House debates

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Questions without Notice


2:28 pm

Photo of Michael FergusonMichael Ferguson (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is addressed to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Transport and Regional Services. It is also about productivity. Would the Deputy Prime Minister inform the House how the government’s investment in broadband will boost productivity in regional Australia, including in my electorate of Bass. In closing, I ask the Deputy Prime Minister: are there any alternative approaches that could threaten this boost to productivity?

Photo of Mark VaileMark Vaile (Lyne, National Party, Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Bass for his question, recognising that that electorate in regional Tasmania can certainly use the investment the government has proposed to make in broadband right across regional Australia. We are going to provide to 99 per cent of Australians access to high-speed broadband as a result of the announcement made by the Prime Minister yesterday through the Australia Connected investment program. It goes without saying that in this age of rapidly developing technology regional Australians need to get access to what is a significant productivity boost, the same as constituents in metropolitan Australia. It is certainly vital for business to remain connected and to be able to compete and be efficient in doing business both domestically and internationally.

As has been pointed out in question time, on all of these issues—whether they be about productivity or the great debate on the availability of broadband—the strategy of the Leader of the Opposition and the Labor Party is to mislead and misinform and then to continue to reinforce that. We have just seen that with the leaked document regarding the Leader of the Opposition’s outing on productivity last week. When it was indicated to him by his staff that he was wrong, he continued to misinform and mislead us as to the best political way forward. It is the same with the debate on broadband. The Leader of the Opposition and a whole range of frontbenchers denigrate the technology that we are proposing to roll out across Australia by 2009 to give 99 per cent of Australians access to speeds in excess of 12 megabits per second.

This is technology that is not just being deployed in Australia; it is being deployed around the world. It is proven technology. The fact is that in the United States in the next 12 months there will be 100 million customers getting access to WiMAX wireless technology. So instead of accessing technology that is being introduced into the United States, the largest economy in the world, years later, we are getting it rolled out in Australia, and into regional Australia particularly, at the same time. Major global companies such as Intel and Motorola are investing in WiMAX wireless technology.

All the Labor Party have been able to do in the last 24 hours is attack the technology. They will attack the process, but they will not make one comment on their policy or their alternative. I have called their alternative ‘Fraudband by 2013’. The Labor Party have a few fundamental questions to answer about fraudband, like: where is the technical backing for it; who will be excluded under Labor’s plan; when will Labor release costings; how will Labor provide for the future needs of regional Australia; and why do Australians have to wait until 2013 to get access to faster broadband under the Labor policy?

It only came to the member for Hunter today to answer some of those questions in a doorstop interview. This morning he answered some of those questions about Labor’s plan by saying, ‘Well, those things are yet to be tested.’ He went on to say, ‘Obviously there may be some people excluded from that.’ Then he said—and this is the best of all—‘We don’t have the technical backing to make those final conclusions.’ Yet the Leader of the Opposition has been out presenting to the people of Australia a plan whereby, he maintains, he only has to spend $4.7 billion worth of taxpayers’ money, stolen from the Communications Fund for the bush, to get 12 megabits of speed right across Australia—or, he claims, to 98 per cent of Australia. We maintain it will only reach 75 per cent of Australians. But the member for Hunter said it: ‘We don’t have the technical backing to make those final conclusions.’

The people of Australia want to see broadband by 2009, not 2013. They should support Australia Connected, not Labor’s fraudband.