Oct 20, 2010

Question without notice – Broadband

Mr CHEESEMAN (2:24 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. Why is the National Broadband Network so important for Australian households and businesses, and why does the government not support plans to delay its rollout?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) —I thank the member for Corangamite for his question. The National Broadband Network will be the backbone of our future economy. It will transform our regions, it will drive competition, it will drive productivity and it will drive job creation—the jobs of the new century, the jobs of the future. The bill that I introduced today, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010, will introduce the structural separation of Telstra, something that should have been done when Telstra was privatised—but there was delay after delay after delay—as is recognised by many opposite now, including the current member for Bradfield. Now this legislation enables it to happen, with significant benefit to consumers. It is a part of the government’s comprehensive plan for a truly national broadband network. Over the decade, we saw 19 failed plans from the opposition, none of them complete. We are determined to move on with the job.

I am asked why we should not delay. There have been a range of proposals for us to delay this project. Firstly, we were told we had to wait for the ACCC advice. Then we were told we had to wait for the implementation study to be completed. Then we were told we had to wait for the response to the implementation study. We were also told that those opposite were waiting for one of the five separate Senate inquiries that have occurred into the NBN that have produced five separate reports. Now we have more proposals to delay. We are told that we should wait for a seven-month long Productivity Commission inquiry, even though the proponent of this inquiry says that he will not take any notice of whether it gives the rollout the tick or not; he will still continue to oppose it because that is the job that he has been given.

We are also being told we need a joint select committee to oversee the rollout of the NBN. So we should not have experts, such as we have got in charge of NBN Co., overseeing the rollout of the NBN; the new development of those opposite is that infrastructure rollouts should be overseen by joint committees. It is a bit like the ‘phone a boat’ proposal of the Leader of the Opposition when it comes to asylum seekers. The fact is that we have released an implementation study that provides a comprehensive financial analysis. It says that there is a strong and viable business case. It says that there is a sufficient rate of return to cover the cost of funds. It says that there will be positive earnings by year 6. And it says that the cost estimates are conservative. That is why we must get on with the job of building this vital infrastructure, not retreat from it. The only retreat that needs to happen on this issue is a retreat from the wrecking strategy that those opposite have when it comes to the National Broadband Network.