Nov 23, 2010

Question without notice – Broadband

Mr MITCHELL (2:42 PM) —My question is to the Leader of the House in his role as the Minister representing the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. How will the National Broadband Network drive critical productivity improvements? What is the role of House of Representatives committees in communications policy?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) —I thank the member for McEwen for his question. As a regional member, he understands how important national broadband will be for driving productivity in regional Australia. The NBN will turbocharge productivity. It will create some 25,000 jobs a year on average. Innovation from ICT is the single biggest driver of business productivity. And the NBN is already being rolled out on time and on budget. Services in Tasmania are being rolled out. More than 60 per cent of the regional fibre-optic infrastructure has been built, spanning more than 3,000 kilometres across the continent.

Today I announced that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications will conduct a wide-ranging inquiry on the social and economic benefits of the National Broadband Network. That is as it should be. It will be chaired by Sharon Bird, the member for Cunningham, and ably deputy chaired by the member for Hinkler. This is a committee that has a proud record in this parliament and the previous parliament through its shipping policy inquiry and other inquiries and of working in a bipartisan way to get good outcomes in the national interest. I am sure that will occur in this case as well. It will complement the smart infrastructure inquiry that began in the last parliament. A forum was held here at Parliament House. That forum was addressed by people such as Glen Boreham from IBM. That forum talked about the great benefit of information technology and the revolution that is occurring for business productivity and economic growth. This inquiry will be able to meet in Canberra but will also get out there and research the benefits.

But there have been previous inquiries by parliamentary committees of course. My attention has been drawn to the November 2002 report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications, Information Technology and the Arts. It is not surprising there were reports, because those opposite had, of course, 18 separate policies. One of the inputs to those policies, no doubt, was this report of November 2002. In the executive summary, it says:

No wireless broadband technology is able to handle the data rates of the best wire-line technologies.

Game, set and match. Eight years ago, they knew what the future was; eight years ago, they knew what should be done. I looked at who the chair of the committee was and it was that perennial backbencher of the Howard government, the member for Sturt. The member for Sturt, Christopher Pyne, was the chair of this inquiry—that perennial backbencher sitting up there. They would not let him sit at the front, but they let him chair these inquiries which fed into the 18 failed policies we saw from those opposite.

Those of us on this side of the House are going to deliver world’s best practice, 21st-century technology, just like—I am reminded by the foreign minister’s last answer—in Japan. Japan is going to roll out high-speed broadband to every home by March next year. We need to keep up to the mark and not accept second best, and that is exactly what this government’s NBN plan is doing.