Jun 19, 2012

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

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (17:11):  To the member for Forde, there is no commercial basis for Telstra withholding services to areas that may not get the NBN until later in the rollout. There should certainly be enough time for Telstra to generate a return from investments in ADSL upgrades such as through top hats. This is occurring in a range of areas. I note the member for Forde’s support for the NBN and his requests that it be rolled out in his electorate. I note the comments of the member for Chifley. The government’s position is not the same as the member for Chifley’s. The government’s position is that people in communities should not suffer from the fact that they made mistakes when they elected a bad member! They should certainly not be punished and they should be entitled to services. If that were the case then there are some people, particularly in seats held by the National Party, who would get nothing across the board, given their extraordinary opposition to the NBN.

I note that in my portfolio of infrastructure and transport, I am continually hearing demands from National Party members, federal and state, in particular, but also from some Liberal Party members saying, ‘You should take the money from the NBN and give it to build a road, a rail line or some other project.’ There is a complete economic illiteracy about the difference between an investment that will bring a return to the government on a commercial basis—that is, the National Broadband Network—and the circumstances of a straight investment in a road project that will not deliver a return but is simply a cost to revenue.

With regard to the National Digital Economy Strategy raised by the member, I note that through the release of the National Digital Economy Strategy the government has set a bold vision for Australia to become a leading digital economy by 2020. The strategy sets out eight digital economy goals to help measure our progress towards this vision in key areas of focus. This digital economy will be underpinned by the NBN and will also provide opportunities to help this nation tackle those major policy challenges such as improving service delivery in health and education, dealing with issues of our ageing population and promoting social inclusion, as well as delivering massive improvements in productivity through infrastructure projects. I have established in my portfolio an infrastructure program called Smart Managed Motorways. The Monash Freeway in Melbourne is an example of how you can get much better utilisation from infrastructure through the use of information technology providing real-time information to motorists and a steady stream in terms of flow of traffic and in terms of entry and exit points from that freeway.

And we have through the managed motorways program, recognised by Infrastructure Australia as a priority project and funded in last year’s budget. It is being rolled out on projects around the country, including the M4 through to the Great Western Highway in Sydney, the Gateway Motorway project in Queensland and Westgate in Melbourne. You have real benefits being delivered.

That is one of the things about the use of better technology. By using better technology and working smarter you can improve productivity and get much better outcomes. It is cost effective to use world’s best technology, and whether it be through the major projects or through the flourishing that we are seeing through small businesses establishing themselves as global businesses, working out of someone’s lounge room with nothing but a computer, that possibility is endless. For too long we have suffered from the tyranny of distance from each other and from the world. The National Broadband Network is the key delivery mechanism to overcome that and to improve our national economic performance. (Time expired)