House debates

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009

Second Reading

10:25 am

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Casey, Liberal Party, Shadow Assistant Treasurer) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in this important debate on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009 to support the amendment moved by my colleague the member for Dunkley and to take the opportunity to canvass what has happened over the course of the last couple of years. This policy area of communications, and particularly of broadband, from the Rudd Labor government is a first-class illustration of a broken election promise, of policy incompetence and chaos, and a classic example of where the outer suburbs, regional and remote areas of Australia are being let down.

If I could take the House back to March 2007 when the now Prime Minister, then the Leader of the Opposition, released his New Directions for Communications: A Broadband Future for Australia—Building a National Broadband Network policy to the Australian people, the pledge was to fix broadband black spots with their broadband network plan. In 2007, the coalition government, as it then was, announced and commenced a new plan to fix broadband black spots in outer suburban areas in electorates such as Casey and Dunkley, which my friend and colleague represents. The former government had contracted OPEL to fix these broadband black spots on a case-by-case basis. The contract was signed and today those very areas would have had their black spots fixed, they would have affordable, quality broadband services, but after the election the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy cancelled that contract. In the beginning of 2008 he announced that he was cancelling that contract.

We move forward to April this year when the government, having been in office for nearly 18 months, having considered its election promise, having taken its only action which was to cancel a contract to fix broadband black spots, announced a new broadband plan—their NBN 2 plan. The plan was to spend $43 billion to have a broadband service some time into the future. This is policy and election promise leap-frogging like we have not seen before. The NBN for mainland Australia will commence, or be up and running, in the outer suburban areas of Casey and Dunkley in at best—no-one knows for sure—about eight years time. So, having promised to fix broadband black spots, the only action the government has taken is to cancel the contract that would have fixed in a targeted way those very broadband black spots. The government’s promise now to those people in electorates like mine of Casey is, ‘We could have fixed that broadband black spot, but we have a new and improved product that will deliver broadband services to you in at best’—it is hard to pin them down—‘about eight years time in 2017.’

This is unbelievable betrayal on a grand scale. In eight years time, in 2017, it will be 10 years since the election promise. In 2017 the residents of these areas will have been, on a best case scenario—it will probably be longer—waiting 10 years from Labor’s promise. Worse than that, from now they could have had broadband services if that OPEL contract had been honoured, but for eight years they will be denied them. Residents in Casey in black spot areas in the Lilydale Lakes Estate, the Gateway Estate—also in Lilydale—the Blue Ridge Estate in Mooroolbark and in Monbulk and the Patch could have had broadband services if the government had simply taken no action and had honoured the contract. Many commentators have made the point that the government has done absolutely nothing on communications. The one action that they have taken was to cancel that contract.

The member for Dunkley made a very good contribution at the beginning of this debate in this House. On the cancellation of the OPEL program, he pointed out that schoolkids could be using the technology right now. He said:

They would have started perhaps in year 7 at a secondary school and been able to use broadband to support their education. Now, they will have left secondary school before much of anything happens in terms of improving broadband in their areas.

That hit the nail right on the head.

Recently, I met with a group of residents in the Lilydale Lakes Estate. I met with Doug Stanton and a group of residents who have been denied affordable quality broadband. The former government recognised that this was unacceptable and put in place a contract to provide it, and it would have been provided by now or by the end of this year if the Labor government had simply honoured that contract. For all the rhetoric and all the speakers notes that those opposite will have about a wonderful new NBN, it will be years into the future if it occurs. They are proposing to spend $43 billion without knowing what the take-up rate will be, without knowing what the business case is and without knowing what the price will be.

The promise and the pledge from this Prime Minister and from those opposite is: ‘Forget what we promised at the last election; we are now promising something for two or three elections time.’ It is absolutely scandalous. The promise to the people in the Lilydale Lakes Estate is that they should wait until this supposed Rolls Royce service comes along in 2017. Looking at the point the member for Dunkley made about schoolkids being able to use the internet, the rhetoric from this government is all about trying to give access to the internet to schoolchildren. They talk the talk, but when it comes to it they have taken a deliberate policy decision to deny schoolkids access to the internet in black spot areas that could have been filled and fixed by now.

Like robots, those opposite will get up and attack the former Howard government. I predict that that will occur when I finish my contribution. But I make this prediction also: they will not mention the cancellation of that contract. They will not say to those people living in those areas that it is right that they wait eight years, yet that is exactly what they are doing.

The Prime Minister is like the crazy architect that you see on some of those home-building programs. He is like the crazy architect in Grand Designs. He has the sketch. He has the house being build. The people who want their house built are living in a caravan. And he says: ‘Look, I know I promised you a two-bedroom or three-bedroom house and I know I said I’d build it within six months. But guess what? I’ve been back to the drawing board and I’ve worked out that in eight years time I can build you a mansion. All you’ve got to do is wait and live in the caravan.’ I saw an advertisement for the program Grand Designs last night. They have a new program. They are going to go back to some of these houses that have been constructed and they are going to look at the houses that are leaking or that never quite got finished. This is exactly what this Prime Minister is like: he is like the crazy architect in Grand Designs. But for those people living in broadband black spots, the only promise is to wait for 10 years until 2017.

And what might happen then? What might happen if the NBN rolls out—if the business case has been made; if it actually occurs; if this government manages with a bigger program to do what they could not do with a smaller program; if they manage to actually stick to their promise—is that they will, we are told, get broadband at high speed. But we are not promised that it will be affordable; we are not promised that at all because none of the business case has been done, there has been no detail on what the take-up rate will be, there has been no detail on exactly what the dimensions of the cost will be. So as well as being denied access to affordable broadband for eight years, as the families in the circuit in Lilydale Lakes Estate and surrounding streets and those other black spots have been, when families finally get broadband services they could very well be at a prohibitive cost. Going back to the example of the schoolchildren, by 2017 they will have left school—and that is the price those families are currently paying for Labor incompetence on a grand scale.

Those opposite know that this has been a shemozzle. They went to the last election with a promise to fix broadband black spots. They will go to the next election not having fixed one black spot in electorates like Dunkley or Casey. That is absolutely beyond doubt. And the member opposite, the member for Robertson, is nodding her head.


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