House debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Matters of Public Importance


3:28 pm

Photo of Paul FletcherPaul Fletcher (Bradfield, Liberal Party, Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts) Share this | Hansard source

I want to start with an area where there is agreement between the government and the opposition, and that agreement concerns the fact that the pandemic demonstrated that, more than ever, people really value having reliable, high-quality broadband. Overnight, millions of us moved to working and studying from home, and we really needed a good broadband connection to get through that period. Indeed, when the pandemic hit 98 per cent of Australian households were able to connect to the NBN. That meant they could have access to a reliable, high-speed service, one offering good upload speeds as well as good download speeds. Compare that to the previous generation of broadband DSL, which offered lower broadband speeds down but, particularly, offered very low speeds up. If you're videoconferencing you need good speeds in both directions. When Australians turned to the NBN in their hour of need, they found it was there and it was reliable. In a very real sense, the NBN, a ubiquitously available, good-quality broadband—with 98 per cent of households around the country able to connect to the NBN—was critical in getting Australia through the pandemic.

Given that there is agreement between Labor and the government on this, the first question, in terms of the language of the motion before the House this afternoon, is: does the fact that there was 98 per cent availability of the NBN demonstrate mismanagement of the NBN? Or, does it, on the contrary, demonstrate that our government, the Liberal-National government, has managed the NBN in a way which allows that to happen and we did so, notwithstanding the fact that in 2013 we inherited a train wreck of a project from those opposite? When we came to government, Labor had spent $6 billion and they'd had six years in government, and, at the end of all of that, there were barely 51,000 premises connected to the fixed line NBN around Australia. By contrast today, there are 8.3 million premises connected around Australia with 77 per cent of those on a speed of 50 megabits per second or higher and there are 12 million premises that are ready to connect. So you will see that it is chalk and cheese between the train wreck that we inherited and the methodical, systematic process that we have gone through to deliver a rollout such that, by 2020, 98 per cent of all premises were able to connect. If we had stuck to Labor's ill-conceived original plan, then, in 2020, when the pandemic hit, there would have been several million fewer households able to connect.

It's been a matter of good fortune for the nation that our government has been in charge of the rollout of the NBN, in contrast to the chaotic and demonstrated incompetence of the NBN implementation in the years that Labor was last in government. The NBN under the Labor government missed every target they set themselves in their business case. In their corporate plan, issued in December 2010, they promised that by 30 June 2011 there would be 223,000 premises passed or covered. The actual number: 10,500. By 30 June 2013, they said there'd be 1.221 million premises passed or covered. The actual number: 235,000. It's a remarkable display of incompetence, because Labor cannot deliver. They have no competence at execution. They have no competence at delivery.

The mess that we inherited was not easily turned around. It took a lot of detailed, sustained work. We had to put in place a competent, capable board and management, because the previous government hadn't bothered to do that basic thing. We had to come up with a workable, deliverable strategy so that we could get the network rolled out as quickly as possible. Labor had a fetishistic insistence on connecting fibre to the home of every premise around Australia within the fixed-line footprint, regardless of whether the customer wanted it—Canberra knows best! You may say you don't want to order a speed that needs fibre, but Canberra knows best, and we are determined to roll a fibre to your home whether you want it or not!

One of the key consequences of moving to the multitechnology mix was that it was more capital efficient. The latest numbers from the NBN corporate plan: fibre to the node, $2,330 per premise; fibre premises in brownfields, $4,395—$2,000 per premises more. Now, if you want fibre to your home and you're prepared to order a service which needs fibre, then there's a logic for providing that. But, if you don't want fibre, why does it make sense to spend more than $2,000 extra per premises? This is a basic piece of logic which Labor has struggled with for a very long time. By contrast, not only have we delivered to a point where now over 99 per cent of all premises can connect but what we also did last year was lay out a way forward for the NBN. We did what we said we would do back in 2013—that we'd get the network rolled out and we would continue to upgrade it to drive fibre deeper into the network in response to customer demand. So what we committed to last year was a plan to spend $4.5 billion under which, by 2023, eight million premises around Australia will be able to order a speed of up to one gigabit per second. That is blazing fast broadband. Implicit within that is a footprint of two million fibre-to-the-node premises where we will roll fibre down the middle of the street and, as soon as the customer chooses to order a speed which needs fibre all the way, we will then build the fibre lead-in. That is the business-like way to do it. That is the logical way to do it. That is the capital-efficient way to do it.

What's extremely interesting is that, despite all the fiery rhetoric from the shadow minister, Labor have adopted our policy and they have said they are going to have exactly the same approach. They are going to only connect fibre to the home when the customer chooses to order it. It's perhaps not surprising that the shadow minister hasn't chosen to emphasise that particular complete backflip in Labor's approach. But the fact is that, when you look at Labor's track record of execution, the question in front of the people of Australia today is: who can be relied upon to do what they say they are going to do in rolling out the National Broadband Network? The fact is that, when you look at what we said we were going to do in 2013, we have done exactly what we said we would do. A consequence of us having been in government for the last eight years is that, when the pandemic hit, 98 per cent of premises around the country were able to connect. If Labor had still been in government and had stuck to their original plan, if they had maintained their dismal track record, when 2020 came along and the pandemic hit millions of premises would have been unable to use videoconferencing or other technologies which require the current generation of broadband.

I will say this to the House: it would have been very little consolation to those Australians unable to access good-quality broadband that Labor had bold aspirations, that Labor had a bold vision for the future. Visions are very easy to articulate. They had lots of visions when they were in government between 2007 and 2013, but across portfolio after portfolio, including communications and including the NBN, they could not deliver. That's because they are hopeless. They are beyond hopeless when it comes to delivering. They have no business experience. They have no capability in this area. When we came to government in 2013 we got under the hood of this project and looked at their track record when it came to the NBN, and what a complete train wreck we inherited. What a dismal mess it was. We have methodically turned it around. Thanks to that, when the pandemic hit, 98 per cent of premises were able to connect to the NBN. We continue to upgrade it. I say to the Australian people: look at the track records of the two major parties; only one of them can be trusted to deliver the NBN.


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