: beside web hosting, what other services does Australia export by default in the web area at the moment that we could gain? You have mentioned having cloud services based here—are there other things beyond that? I ask that because they are real examples, and they are now. They are things that we could use as soon as we have the infrastructure in place. Are there other things that we naturally get done overseas that we should have done here?

Mr NEVILLE: Good question.

Mr Treasure : Off the top of my head, I do not know of any other ones. We have already given some thought to that, and what is obvious to us is hosting. There is obviously a large amount of outsourcing going on all over the world at the moment.

Mrs PRENTICE: Cloud computing or locally provided?

Mr Treasure : Web services generally. There is so much happening in India; in our industry, the local developers' competition is with people in India doing websites at a fraction of the price that people do them for over here. I am not sure how the NBN would help us with that problem.

Mr SYMON: If I can just put this to you: soon you are going to get back to us with some information, so if you could ask your members or think of anything in the meantime we would be most happy to see you include it with that.

Mr Treasure : Yes, I will do that.

CHAIR: I will wrap up the group with one question that has been persistent, about the potential for home based businesses and teleworking. I would imagine that in your industry sector there are quite a lot of people who are working from home based businesses. We had two companies that were software developers present to us in Wollongong. They started out the back in the garage as two-guy outfits which are now employing, I think, 20 to 25 people each, and they have international client bases and so forth. One of the things one guy did say to us was, 'I live three kilometres from the university and I can't get ADSL2. You're lucky I'm still here and I haven't relocated to Silicon Valley,'—that was basically the message. There was another example raised by them with us about a guy in the Wollongong area—my area—who runs an international stock exchange so he can surf during the day—he does the 24-hour northern-southern hemisphere thing. So there are some real opportunities there, but they all complain that it takes 12 hours to upload things on the current infrastructure. I just wonder if from your own membership you get the feeling that we are hitting significant boundaries with the development of that industry and the capacity for those sorts of small start-ups that really get going?

Mr Treasure : Yes. In some areas there will be significant advantages for those people. It takes your ability to compete internationally up to another level. I do not think it will be a benefit across the board, but there will be some people who do things that are time intense; you can imagine someone who is in the buying and selling of stocks industry who may discover that they can do things quicker here than people can in other places. Where there is a response advantage there will be a benefit.

CHAIR: It is just with that northern and southern hemisphere international nature of business now that I wonder if there are any of the other web based businesses in your sector—I am aware of that one from the stock exchange—where there may have been an advantage driven by those issues?

Mr Treasure : I am not aware of any, specifically.

CHAIR: If you find any information it would be interesting. We are talking about becoming a financial hub as a nation, so there is that aspect of it, and maybe there are other sectors where there are some advantages.

Mr Treasure : Yes, I am sure there are. I have done a similar sort of thing. I worked as a virtual world developer for a little while. My client was mostly the University of Chicago. If I had had a faster internet connection there would have been some advantage to me. I kind of think that our opportunities are probably to attract people to this country by virtue of having the fastest internet infrastructure—

CHAIR: Rather than losing them.

Mr Treasure : rather than the other way around, but I am not sure of that.

CHAIR: Given the late notice, thank you very much for your attendance here today. There was some fascinating new evidence.

Mr Treasure : Thank you very much for travelling to Perth as well.

CHAIR: We will send our avatars next time. We will work on that. If you have additional information, just send it through to the secretary as you are able to do it. You will get a copy of the transcript of evidence.

Resolved (on motion by Mr Symon):

That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.

Committee adjourned at 17:11