House debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Morrison Government

3:38 pm

Photo of Michelle RowlandMichelle Rowland (Greenway, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Communications) Share this | Hansard source

Australians deserve a Prime Minister and a government that are going to tell them the truth, act in the public interest and plan ahead for a strong economy and jobs growth. But, instead, what do we have? We have a tired, decade-old government, just about, led by a Prime Minister who has zero regard for the truth. He always puts his immediate political interests ahead of the national interest and simply has no plan for the future, nothing beyond what can get him out of immediate trouble.

Nothing says it more about the government failing to act in the interests of Australians than the communications portfolio. When Australians think of technology, they think about it as a positive. They think of it as transformational. They see possibilities. They see the future. They see the potential for equality of access to be achieved through ICT. In contrast, this Prime Minister and this cabinet only see technology as an instrument to exploit or invent political differentiation and tactically present voters with false choices.

Nowhere is this better exemplified than with NBN. This government came in in 2013 and abandoned a fibre rollout on the dishonest premise their second-rate copper network was going to cost $29½ billion. What a surprise; that cost blew out to $41 billion, then $49 billion, then $51 billion and now $57 billion—basically double what they originally promised. It is a proverbial sushi train of cost blowouts served up by the most incompetent economic managers in living memory. Why? The abandonment of fibre was never about cost. It was always about politics. It is always about politics with this government. On one side, we had a particular technology, fibre, that just so happens to be favoured by most of the developed world. On the other side, they felt compelled to oppose it. Every time their multitechnology mix had a cost increase, they would invent a new set of untruths about fibre.

This was a scam, and it was decimated on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald in February this year. We had a report citing leaked figures revealing the communications minister and his government wilfully misled the Australian people about the cost of deploying fibre. I said before that it's highly notable that since that time the minister has been unwilling to repeat his false claims publicly. What is that? That's an admission that the minister was not misinformed. It's an admission that he wilfully misled the entire time and he is a diminished figure as a result, just as this Prime Minister and his government are so diminished in the eyes of voters who understand technology.

COVID has demonstrated that reliable, quality, high-speed broadband is not a luxury; it is a necessity. Families need it, students need it, small businesses need it. That's why last week the Labor leader and I announced that, if elected, Labor will not only keep the NBN in public ownership for the foreseeable future but will use that time to expand fibre access for up to an additional 1½ million homes and small businesses. This policy will run fibre into the street and give every Australian who relies on a copper connection now the choice of having fibre connected into their home if they want faster speeds in that 1.5 million footprint.

Labor believes the next decade should be one where Australia makes things here again and becomes globally competitive in growing industries such as advanced manufacturing. Our plan is in the national interest. It's focused on the future and about building better jobs, and of course relying on the highest-quality ICT. It is therefore no wonder that this government, in September last year, did the biggest backflip in public policy history by announcing, after racking up nearly double the cost of their second-rate NBN, that they would go back to fibre. How incompetent could these people be?

Unfortunately, it is not just critical infrastructure like the NBN where the Liberals play politics. The SBS and the ABC are national institutions that exist to serve all Australians in the public interest. Let's talk about their cuts. Tony Abbott promised there would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS. I'll tell you what their cuts to the ABC did: they forced the cessation of shortwave radio, cutting off the provision of content into regional and remote areas. Then we had a news report in 2018 that a Chinese station had taken over those frequencies. It says it all. (Time expired)


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