Mar 28, 2011

National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 – Consideration of Senate message

Mr ALBANESE —I seek to make a contribution to this debate on behalf of the government, as the mover of the motion. When I moved this motion it was anticipated, of course, that it would be supported without debate. That is the way that Labor in opposition operated over 12 years of opposition. That is the way that this place has operated. What we have here, after 12 years of failing to make advances on high-speed broadband and 12 years of inadequate policy and failure on behalf of those opposite, is an extraordinary attempt to delay even the debate about the amendments that have been carried by the Senate.

The Senate dealt with these issues over Thursday night and over Friday. And, late Friday night, it carried the bills before the House, with amendments. That is the appropriate way to operate. Indeed, there was some discussion last Thursday about the scheduling of this sitting on Monday morning at 10 am to provide some certainty for members to be able to make appropriate arrangements, given commitments that they had in their electorates on Friday. Had we not done that and had what used to occur—sitting all night here—occurred, we would have been sitting here until Saturday because we could not have received these amendments back until Saturday morning from the Senate. So the correct decision on the management of this House was made. And the correct decision is also for us to consider this legislation here today.

We know that, under the former government, Australia fell behind the rest of the world on broadband. We were ranked 50th for broadband speeds. Not one Australian city—not one—makes the top 100 in the world for broadband speeds. Many in our region are rolling out fibre broadband networks or have already done so; Japan, Singapore and New Zealand come to mind. Yet the shadow minister opposite has said, ‘The NBN is an answer to a problem that has not even been identified.’ That is what the member for Wentworth thinks.

What we saw, during their period in office, was 20 failed broadband plans and, at each step, an attempt to delay action. We know the member for Wentworth was appointed by the Leader of the Opposition to demolish the NBN, because the Leader of the Opposition told us so. Those opposite said, ‘Wait for the ACCC advice.’ Done. Then they said, ‘Wait for the implementation study.’ Done. Then they said, ‘Wait for the response to the implementation study.’ Then they said, ‘Wait for the Senate committee on NBN.’ ‘Wait,’ five times, while five separate reports were done. Then they said, ‘Wait for a seven-month Productivity Commission inquiry,’ which they would not even promise they would listen to. Indeed, Senator Joyce, at the time the shadow infrastructure minister, said about the Productivity Commission reports: ‘I use them when I’ve run out of toilet paper.’ That is the standard of the debate from those opposite. Then they wanted a committee of politicians—not the experts—in charge of the NBN rollout. While the coalition calls for delay in the National Broadband Network, NBN services are up and running in Tasmania. And we have rolled out more than half of the regional fibre optic links.

The debate today is extraordinary. They actually cannot even get to the substance of the amendments that they want to move. They are having a debate over whether we have a debate. This is some sort of syndrome which has been caught by the opposition since their defeat on 21 August last year—this ability to oppose absolutely everything, whether it be of substance, such as the National Broadband Network itself, or whether it be procedures.

People in regional Australia, such as the member for Hinkler in this chamber, know that the broadband services are not up to scratch in regional Australia. We know that there are pockets, including in my electorate, that will always be advantaged, in terms of delivery of infrastructure such as broadband, in comparison with outer suburbs, such as those in Western Sydney, and areas such as the Central Coast and areas of regional Queensland. It is quite frankly extraordinary that this is the case.

We had the Leader of the Opposition come in here and, very predictably, move his suspension of standing orders—not, this time, so that it could be on before Play School at five past three, but as the first motion of business. He wants to draw analogies with state politics. But have a look at what state politicians are saying. The Brisbane Lord Mayor who, whilst not being a member of parliament—I am not sure what he is; they have outsourced the leadership of the LNP—had this to say on 24 March: ‘I am not opposed to the NBN. However, its rollout across Queensland should be occurring at a faster rate.’ That is what Campbell Newman had to say. So we are not doing it fast enough. Well, I say to Campbell Newman, in the unlikely event that he is listening to this broadcast, that he should get on the phone to the nongs who represent the LNP opposite and tell them to get out of the way and get on with the debate.

That statement is consistent with the other statements that are made by their state leaders. Will Hodgman, the Tasmanian Liberal leader, said on 28 July 2010:

“I will continue to argue that in my view the NBN rollout is a positive thing for this state.”

The Victorian Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and Minister for Manufacturing, Exports and Trade, in a recent media release on the outcome that two Victorian companies had been awarded contracts to assist in building the NBN, said:

“This is a fantastic outcome for Victoria with potentially $1.3 billion of NBN Co’s $1.6 billion of investment coming to our state over the next five years …

… … …

“We are committed to working closely with local industry on our promise to ensure there are future opportunities for Victorian companies with the National Broadband Network project.”

This bloke, Minister Dalla-Riva, was not caught up at some doorstop with a trick question. This is a media release from him, put out on 18 January, just two months ago. Indeed, in the recent campaign conducted for the election on Saturday, Tim Owen, the Liberal candidate for the state seat of Newcastle, told a forum during the campaign on 9 March that he supported the early rollout of the NBN to Newcastle, saying that the sooner it was rolled out to Newcastle the better.

The hypocrisy of those opposite is just unbelievable. They talk about not being ready. They had from last Thursday to this morning to prepare their surprise motion for the suspension of standing orders, and they could not even get it in order. Some of it had to be ruled out of order because they could not even get it right because they just cut and pasted, one would assume, from a press release with question marks all over it as part of their motion—an extraordinary performance. If they had actually bothered to listen over the weekend to what people had to say about the changes that have been made to the legislation by the Senate, this is what the chief negotiator from Optus, Mr Maha Krishnapillai, had to say on Inside Business on ABC TV yesterday:

It is a fundamentally important reform for this economy.

That is what he had to say. He was asked by Alan Kohler:

So are you satisfied now with what you’ve got. Do you think you’re going to be able to use the NBN to improve Optus’ position?

This is what he had to say:

We have said for the last few years that this all about levelling the playing field and we think this’ll give us and others the first-time opportunity to really start to offer those sorts of services across a wholesale-only network run by an organisation that doesn’t have an incentive to prefer itself or an incentive to, if you like, have monopoly profits within its organisation. That’s a first.

That is a very important statement, because those opposite took a public monopoly, made it into a private monopoly and called it reform. They wondered why they had to have 20 separate plans and simply could not get it right.

An email from Matt Healy, the Chair of the Competitive Carriers Coalition, had this to say at the end of last week: ‘It is our view that the amendments to the NBN bills address our issues of concern that had been raised.’ That is what he had to say. He went on to say: ‘I understand that these are needed to support the NBN business case and the notion of regulated monopoly.’ He went on to say: ‘It is our view that the subsequent amendments ought to be supported.’

So we have here a piece of legislation subject to scrutiny, amended in the Senate and improved as a result of the amendments that have been carried, and those opposite are so underconfident about their ability to raise any issues of substance about those amendments that we are, frankly, wasting the House’s time with a long debate about whether we have a debate or not. We know that we will be having a debate today. Those opposite know it; we know it. The fact that people have been stumped up to continue to speak for 15 minutes each on this debate in order to drag out the end result will not change the end result. What it will do is expose those opposite as blockers, as wreckers, as prevaricators. It will not change the outcome because a majority of this House supports the National Broadband Network. A majority of this House wants to move forward.

Those opposite probably think, ‘Oh, we’re stopping the government.’ But, at the end of the day, these delays that they keep calling for are not stopping the government; they are stopping the result, the impact and the benefit to consumers that the National Broadband Network will bring. That is the end result of this negativity. I thought I had seen the lot. I have seen them oppose the national health reform process. We have seen them oppose the economic stimulus package that saved Australia from the recession that the rest of the world had to endure. We have seen them oppose the levy which was put on temporarily in order to reconstruct Queensland and other parts of Australia affected by the natural disasters. We have seen them oppose national infrastructure spending in a range of areas. We have seen them oppose action on the National Broadband Network. But now they are reduced to trying to oppose through procedural means even the parliament debating these issues.

The opposition should get on with this debate of substance. If they have any amendments to move, they should move them by all means. Let them be considered by the House. But we on this side of the House are determined to pursue the benefits to consumers that will result from the National Broadband Network.