Nov 15, 2010

Question without notice – Broadband

Mr MITCHELL (3:04 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, representing the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. What progress is being made to roll out the National Broadband Network, why is the timely rollout important to regional Australia and what impediments are there to this progress?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) —I thank the member for McEwen for his question. Certainly, as he would be aware, it is the case that services are already live in Tasmania. Services will go live in five first-release sites on the mainland early next year: Willunga, Brunswick, Townsville, Minnamurra/Kiama Downs and Armidale. At the same time we will begin construction on 19 second-release sites on the mainland. Some eight months ago we began work laying 6,000 kilometres of optical fibre backbone in six priority areas that had been identified by the ACCC as having the least competitive backhaul across Australia: between Perth and Geraldton, in south-west Gippsland, between Victor Harbour and the Adelaide Hills, between Broken Hill and Mildura and between Darwin, Longreach, Emerald and Toowoomba. And of course the member for Kennedy would be conscious that it began going both ways from Mount Isa. Some 60 per cent of this fibre infrastructure rollout is now complete and the first links will be ready on time and on budget in March of next year.

We know that the opposition have had an alternative plan. They have had in fact 20 failed broadband plans. Under their 19th plan, they promised that funding would also occur for some regional back-haul infrastructure, with 100 per cent of it—just about—starting after June 2013. So, whilst we are getting on with the job of rolling out the National Broadband Network, creating some 25,000 direct jobs, delivering for regional Australia, those opposite simply want to delay. Those on this side of the House, and the Independents, understand that Australia simply cannot afford to delay universal high-speed and affordable broadband, particularly in regional Australia.

We will have a bit of a test this afternoon over whether those opposite stand for the national interest or for their own political interest, because the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010 will be debated and determined in the parliament this afternoon. It supports a wholesale-only open-access NBN that will fundamentally transform competition in the sector. It is supported by industry, including Telstra, so it will be a real test this afternoon whether those opposite will vote for this legislation. They should support this legislation, as they should support what is the most important infrastructure project that we could possibly be proceeding with to bring Australia into the 21st century and to build productivity in this nation.