Jun 19, 2012

APPROPRIATION BILL (NO. 1) 2012-2013: Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy Portfolio – Consideration in Detail: Investment in the NBN

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (17:27):  I thank the member for Chifley for his contribution and his ongoing role as an advocate of the NBN. Consistent with the government’s objective that NBN Co. operates commercially, the ABS has classified NBN Co. as a public non-financial corporation. It is therefore disclosing exactly the same way as a company such as Australia Post, which is also a PNFC. The accounting for NBN Co. as an equity investment is as prescribed in both of the accounting systems that are used in the budget: government finance statistics and Australian accounting standards. These standards, importantly, are both set independently, at arm’s length from the government. As indicated at paragraph 4.38 of System of National Accounts 2008, to operate as a PNFC, NBN Co. must fulfil a number of criteria. One is that it has got to be capable of generating profit or other financial gain for its owners. Secondly, it must be recognised at law as a separate legal entity from its owners, who enjoy a limited liability. Thirdly, it must be set up for purposes of engaging in market production. It fulfils each of those criteria.

We know that NBN was the policy of this government after 19 failed attempts from the former government to do something to progress the issue of modern telecommunications to bring Australia into the 21st century. They tried 19 times and they failed 19 times. This government was determined to deliver Australia into the 21st century for all the benefits that it brings. We still hear talk about watching movies—as if that is what the NBN is about—from some of those opposite. It is as if they do not understand that the NBN will transform the way that services such as education and health care are delivered in this country and that it will overcome the tyranny of distance that occurs in a country such as Australia, a vast island continent where we are separated from each other, and allow us to compete in the fastest growing region of the world.

So we make absolutely no apology for the fact that we are delivering world’s best practice – a commitment that will bring such benefit, not just to our economy, but also to our society. The NBN is also a vehicle to achieve equity because it allows people to have access to information in real time. It allows people, the small business person in Blacktown or Mount Druitt to compete with the big end of town through access to this technology. That is why it is important.

It is absolutely extraordinary that those opposite are determined to tear it down, scrap it and use non-existent savings for other projects. Of course, their fiscal position simply does not add up. They start with a $70 billion black hole and we know that it gets worse. As I go around the country I have noticed that all the commitments they have made to build roads, to build rail lines or to build ports simply do not add up because they do not have the funding available to them. Well, they will be caught out because they will be held to account. That might bring some pleasure to some—

Mr Turnbull:  Could not hold you to account. You would not answer a question—

Mr ALBANESE:  on that side of the chamber because the member for Wentworth knows deep down—he is a supporter of the NBN; we are in on the joke—that this is better than any of the failed attempts of the government that he was a part of was able to achieve in 19 separate attempts. I will leave my comments there. I thank very much those members who have made such constructive contributions to the debate on this budget—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE:  and indeed I thank the member for Forde, for example, for his acknowledgement that the National Broadband Network is so important. He has demanded it go to his electorate.(Time expired)

Proposed expenditure agreed to.