Mar 22, 2007

Adjournment – Broadband


22 March 2007

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.30 p.m.)—Yesterday two important policy speeches were given. The Prime Minister gave a speech about the failed and wrong plan in Iraq. The other speech was by the Leader of the Opposition about building a world-class, high-speed broadband network in Australia. The contrast is stark. The Prime Minister is stuck in the past, stuck with bad decisions and with failed plans. The man who wanted the prime ministership so he could pay back all those who tried to stop him along the way is now determined to stay there to pay back the Treasurer, who does not have the courage to challenge him. But there is no forward agenda, as he is incapable of embracing the future.

Contrast this with Labor’s positive plans and vision for Australia, meeting the challenges of the future on climate change, on water, on the education revolution and on broadband. Labor regards building a world-class, high-speed broadband network as an important part of nation building for the future. We think improving the broadband capacity of Australia is critical to improving business efficiency, educational opportunity and the creative, smart future of our economy.

But the Prime Minister says there is no role for the government in this important task. The simple fact is that after 10 years the government does not have any plans or strategies for building important economic infrastructure. Indeed, today we saw a continuation with the Treasurer and the Prime Minister going on an absurd and misguided economic attack—an attack from a government that is no longer connected to the reality of the economic challenges facing rural and regional Australia; an attack that is fundamentally flawed. The government says that a national broadband network is something that really is being attended to by the private sector and therefore there is no need for government involvement. The fact is that the G9 and Telstra proposals only supply fast-speed broadband to the five capital cities and the proposals cannot be rolled out without urgent regulatory reform—regulatory reform that Labor will deliver so we can make a $4.7 billion investment in our future.

We have had 17 separate programs by the Howard government and we are still falling behind the world, ranked 25th by the World Economic Forum for available internet bandwidth. When broadband pressure was on during the last election, the government announced the Metropolitan Broadband Blackspots Program, a quick fix designed to give the impression of government policy action. A letter I received from the Prime Minister today indicated that just $4.1 million of that $50 million that was allocated and promised—less than 10 per cent of the program—had actually been spent. It gets worse. More than a quarter of that, $1.3 million, was spent on administering the program.

The Treasurer is a broadband sceptic, just as the government is dominated by climate change sceptics. They do not understand how important broadband is to the Australian economy. They think broadband is a worthless bounty, not an investment in Australia’s future. We have seen hysterical attacks from the government, but the fact is that the future of this country does depend on a national broadband network. We have had comments from the Treasurer about economic responsibility. The Treasurer is an economic manager for yesterday, not an economic reformer for tomorrow, because if you want to be Prime Minister in the 21st century you have to make decisions for the 21st century. This is the same government that on 25 January, World Water Day, made a commitment of $10 billion to the National Plan for Water Security—a plan that did not go to cabinet and a plan that had not been properly scrutinised or costed by Treasury or Finance.

What was Labor’s response to that? Labor’s response was to be constructive and to acknowledge that there is a need for water reform. Compare that with the actions of a government that is acting more like a desperate opposition every single day. The comparisons between Peter Debnam and his behaviour in New South Wales and this government are very stark. This is a government that is negative and simply plays politics. It is unable to get beyond dealing with its own internal crisis. We need a government that is prepared to step forward into the future to meet not just the broadband challenge but the challenges of climate change and water, the challenges to meet the next generation—not a government that is out of ideas, out of touch and out of time. (Time expired)