House debates

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Matters of Public Importance


3:17 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Greenway proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government’s broken promises on the NBN.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

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

Paul Keating nailed it when it comes this Prime Minister. He nailed it in two words: no judgement. This Prime Minister has not only declared in this place what the High Court would decide on citizenship only a short time ago, which didn't turn out too well, but we saw his repeated refusals to instigate a royal commission into the banks, and then we saw his backflip. Australians feel the impact of this Prime Minister's lack of judgement every day when it comes to his second-rate NBN. Australian consumers and businesses are bearing the brunt of his lack of judgement. They are bearing the brunt of its impact on their everyday lives, its impact on their ability to conduct their businesses and its impact on their children's ability to get an education and their ability to actually participate in the digital economy.

Whenever you hear this Prime Minister bang on about engineering and economics, I have one bit of advice: evacuate the scene—just run. You know that the poor judgement of this Prime Minister has led to the situation we have today of Australia dropping even further in the international rankings for digital capability. You only had to see this Prime Minister's performance, only minutes ago, where he tried to weasel out of the very real fact that he has failed to deliver on his 2013 election promise to give every Australian access to minimum speeds on the NBN by the end of 2016. We're nearly through 2017. We're nearing the first year anniversary of that broken promise. He promised faster and more affordable NBN sooner under his tenure. He has broken every one of those promises. He promised it would be delivered for $29 billion; that's blown out to $50 billion. Complaints have increased 159 per cent under this Prime Minister and his second-rate NBN. And I tell you what, the Prime Minister tried to tell us in some of his answers here today that NBN users are satisfied. They repeatedly say 85 per cent of NBN users are satisfied. I've got news for him: that would fail every pub test in this country. You would not get that past a single pub in this country.

What we have seen is the combination of broken promises and bad judgement of this Prime Minister, but few instances encapsulate it more neatly than the debacle of HFC in the multi-technology mess he has created. You just have to look at yesterday's question. Yesterday he answered a question about HFC and he said:

There are obviously always issues with these technologies.

That's not what he said before. Just have a look. In March 2015, the Prime Minister said this:

What our approach will enable us to do is deliver on our word, which is to deliver very fast broadband, in this case at extraordinary speeds, fibre equivalent speeds, much sooner, much cheaper and at much lower cost to customers.

That's what he said HFC would do. He also said on 24 August 2015:

… there are massive savings in time and money to be made by incorporating the HFC networks.

Wrong! He said on 13 March 2015:

… the use of HFC networks—could save the company four years to complete the project and around $30 billion in costs.

Wrong on every count! Even after he broke his 2013 election promise—the Prime Minister promised that 2.6 million premises would have access to the NBN over HFC by the end of 2016, but only 160,000 premises had access by that time, just seven per cent. That was just seven per cent of his target. The cost of the HFC technology has blown out by 45 per cent. The Prime Minister still won't release HFC cost estimates from his original NBN policy document and, in October this year, the communications minister said the government's second-rate NBN would be, 'The envy of the world.' I don't know what parallel universe that world is in, but it certainly isn't the one that Australians are living in today. And on 27 November—just last week—the NBN announced they'd be delaying the HFC rollout by six to nine months because the network was not delivering a reliable service. Two million homes and businesses across Australia are impacted by this latest delay, including more than 40,000 premises in Bennelong.

It's the Australian taxpayer who is being punished for these latest failures. The government says it doesn't know how much this will cost taxpayers. But previous analysis signed off by the NBN Co board indicates it could be anywhere between $420 million and $790 million if there's a six- to nine-month delay. Just imagine that: half a billion dollars just thrown down the drain because this Prime Minister couldn't be bothered to take the time to make sure the HFC network was fit-for-purpose before it was rolled out. That was bad judgement, and it's costing taxpayers, for this instance alone, half a billion dollars.

To add insult to injury, this Prime Minister promised a new level of transparency in the NBN, but have a look at this spin. This spin would put Shane Warne to shame. This is the media release from NBN Co announcing that six- to nine-month delay. I kid you not, this is the heading: 'NBN Co takes customer experience improvement program to new levels'. I don't know what new level that is when the NBN Co boss, Bill Morrow, actually broke the bad news saying:

Effective immediately we will delay new activations over the HFC network and delay the rollout until we can adjust a number of issues on the network.

So a six- to nine-month delay is apparently 'a new level of customer experience'. It sure is! It's just not a high one.

You can see that the government are pretty worried about this Bennelong by-election, and they should be. They should be worried. Their candidate, John Alexander, is a nice bloke. I don't mind him. He's a good tennis player; we got elected at the same time. I've got nothing personally against him, but the sad reality is this. He's been in parliament—or he was in parliament—for seven years, and guess how many times he mentioned the NBN in parliament? Just have a guess at a rough number. Eight times. Even then, there was not a single piece of advocacy for his electorate; he was simply mentioning the word. There was not a single piece of advocacy on this issue. But, to be fair, he hasn't had a lot to work with. The message is quite clear from the government that they simply do not care about the customer. This was supposed to be the year of the customer, according to the Minister for Communications. The year's only got a few days left, and customers have been completely and utterly forgotten by the government when it comes to the NBN.

It's quite clear. If the good residents of Bennelong are satisfied that half a billion dollars of taxpayers' money is set to be lost because of the poor judgement of this Prime Minister, then by all means, please, vote for the Turnbull government. If they're satisfied and not bothered by the fact that this government has broken every single promise it has made on the NBN, by all means, vote Liberal. But, if you live in Bennelong and actually aspire to have broadband treated as an essential public utility—as something that is as integral as sewerage, as electricity and as water—then, please, consider the fact that this government has failed to deliver on its promise to you. It has failed in every single aspect when it comes to its promises and this project. If you want to be able to watch Netflix without the buffering, if you want a first-rate NBN, if you consider that Australia's place in the global digital economy relies on the highest quality connectivity or if you consider that the internet is important for your small business, important for your children and important for your family, then there is only one way that you can vote in this by-election in Bennelong, and that's for Labor.

3:27 pm

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

The shadow minister has told us that she is concerned about the risk to expenditure of the consequence of the recent HFC decision by NBN. She is about as credible a fiscal hawk as the member for Sydney, who claimed to be concerned about the cost of the same-sex marriage survey. The member for Sydney, of course, has spent her entire parliamentary career carefully and diligently watching taxpayers' money like a hawk. She doesn't want a cent spent that doesn't need to be spent. So, too, apparently, the member for Greenway has suddenly become a fiscal hawk, determined to not see one taxpayer cent spent which doesn't need to be spent. She did gloss over the inconvenient fact that the Turnbull government's NBN strategy is motivated by a range of factors, including rolling out the network more quickly, which it is demonstrably doing, and also saving $30 billion compared to the cost of the hopeless and incoherent plan that we inherited from the disorganised rabble on the other side of this House when they skulked out of office in 2013.

Let's have a look at the record of delivery we have seen on the National Broadband Network from the coalition. Let's look at what was in the business plan that was released after we came to government and what was delivered. The business plan said that, by 30 June 2015, there'd be 1,093,000 premises passed by the NBN. The actual number was 1,165,000, so we beat the target of 30 June 2015. By 30 June 2016, the business plan said that the network would pass 2,632,000 premises. The actual number passed was 2,893,000, so in 2016 we again beat the target. By 30 June 2017, the business plan said that there'd be 5,442,000 premises passed. In fact, the actual number was 5,713,000. For three years in a row, we beat the target, which is a stark contrast to what happened when Labor were in charge of this project, when, year after year after year, they missed the target, not just by a bit but dismally.

By contrast, the coalition has been delivering. You can see the incredulity of Labor. They are just puzzled. They just don't understand why it would be that NBN would say, 'We are concerned about service levels on the HFC, so we are going to pause activations while we fix it.' You could not find something that was more diametrically opposed to Labor's values than saying: 'There is an issue. We want to make sure customers are getting the service we have committed to, so we are going to pause and fix it. We are going to stop and be totally transparent about what we do.' That is because Labor's values are all about the spin, the promise. They don't care about delivery, they have no experience in delivery and they have no capability in delivery.

It is instructive to go and look at service class 0. These are premises which are planned to be serviced by fibre but which are not yet serviceable. There are a number that are at service class 0 right now, as there have been for quite a period of time. That's inevitable as you roll out a network. It is instructive to look at the numbers because, at the end of 2016, that number was 2.8 per cent. At the end of 2014, it was 4.2 per cent. We have been bringing it down. It has gone up a little bit recently because of HFC. We will work on it and we will get it down. But it is instructive to look at the percentage that was service class 0 in 2013 because it wasn't 2.8 per cent; it wasn't 17 per cent; it was 31 per cent. Why did that happen? It happened because Labor were desperately trying to present the best story they could, given their abjectly poor performance, and they were determined to roll out as many premises as possible without caring whether they could actually deliver the customer experience.

We on this side are focused on the customer experience, so focused that when there is an issue which is absolutely capable of resolution, as the company has made perfectly plain, then we pause and we make sure we fix the issue so people get the service standards that they expect. You could not think of an approach which is more puzzling to Labor, which is more at odds with Labor, who just love the press release, love the announcement. They just don't care about the detailed work of delivery and, frankly, they haven't got the skills and capability. The proof of that is not in the rhetoric; the proof of that is in the numbers.

Let me remind the House of what I was pleased to share with the House during question time, when we compared Labor's actual delivery versus planned delivery. In 2011, actual delivery was 10,500 versus a plan where they claimed they were going to do 223,000. It didn't improve by the time they got to 30 June 2013. Labor's plan, developed by Labor under a Labor government, told the world in 2010 what they were going to do in 2013. They said they would have the network passing 1,700,000 premises. They actually passed 283,000. That was a hopeless, hopeless performance. It's no surprise that even objective sources or sources that are not necessarily barrackers for the coalition, such as ABC Fact Check, present an interesting description here. What was it that ABC News had to say in 2016 in an item headed, 'Federal election: NBN promises past and present explained'? In 2009, Mr Rudd promised the NBN would be finished in eight years. Instead, just 154,000 people could access the service when he left office in 2013. The ABC—not consistently, it must be said, barrackers for the coalition—said: 'When Labor was removed from office, the NBN was running well behind its original schedule and was struggling to meet targets.' That's Labor's track record.

The shadow minister has the temerity to talk about broken promises on the NBN. She needs to look in the mirror because the broken promises have come from the Labor Party on the NBN. It is quite instructive if you look at some of the entirely inaccurate things the shadow minister has said publicly. For example, in an interview on ABC's Lateline on 24 October this year, she was admittedly under a bit of pressure, under a bit of questioning. In answer to what was actually a very good question, she said, when she was talking about the amount of funding that Labor had committed, 'We always had peak funding of $45 billion.'

That was her claim. It was totally at odds with the facts. In Labor's NBN corporate plan they committed to $35.9 billion in capital expenditure and peak government equity at $28 billion. When the shadow minister says publicly, 'We always had peak funding of $45 billion,' that is just factually wrong. It is not surprising that she is making factually incorrect statements when you look at how dismal their record is.

It brings me to a question—a question which is one of those abiding mysteries. You could search for the answer to this question for a long time. What is Labor's plan for the NBN? What is Labor actually going to do? We have heard the shadow minister telling us indignantly how much she disagrees with what we are doing with the HFC. The shadow minister works hard to give the impression that, if it were up to her, you wouldn't be using the HFC. That's quite interesting when you look at Labor's 2016 election policy document on NBN, which says:

Under Labor, the rollout of HFC (PayTV) will continue …

It seems that the shadow minister has forgotten about that particular election promise in 2016 as she furiously gives the impression that Labor would do something different.

In that same interview in October she was asked by ABC interviewer Emma Alberici:

So, if Labor wins the next election what's your intention? Do you go back to an all fibre network?

I must say the shadow minister's obfuscation, backsliding and general evasion were world class. She said:

It's always been our preference for fibre, and to have fibre as deep as possible into the network, Emma.

But, after being pressed for a little while, she said:

There is nothing we would want more than to have as much fibre as possible.

But then, finally, she essentially admitted that they're making no commitments—no promises—at all:

Well, our commitment is that we want to see fibre expanded as far as possible. But Emma, the reality is this: we need to be informed by the state of the network as it is, in the event that we are elected at the next election.

She went on to say:

Bill Shorten has made it very clear that we are not in the business of ripping up copper.

Despite the indignation from the shadow minister, there is no plan from Labor. They have got no alternative. But they do have a record track. And so, when the people of Bennelong and the people of Australia look at the choice before them when it comes to the NBN, it is a very stark choice. The coalition has a consistent record of delivery and rollout. Look at what Labor achieved when they were in government. They achieved very little. They have a dismal record and they certainly don't have any plan at all. The choice is very clear. The coalition is delivering the NBN.

3:37 pm

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What a risible performance from a risible minister. He talks about the track record of delivery of the coalition government on the NBN. There has been no delivery that is worth speaking of other than wrecking a national infrastructure project that was visionary in its concept and that was well on its way to servicing this country in the way this country needed for the future. It started from nothing. You build nothing. All you can do is wreck. All you do is wreck. Labor builds; Liberals wreck.

Look at the history of delivery. Labor created Medicare. Labor brought in the age pension. Labor brought in the minimum wage. So don't sit there, Minister, and tell us Labor has no history of delivery. It is Labor that builds the great programs that this country depends on.

Mr Fletcher interjecting

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The minister will be silent.

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In October 2016 the Prime Minister hailed the coalition's NBN as 'one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in Australia's history'. What an absolute joke. It was one of the greatest infrastructure betrayals that this country has ever seen. It was a great infrastructure project that would have delivered fibre to the premises to 93 per cent of Australians, and he absolutely wrecked it with his multitechnology mix. It was a visionary Labor project that would have looked after the future of economics in this country, education in this country, health care in this country and even the lifestyles of people in the home to watch things like Netflix and streaming services and enjoy modern services in the home. All of it has been put at risk by a coalition second-rate NBN.

For the vision of the original NBN to be realised, it requires speed and it requires bandwidth. These are not things that this government can deliver with its second-rate NBN. Nothing illustrates better the way this government has treated the NBN than the fact that it actually bought 15 million metres of copper wire. In the 21st century, with the rest of the world going to fibre to the premises using superfast optic fibre, this government allowed the NBN to go out and purchase 15 million metres of 20th century copper, which is a fraction of the speed for data upload and download. It's an absolute joke.

Let's talk of what the experts have to say. The minister stands there and says, 'The NBN, under the coalition, is working so well.' Let's look at what the experts have to say. Professor Rodney Tucker, of the University of Melbourne, calls the coalition's NBN an extremely costly disaster. In his paper 'The tragedy of Australia's National Broadband Network', he concludes, 'This situation is nothing short of a national tragedy.' Associate Professor Mark Gregory, of RMIT, says the economic case for the coalition's second-rate NBN 'was nonsense from the outset' and is 'the largest single waste of public funds in Australia's history'. Internet Australia CEO Annie Hurley says:

We have turned a vision into a quagmire … FTTN

fibre to the node—

is an obsolete technology, yet it continues to be rolled out … we are going to have to come around and do it all again. That is the tragedy.

That is the tragedy. They have 'turned a vision into a quagmire'. That is the epitaph that will be on this Prime Minister's gravestone.

In my electorate of Lyons, I did a little bit of research on what the constituents have to say. I was flooded with comments from people wanting to have their say in this speech today. In Westbury in my electorate, 25 jobs were in jeopardy at an engineering company. They'd bought land to build a new workshop and they informed Telstra and the NBN of their intention well ahead of time. They built their workshop. NBN Co said after the workshop was built that connection could take between one and two years, as it is a greenfield site. So 25 jobs were at risk. Luckily, Margaret in my office is an absolute gun. She swung into gear and she convinced NBN of the importance of prioritising this connection. That is only one of scores of examples I have got here of people in my electorate and businesses in my electorate who are suffering under this second-rate NBN. This country deserves better.

3:42 pm

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The NBN is perhaps the single greatest failure of the previous Labor government in economic policy. The way this project was proposed was an extraordinary act of economic vandalism. To understand that, we have to go back to the genesis of the NBN, Deputy Speaker, because you will recall that back in 2009 the NBN was conceived on a napkin. The project to build a National Broadband Network was conceived without any financial analysis and with brief conversations between the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, and the communications minister, Senator Conroy, flying between different cities. They decided to build a National Broadband Network.

Initially, they said that the government investment would be $4.7 billion. There is a problem with that. The problem is that the actual cost of the NBN, as proposed by Labor, is at least $73 billion.

Photo of Brian MitchellBrian Mitchell (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Says who?

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lyons has had his turn!

Photo of David ColemanDavid Coleman (Banks, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Indeed, the most recent analysis, conducted in 2015, said that the cost of the full rollout of Labor's plan would actually be $74 billion to $84 billion. So $73 billion is actually the low end of Labor's cost of doing this project. It's just an extraordinary thing to say, 'We are going to build an NBN and it's going to cost $4.7 billion,' when it's actually going to cost at least $73 billion. Think about what that means for the absolute economic vandalism of those opposite.

They also lack operational skills, as the minister stated before. They are people without experience of running operations or of actually doing things and, as a consequence, when they left government in 2013, 97 per cent of households didn't have access to the NBN, and three per cent did. That's a very small percentage: 97 per cent didn't and three per cent did. They'd spent about $6 billion by that stage—and bear in mind that the whole investment initially was going to be $4.7 billion, because the private sector was supposed to come along and make this huge investment in this wonderful investment opportunity. Those opposite didn't do the maths. They didn't do the numbers. They don't understand these sorts of calculations. And they said: '$4.7 billion. That'll be it. The private sector will come along and look after the rest.' That didn't happen. And the actual cost of this project, as they concede, was well over $70 billion. So this is a really important point that must never be lost.

We saw so many examples, as they set out to build under the Labor NBN model. A Tasmanian bowls club cost more than $86,000 to connect to the NBN—one bowls club, not a whole fleet of them. And four homes and businesses in Ballarat—four; not 400; not 4,000—cost $150,000. That works out at about $37½ thousand each, which is kind of a lot. So they have a complete lack of understanding of how to do things operationally.

Australia is a better country than that. We need governments that actually plan things properly and do the homework, do the hard yards and invest for the country. That is what we are doing, with 6.8 million premises already crossed by the NBN and 3.2 million active. The project will be completed within a few more years, but at a much lower cost to taxpayers. And those opposite just kind of wave that away, as if it doesn't matter. Well, it actually does matter that, if you are going to spend tens of billions of dollars, you (a) say, 'Is it necessary?' or (b) say that you are not going to spend when in fact you know and the Australian people know that that is absolutely the case. It's not something that can ever be forgotten.

But the failure on infrastructure by Labor is something that we see a lot of. We're seeing a lot of it in Sydney. I'm from Sydney. There's a lot of failure in infrastructure from the Labor government in that great state. The Parramatta to Chatswood rail link—so important to the voters in Bennelong—was promised by Labor in 1998. It was going to be delivered by 2006; it wasn't. The North West Rail Link was promised in 1998. It was supposed to be delivered by 2010; it wasn't. The west metro was promised in 2009; it was supposed to be delivered, and it wasn't. The North West Rail Link was supposed to be completed by 2017; it didn't, of course, happen as envisaged. So there is failure by those opposite in the NBN and in infrastructure more generally. (Time expired)

3:47 pm

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Those in the electorate of Werriwa in suburbs like West Hoxton, Middleton Grange, Long Point, Prestons and Casula have been waiting for a decent internet connection for over a decade. First, residents in Werriwa were told, 'You can't have ADSL because you live too far from the exchange', or, 'There aren't any ports left'. Then they were told that Telstra was holding off on upgrades to the local area because of the impending rollout of the NBN. Then they were told that the NBN was finally coming soon to their homes. But, now, in December 2017, they discover that they will be waiting at least another six to nine months. I'm beginning to wonder if those opposite just assume that slow commutes and lousy internet speeds in south-western Sydney makes us really patient people. If that is the case, I'm more than happy to dispel that illusion.

A number of my constituents in Hinchinbrook have recently been moved over to the HFC. They have not reported a positive experience at all. A forum I held earlier this year in nearby Greenway Park was over capacity, primarily as a result of people wanting to voice their issues with their new connections. The complaints ranged from poor internet speeds to a lack of information and clear instructions for back-to-base alarms, medical alarms and landline-only services.

One constituent in particular, Mr Johnny Multari, has been trying for five months to have the issues with his HFC connection rectified. Mr Multari had an internet connection over the existing Telstra cable network—the same network that the NBN uses for its HFC—and he was advised that his service quality would improve after switching over. He was disappointed, to say the least, when he discovered that his speeds were substantially slower, particularly in the peak, after switching to HFC. He reported the issue and was paid many visits by NBN technicians, who, each time, would examine the line in his premises and confirm that it was a network issue caused by upstream congestion. The technicians also confirmed to him that he wasn't the only household affected in the area and that they would make NBN aware of the issue.

Each time after Mr Multari's issues were reported to the NBN nothing else would happen, as the NBN would mark the issue as resolved and state that the issue was with his service provider and not the network. His sheer frustration with the whole situation was so great that he said he'd rather be reconnected to the older Telstra cable connection until that network switchover date because he would at least have time to find somewhere else to live that had a decent internet connection! That is not a reasonable decision for anyone in Australia to have to make.

And it isn't just technicians who have been acknowledging the issues with the HFC network for some time. Even providers are aware of the issues. Another of my constituents in Hinchinbrook was recently advised that he was now able to switch over to the new HFC connection. When he asked his service provider, Telstra, about service quality and what he could expect, he was told that his current internet speeds were the best he would get and that when he went over to the HFC it would be a slower connection.

How has it taken so long for anyone to acknowledge that the HFC network was a disaster for most households from the start? I would have thought that it was common sense that before inflicting such technology you would check that it actually delivers and improves service quality. The reality is that we are seeing yet again the Liberals' NBN for what it is: a cheap second-rate combination of old technologies cobbled together in a way that not only fails to improve speeds for households but makes the speeds slower.

For those other constituents who have waited for any internet, they must now wait longer. I've spoken about residents of Long Point in this place before. They probably feel that they've already served their time, having originally been promised HFC connections back in February. But they continue to wait for any connection and now will wait for another nine months. The minister said in October that the NBN would be the envy of the world. Unfortunately, the corner of that world that my electorate occupies would not agree with that statement, and it seems that the 160 per cent rise in complainants to the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman in the last financial year shares their frustration.

The experience of Werriwa residents is simply not good enough; they deserve much better. Small business can't function; students can't do schoolwork; and pensioners are confused and concerned. The NBN rollout must be improved. Not to do so relegates my constituents to third-rate or fourth-rate services. I'm continuing to push for a better deal for residents in Werriwa.

3:52 pm

Photo of Rowan RamseyRowan Ramsey (Grey, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When the coalition was elected to parliament in 2013 there were no premises in my electorate of Grey connected to the NBN. Work had started in Port Augusta, but it had ceased because the contractor had withdrawn from the contract. In fact, they'd gone broke. It was the same in Western Australia. The entire number of South Australian and Western Australian contractors had withdrawn, so it had ground to a halt even after very little activity.

Every target had been missed nationally, except one. The NBN met one target under Labor, and that was employee numbers. There were plenty of employees in the NBN, but they weren't getting much done. The financial estimates were out by billions. The NBN had a board where no-one on that board had any experience in running a telco. No wonder it was such a disaster! Just 51,000 people were connected Australia-wide after six years of Labor government. And remember that the NBN was an electoral commitment from Kevin Rudd in 2007. So, in six years: 51,000.

Now, by comparison, the NBN connects over 40,000 a week. In Grey—and I'd like to talk about Grey, the electorate I represent, quite a bit here—54,000 have been passed by either the fibre-to-the-premises or the fibre-to-the-node technology; 20,000 are connected; 14,000 have wireless available; 3,800 are connected; and 250 are connected—that's not correct. I have a wrong number there, Mr Deputy Speaker. But the satellite is available to 14,000 and 2,200 have been connected. In fact, 99 per cent of Grey has the NBN available now, as of this day.

That underlines the commitment that the Prime Minister made when he was the Minister for Communications when we came to government in 2013. He said: 'We will concentrate on those areas of Australia that have the worst service first. We will connect them first, because they need the help the most.' Grey was certainly in that boat, because we had no NBN connection across the whole electorate, and most of it was served by reasonably poor technology. To come to the satellite service, in September we lifted the data limits for peak times by 50 per cent. We lifted the data available in off-peak periods by 100 per cent; we doubled it. These figures underline just how much we have improved connectivity for those who live within rural Australia.

Normally, federal members' offices attract complaints about things like communications. People, quite rightly, know that these are federal issues. My office is receiving, on average, four complaints a week now, and they are almost always concerning providers, not concerning the network at all. 'People haven't rolled up on time to do their connection' or 'I made an appointment and no-one arrived' or 'They said they'd come back next week and didn't'—those types of complaints. About the technology itself, after an initial flurry, things have settled down very well, so I'm very pleased with our performance. I'm very pleased with the performance of the technologies that have been rolled out in Grey. That includes all of those technologies. Those people are accessing wireless. I'm not on wireless. In fact, my service is satellite. I'm one of those 12,000 who haven't got around to connecting to it yet. I can't get myself home long enough to ring up and tell someone I'm there to be connected. At this stage, I'm still running on a mobile phone signal—something I need to address. One of my staff members, though, is connected to satellite and says she is quite able to watch movies during the week, quite able to access Netflix and very, very happy with the service. Those people who are on wireless are telling me they have a very, very good service.

We have a few towns left to connect up—including the one from which I come, Kimba, which was a late inclusion to the wireless network; they'll be connected in 2018—but 99 per cent of Grey have the NBN available. That is a wonderful endorsement of those comments by the Prime Minister, when he was the communications minister, saying, 'We will address those parts of Australia that have the worst service first.' I thank him and I thank this government for delivering on that commitment.

3:57 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's becoming a bit of a habit in this place for us to rise on this side, with great disappointment, to talk about something that is not working again or is a broken promise or a backflip. Here we are talking about the NBN and yet another delay in rollouts of the NBN. The government rose to power promising a cheaper and better NBN. We can go back to the 2013 election, when we remember the now Prime Minister, the then opposition spokesman on communications, on Sky with all the holograms and all the spin, because that's exactly what it was: nothing but spin that was promising a better and cheaper NBN. Both of those promises have not come to fruition. We've seen an absolute blowout in costs and an inferior system and network where it's actually slower than what people had previously. These are the reports that I'm getting in my electorate. There are delays in getting the NBN rolled out in their suburbs and, when it does get rolled out, it is actually slower and not as good as what they used to have. This is a real problem if you're working from home or if you're a student who wants to download your homework or if you are at university. This is a very big problem.

I'm sure my colleagues next to me and behind me—the member for Herbert, the member for Dobell and the member for Macquarie—will have stories to tell about their electorates as well. I get regular complaints from suburbs in my electorate such as Underdale, Flinders Park, Fulham Gardens, Mile End and Marleston, where bits and pieces of the NBN are being rolled out. There are massive delays when it comes to ensuring that appointments are kept, to being able to adjust to the new system and to ensure, for example, that pensioners who have alarms for their own safety do not have them knocked out with nothing in place to ensure that, when they're in an emergency, they are able to be connected. These are things affecting not just my electorate but those all around the country, from what I hear from my colleagues. As I said, we have seen delays and an inferior NBN than what was proposed by the Labor government in 2013.

If we fast forward to today, as I said, we have a second-rate copper NBN that drops out, can't keep up with the demands and performs worse than many, many other countries around the world. And it's only a Turnbull government that could waste billions of dollars and make the internet worse. If they'd just listened to us in 2013 when we spoke about fibre to the node to ensure we would have the latest technology, the best technology and the best communication system, an absolute infrastructure benefit to this nation, we wouldn't be in this position today. And it's one thing to talk about the rollouts and how many houses are being done, but what's the point if they don't work? What's the point if we don't have fast downloads? What's the point if a kid can't download the information to put in his homework? What's the point if a university student can't download things from his university to be able to answer the questions? What is the point of having a fast rollout and of getting it done, which we don't anyway?

As I said, Labor's plan for a majority fibre network rollout was a great opportunity for this nation. It was a nation-building moment where we could be right up there with the latest technology. It's great to hear the Prime Minister talking about internet connections and being the super nation when it comes to technologies et cetera, but you've got to invest your money. You've got to be able to look at the latest technology and run with it, not go to an inferior technology. It was an ideological spite back in 2013 and 2016, nothing else. The government knew the Labor plan and what we were proposing was a far better system but, because of politics and spite, they decided to go against it.

You always have to look at the backbench over there on the other side while the leaders of those opposite try to sell Australia the dud system that is the NBN. The complaints I get in my electorate every single day via emails or phone calls, the government side would be getting as well. You can see it when they're talking about the NBN. We have slower speeds, we have dropouts, poor connections and a complete service failure, and it has left many pensioners in my electorate without phones.

4:02 pm

Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to speak on this matter of public importance because, while members opposite claim the government hasn't delivered on its commitment to the NBN, the story of my electorate of Robertson on the Central Coast tells a very different story. I want to look at a real-world example of how we can deliver for people and businesses and how that delivery is done by a government such as happened in my electorate. It is clear, when you look at that, that the only broken promises in my electorate were those made by Labor.

Here are some of the facts. Under the coalition, the NBN, formerly known as NBN Co, has hit every rollout target we have set since coming to government. Compare this to the previous Labor government's record. Three years after the first premise was connected in 2010, the rollout was more than two years behind—so much so that by late 2013, only 51,000 premises were connected, barely 10 per cent more than the original 2010 target. So how can Labor be trusted?

In contrast, under this government, we've got a network which is now available to six million premises and will be available to 11 million premises by 2020. When Labor left government, in contrast, barely 50,000 premises around the country were able to connect. In contrast again, the coalition is connecting 35,000 premises a week— that is, 35,000 a week versus 50,000 in six long years.

On the Central Coast, the record is even more stark. In my electorate of Robertson, the latest report shows around 96 per cent of the rollout is complete, of which two-thirds of premises have taken up an NBN service. That is more than 79,000 premises that are ready for service and more than 53,000 connected. In some areas like East Gosford, Green Point, Kincumber, Yattalunga, Koolewong, Point Clare and Tascott, the take-up rate is more than 80 per cent, which is outstanding. Yet, under Labor's last mismanaged rollout, just under 200 premises in the Robertson electorate were connected to the NBN, despite promises that more than 7,300 homes and businesses could connect to it. Who could forget the sight of the former member for Robertson, Deborah O'Neill, pushing a great big button on the Gosford waterfront and claiming that our region was 'open for business' thanks to the NBN? Yet, despite those claims, 90 per cent of the homes and premises in and around Gosford were actually classified service class zero or service class 1, meaning that, despite all of the fanfare and the press release, people couldn't actually connect. It took months and months of frustration and complaints to overcome the multiple challenges for thousands of homes and businesses that were unable to connect despite the promises made by Labor representatives on the Central Coast.

Labor created this mess and it's taken the coalition government to clean it up and get on with the job. We've recently announced the activation of a fixed wireless tower in Mangrove Mountain which will connect residents to fast, affordable broadband. Fixed wireless serves five per cent of Australians in rural areas, generally outside major towns. It also has the highest satisfaction rating on the NBN and offers speeds of up to 50 megabits per second download and 20 megabits per second upload. The Mangrove Mountain tower will cover more than 170 premises and I'm advised that nearly 20 per cent of premises in central Mangrove and Peats Ridge have already connected in the few months that it's been active. NBN have advised that the Mangrove Mountain tower will provide links to a second site at Kulnura east, then on to a site at Bumble Hill. This will provide the transmission link to other towers, including a site to the south-west at Mangrove Mountain, and also to Wendoree Park and Spencer, which I'm assured are currently in the planning stages. This is great news, in particular for the communities of Spencer and Wendoree Park.

During a public hearing on the Central Coast in August of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, we heard from local community advocates Belinda Repton and Robyn Downham, who have been tireless campaigners on the issue of broadband and improving mobile phone connectivity and reliability. Robyn described Spencer and the lower Hawkesbury River region as 'one of the last frontiers' and pointed out that it's one hour's drive north of Sydney but still they often feel isolated and neglected. Belinda said that, of the 30 families, 21 are business owners who live in the valley and they rely on the internet to conduct their business. The community expressed frustration at some of the uncertainty around the rollout of the NBN, and they had legitimate concerns about the satellite rollout locally. NBN took this on board and assured residents that the fixed wireless solution would be put in place for them.

This proves that, in contrast to what members opposite are claiming, the coalition government is not only delivering but also listening very carefully and meeting the needs of communities like Spencer. It's very clear that the only broken promises in my electorate are those made by Labor during their last six long years in government.

4:07 pm

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise in this place to say what an absolute mess the former Minister for Communications and now Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has made of the National Broadband Network. The Abbott-Turnbull government has made promise after promise to deliver a faster broadband network to all households, but, as we are now coming to the end of 2017, with households still buffering and an endless string of broken promises, the Australian people have lost all faith in the Turnbull government and their NBN assurances. We heard Malcolm Turnbull promise that everyone would have access—

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! The member for Herbert will refer to members by their titles.

Photo of Cathy O'TooleCathy O'Toole (Herbert, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry. We heard the Prime Minister promise that everyone would have access to the NBN by the end of 2016. By the end of 2016, over seven million premises were still waiting for access to the NBN. We heard the Prime Minister promise his NBN would be faster and cheaper, yet the reality is he is delivering a second-rate NBN that is slower and more expensive. We heard the Prime Minister promise he would deliver the NBN for $29.5 billion. His multi-technology mess now costs nearly $50 billion. That is a blowout of $20 billion. On 11 October 2016, the Prime Minister hailed the coalition's NBN as one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in Australia's history. If by 'great turnaround' the Prime Minister means backflipping on every NBN promise made to the Australian people, falling short of every target, overseeing soaring complaints and halting the HFC rollout because it doesn't work, then, yes, it truly is one of the most outstanding turnarounds in Australian history. But it clearly isn't something to be proud of.

On Friday, 1 December 2017, the Townsville Bulletin reported that the Vietnam Veterans' Federation Townsville Inc. had no internet to communicate with clients or the Department of Veterans' Affairs for over a week. Both their phone and their internet lines were cut off without warning and they were not able to provide services to their clients. The Vietnam Veterans' Federation Townsville Inc's secretary-treasurer, Chris Mills, stated, 'We can't function; we are doing things manually but we cannot finalise anything.' You can only imagine the increased stress this would have placed on the association itself and on its volunteers, not to mention on our veterans. The electorate of Herbert has the largest garrison city in the nation. It is simply unacceptable to have one of our prominent associations cut off without warning.

My office receives reports from constituents regarding NBN issues on a daily basis. Recently I was contacted by a local small business that runs software development. The director of the business stated that they were in a building where 80 per cent of the tenants could connect to the NBN but the other 20 were left in the wind. This building, I might add, had been serviceable since March 2014. As a software development business, you can imagine the significant financial impact this would have on their business, Mr Deputy Speaker. Small businesses in my community are under enough pressure as it is at present. The failings of this government's NBN should not be an additional burden.

This is simply not good enough for households and businesses in 2017. Our nation has become a laughing stock on this issue and we are falling behind the rest of the world when we should be leading the world and the nation. Complaints data released by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman for the 2016-17 year reported a 160 per cent surge in NBN complaints. For the first time, the TIO complaints were outpacing the growth in the number of NBN services. Internet complaints are now also the highest source of complaints, surpassing mobile and landline. Australians are frustrated and deeply disappointed with their experience of the NBN. Under this government, it has become the norm to receive slow speeds, dropouts and unreliable services. Issues and complaints are being buck-passed without accountability. Appointments with technicians are being made only to find that no-one turns up.

This government needs a complete reality check when it comes to the NBN. This appalling record is an incoherent mess. In 2013, the Prime Minister had no HFC in his NBN rollout plan. In 2014, he had 3.2 million HFC premises. In 2015 this increased to four million premises. In 2016 this decreased to 2.8 million premises. In 2017 this increased to 3.1 million. It begs the question: what will it be in 2018? Despite all of this, the government claims that 85 per cent of NBN users are satisfied. This only shows the complete disconnect that this government has with the Australian people.

I call on the Turnbull government to stop sitting on their hands and to take action. Labor never planned on this second-rate form of NBN, so it is time to stop the blame game. They are responsible for this abysmal disaster that is called the NBN, and it's the responsibility of the current government— (Time expired)

4:12 pm

Photo of Ann SudmalisAnn Sudmalis (Gilmore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

When a 24-hour period in politics is seen to be a long time, you can understand how five years has fogged the memories of the Labor Party. The NBN was a cardboard-drinks-coaster plan developed in transit between two cities to establish a digital communication initiative for our nation. Talk about a tale of two cities! The NBN was begun without a proper business plan, without proper planning for infrastructure locations and without a rollout schedule.

It was begun in pilot locations. Let me explain: one of these was Kiama. In the grandiose vision, the idea was to have underground fibre cable connected to every premise. What a joke! Labor today talks about slight delays to make sure the HFC is properly connected. The initial connection issues in Kiama—and these were legacy issues from the outgoing Labor Party—included the following: a change from underground connection because too much cost was incurred, due to location complications. Whoops! Kiama is built on basalt, one of the hardest rocks to drill. Secondly, there was no planning to negotiate the use of existing power poles, so a second pole was put in place. Whoops—lack of planning! Thirdly, finally—although not the total end—the fibre reached the premises, but if there was more than one phone in a house there was no connection device, let alone if it were a duplex. Then there was complete confusion in connecting aged-care facilities, where hundreds of connections were needed.

Let me remind those who sit in opposition: technology glitches are not new. It seems to me that if you have 40,000 premises able to connect per week, there is likely to be a level of hassle that is a great deal more than when you're only connecting 50,000 premises per year. Labor promised the world to Australians connecting to the NBN, insisting that 100 megabits per second was the need for every household. But did they tell you about the cost? Did that ever get mentioned? No; as usual, Labor told us only part of the story. To me, that is dishonesty by deceit.

In Gilmore it is proposed that 92 per cent of homes will be able to connect to the NBN by the end of next year. My region, due to its complex geography, has a complete mix of technology: fibre to the premises, fibre to the node, fixed wireless towers and satellite connections. The NBN has had to develop another form for regional areas where homes in small clusters are too far from the node and there is an insufficient number of homes to economically build another node. So we'll have fibre to the curb, as well.

Recently, the minister said that the multi-mix technology is going to be the absolute best one, and I agree. As a result of taking that approach, the NBN will be completed by 2020, six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under the predecessors—that means the Labor Party—and it will also be completed for $30 billion less. I think that's a major asset.

Labor promised 250,000 Australians they'd be eligible for interim satellite service, but only purchased enough capacity to service 48,000. Woops—bit of a problem there. They criticised the rollout but they can't get their numbers right. The result was a debacle. Consumers experienced severe congestion at peak times, with speeds similar to or worse than dial-up. It was typical Labor overpromising and underdelivering. We also had to fix this situation. Now, more than 81,000 customers across regional and remote Australia receive faster, more affordable and more reliable broadband. Labor claims the NBN would and should have been delivered. The rate of connection delivery under Labor was dismal with only 20 per cent of their estimated connections for their target by June 2013. We've taken a tortoise-shell speed of rollout up to the speed of the rabbit, with more than 6.5 million homes now able to connect. Cheaper, fairer and affordable is the aim, and we're delivering.

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.