Oct 21, 2010

Question without notice – National Broadband Network

Mr SYMON (2:37 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, representing the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. What problems have been identified with Australia’s current broadband technology? Are these problems widely identified, and how does the building of the National Broadband Network provide a solution to these problems?

Mr ALBANESE (Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) —I thank the member for his question and his ongoing interest in the whole area of infrastructure development but particularly the National Broadband Network. Just this week the broadband quality survey has found that Australia has actually fallen from 18th to 21st in world broadband rankings. We know that innovation in information and communication technology is the single biggest driver of productivity in our economy. Some 78 per cent of gains in services productivity are a direct result of ICT and 85 per cent of improvements in productivity in manufacturing are a direct result of ICT. We know in fact, and should be ashamed of the fact, that of the world’s top 100 cities when it comes to broadband speeds there are no Australian cities in that list—not one in the top 100. That is the legacy that this government inherited from the 18 failed plans of the former government.

So it has been identified very clearly what the problems are. However, I am asked also whether there is wide recognition of that, and of course the member for Wentworth is one person who argued today on Fran Kelly’s program: ‘The NBN is an answer to a problem that has not even been identified.’ It has not even been identified! It has not been identified by them. We know what all the problems are and we know about the benefits, but the member for Wentworth does not seem to address that. We know about the benefits for productivity. We know about the benefit of 25,000 jobs a year on average. We know about the benefits for consumers—the benefits in education, the benefits in health, the benefits in tackling urban congestion—but this is what we have from the shadow minister. It is a bit like the ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ scene from Monty Python. What are the benefits of national broadband technology? Well, apart from transport benefits, education, health, productivity and jobs, there are none—none whatsoever! That is the attitude of the wreckers opposite. But I wonder whether—

Mr Pyne —I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. Again I ask: how is it that it is relevant to this minister’s responsibility, or that of the one he is representing, to be bagging the opposition? I had thought on a general point that these ‘slag and bag’ answers were going to end with the new standing orders.

The SPEAKER —The minister understands his responsibility to be directly relevant to the question. Regrettably, there are these—and people will, I suppose, deride this—incidental mentions in this answer of the opposition which are not helpful.

Mr ALBANESE —We on this side of the House have identified—along with the business community, along with people in regional Australia, along with people in our cities—what the benefits of the National Broadband Network are. We are determined to do something about it. It would be interesting to know whether the comments of the shadow minister were actually authorised or whether perhaps they were like the comments of the shadow Treasurer, because we have had no questions from him either. Quite clearly they are just going rogue.

The SPEAKER —The minister has concluded.