Jun 22, 2010

Question without notice – Broadband

Ms BIRD (2:27 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government, representing the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. What progress is being made to roll out universal high-speed broadband in Australia, and why is it important to regional and remote communities? And are there any threats to broadband delivery in these communities?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government) —I thank the member for Cunningham for her question, because she understands that this is the biggest nation-building infrastructure project in Australia’s history. Broadband will transform the way we do work, the way we communicate and engage with each other and the way we deal with the health and education sectors. This will deliver right across the nation, and others agree with us. The Age editorial today said this:

Building the NBN is a visionary task whose historic significance will outstrip even that of infrastructure projects such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme, which fired the imaginations of past generations … Physical distances cannot be shrunk, but their tyranny may at last be overcome under the new forms of human connectivity the NBN will make possible.

That is why this project is so important. First services start in Tasmania just next month. Smithton, Scottsdale and Midway Point will for the first time have high-speed, affordable broadband. The rollout of some 6,000 kilometres of fibre optic backbone links is underway to some 100 regional locations.

The upgraded Australian Broadband Guarantee program will provide tens of thousands of existing and new customers with faster speeds and bigger monthly download limits. The agreement between Telstra and NBN Co. will ensure that the NBN is delivered faster, cheaper and with higher take-up rates, with benefits for both business and households. But it is under threat because those opposite are so out of touch that they simply cannot believe that the government is playing any role at all. Indeed, the shadow finance spokesperson has said:

This is government gone mad.

That is their position. The opposition will scrap the NBN, ripping up vital infrastructure, ripping billions of dollars out of rural and regional Australia. But they do have something to take its place. In its place they will set up a billion-dollar regional education fund and will invest the interest, about $60 million a year—$60 million a year in total—to deal with 21st century education and communications tools across the whole country. They want regional and rural Australia to miss out on broadband, just as it did under 12 years of coalition government—

Mr Fletcher —What a lie! Who cancelled Broadband Connect?

Mr ALBANESE —and just as it did under their 18 failed broadband policies. Since then they have had three different shadow ministers, none of whom have been prepared to take that leap into the 21st century, leave their walkie-talkies behind and move into the digital age. They simply are not up to economic management and the challenges of this century.

Mr Fletcher —It is a lie!

The SPEAKER —The member for Bradfield will withdraw the comment.

Mr Fletcher —I withdraw.