House debates

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Matters of Public Importance


3:14 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 failures and lack of transparency 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—

3:15 pm

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

There is no greater example of deception, incompetence, short-sightedness and poor economic management by this government than when it comes to the NBN, and it goes to the character and competence of this minister at the table, the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts. The litany of failures that has plagued the NBN on this government's watch is absolutely obscene. The never-ending cost blowouts—initially promised to be $29 billion, it has now hit $57 billion. Copper is not delivering the minimum speeds as required by law, and they have purchased enough copper to wrap around the planet Earth. Their HFC network, which was supposed to be the great game-changer, is a complete debacle. Their fibre-to-the-curb modems are literally frying in people's homes. And, at the end of all this, this minister performs the copper backflip and admits finally, after all the wasted time and wasted effort, that fibre was better all along. But the piece de resistance came yesterday, with reports exposing the rotten Liberal Party cover-up for over seven years when it comes to their failed multitechnology mix.

Spare a thought for the minister today. He'll be a little sensitive about being exposed. The fact is that Australians have always known that the original fibre plan would've been far cheaper and faster to roll out and would perform better than what those opposite always claimed. And we know from these reports that not only did we know that and not only did the Australian people know that, but the Liberal Party knew that in 2013 and they concealed it, wilfully concealed it, from the Australian people. Those opposite have spent seven years falsely claiming their second-rate piece of junk has saved taxpayers $30 billion compared to the original fibre plan. And that $30 billion figure, repeatedly and falsely asserted by Malcolm Turnbull and now by this minister, the member for Bradfield, are derived from the cost differential of two so-called rollout scenarios contained in Malcolm's 2013 NBN strategic review. The first is the review's claim that the multitechnology mix would cost $41 billion. For a start, it now costs $57 billion. And the second is the claim that Labor's original fibre rollout would have cost $72 billion. The reports yesterday have definitively destroyed this claim. Here are some choice quotes from the report from yesterday:

Savings worth $850 to $1150 were estimated to be achievable for each existing home attached with fibre …

Now here's the rub:

If the lowest level of estimated savings was applied to homes in the existing full fibre rollout at the time, peak funding could have been reduced from $73 billion to about $60 billion. Interest rates associated with the debt were estimated at a relatively high 6.9 per cent by 2024. A further $5 billion to $6 billion in savings may then have been achievable due to lower debt overall and with interest rates below 4 per cent.

There's a truth bomb if there ever was one! Put another way, Liberal shareholder ministers were explicitly advised that fibre could be deployed for between $2,950 and $3,250 per premise, but they kept this figure secret. This is significant. For starters, even based on the government's own dodgy figures, this adjustment, in conjunction with reduced debt and interest rate adjustments, would take $15 billion to $19 billion off the government's own figure. Where does this leave the minister's $30 billion claim? In the dumpster!

I understand the minister's going around today with the NBN chairman, and they're saying: 'Look, we kept these figures secret because they were commercial-in-confidence. They would have undermined NBN Co's commercial negotiations.' Let me get this straight: NBN Co's out there going into the market, trying to negotiate construction prices, and they decide: 'I've got a brilliant strategy. I'm going to put out the highest price possible per premise. I'll put that in the public domain and I'll keep the true cost a state secret.' Now, this minister puts himself out there as some commercial genius, but it's a recipe to get outmanoeuvred by construction companies to put up their prices. I'm actually not surprised, because that's the kind of reverse logic you'd apply if you were going to hypothetically hand Liberal Party donors $30 million of taxpayers' money for a parcel of land in the Leppington Triangle that the ANAO said was worth only $3 million. It's the same minister with form.

There's only one reason the cost-per-premises figures were kept secret. It had nothing to do with commercial negotiations. The problem is it would've been a political problem for Malcolm Turnbull had they been in the public domain. This minister is all over the shop. In the second argument, the best bon mot of all, he was going out saying, 'It's no secret; it was all out there.' It was redacted! There were black lines through the document. Normal people don't black things out for fun. I want to think Malcolm Turnbull was walking around with a sharpie and fell across this thing and started drawing lines on it! It was blacked out. The minister might be unfamiliar with what the term 'redact' means, but I will help him out. 'Redact' is a verb—to remove information from a document because you don't want the public to see it. That is exactly what has happened here.

On top of all that, to add insult to injury, we have $78 million in corporate bonuses being given out during the depths of the greatest downturn in the economy since the Great Depression. It is offensive. It is obscene. It is unjustified. Let's remember the Prime Minister effectively sacked the CEO of Australia Post on this very floor for $20,000 worth of Cartier watches for Australia Post's highly remunerated executives. Where is the outage for $78 million in corporate bonuses for a project that's four years behind schedule? It's gone from $29 billion to $57 billion. It doesn't work properly. It isn't delivering minimum speeds as required by law. So where does this government stand?

Also, I am intrigued. When this came out—and it only came out because we had an answer to a question that was 47 days overdue, thanks to the minister—we again had the minister all over the shop here. Initially, he went on radio in the morning. He was very embarrassed. He got out on the radio and he said, 'It's a matter for the board.' A couple of hours later, the headline was 'Minister unfazed by $77 million in NBN Co bonuses'. Then he came into question time and blamed Labor for the bonuses. Despite the fact that they have been in government for seven years, that's their big defence. By the evening, The Financial Review was reporting that he had taken this wet lettuce to NBN Co and said, 'No more bonuses.'

But the level of concealment by this government when it comes to the NBN is absolutely outrageous when it comes to the amount of money that has been wasted, based on a lie, based on concealment, based on pure political games they sought to play at the expense of the Australian people. Australia now ranks 61st in the world for fixed line broadband. We have a multitechnology mix that has at least blown out to more than what they said it would be—from $29 billion to $57 billion. It costs more to operate, it generates less revenue and it's more exposed to 5G competition. We had the minister at the end of last year declare: 'Mission accomplished. The NBN is finished.' Slow clap! This was met with absolute derision right across Australia.

When it comes to ensuring that Australians have the best available broadband, when it comes to making sure that we have an economy that is set up for the future, we now know based on the evidence we have today that all of this was based on a lie. Let it not be lost on anyone that in 2013, when we had Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott standing next to that hologram of Sonny Bill Williams, they said their second-rate version of the NBN would be delivered for $29 billion. Let's look at the cost blowouts. It blew out to $41 billion in 2014, $49 billion in 2015 and $51 billion in 2018 and, by 2020, it had surged to $57 billion—a veritable sushi train of cost blowouts. And, as I said, we've got copper failing to deliver minimum speeds. It's 2021—five years on from the designated completion date that these people said they'd have it done by—and these minimum speeds are still not being delivered over the copper NBN network, and that's to some 238,000 premises around Australia. This same party, who are on track to amass $1 trillion in debt, have used taxpayer money to purchase over 49,000 kilometres of new copper for the NBN. It is no surprise that Australians understand—not only as consumers but as small businesses, and not only for themselves—the short-sightedness of this government when it comes to the great cover-up that has put Australia backwards. They know exactly where this concealment lies.

3:25 pm

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

I'm very pleased to have the chance to rise to respond to this matter of public importance, on the subject of the 'government's failures and lack of transparency on the NBN'. This, we're told, is what has excited the attention of the opposition today. Of course, this is all part of a carefully dreamt-up strategy by the shadow minister in which she finds this story, places it in the media and is then interviewed on 2GB, and says, 'As you say, Nine newspapers today are reporting evidence that has been covered up for nearly eight years.' This is apparently the validation—that there's been a cover-up for eight years—and the claim from the shadow minister is that there's a secret report which shows that Labor's plan would have been cheaper. There are only two problems with that: it's not secret, and it wouldn't have been cheaper. In fact, you can look at the strategic review's final report, version dated 12 December 2013, which is on the NBN's website. I went to their public website yesterday and looked at it. On page 17, we've got a range of scenarios. Scenario 1, revised outlook: $73 billion. That would've been a continuation of Labor's original fibre-to-the-premises plan. Scenario 2, radically redesigned fibre to the premises: $64 billion. And this is the font of all of this confected indignation from the shadow minister today: a report publicly available on the NBN's website—

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Members on my left! The minister will pause for a moment. I will be giving a general warning: don't interject to the level that you are, or you'll be removed under 94(a).

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

This report has been publicly available on the NBN's website since very shortly after it was prepared in 2013. These figures have been in the public domain for eight years. This is not a secret. There is nothing new. In fact, we went through an extremely public process with the strategic review, and what the strategic review said—it's summarised on page 17—is that the original plan would have cost $73 billion to proceed with. Strike that out. We won't be doing that. Then there are a series of other scenarios, including scenario 6, optimised multitechnology mix, which was the one we did go with. Why did we go with that? Don't listen to me—I know you won't, anyway—listen to Communications Day. Listen to the commentary from respected industry observer Grahame Lynch in Communications Day, who commented on this sensationalist, revelatory story: 'The big problem with this'—namely, the stick-a-Mixmaster-through-it beat-up—'is that there was no such suppression of the publication of this option, nor had the report censored the savings estimates which NBN Co and the federal government supposedly had fought to keep secret.' In other words, an objective observer is saying that the basic premise of this ridiculous Mixmaster exercise from the shadow minister is completely incorrect.

Let me go to the point that, again, Grahame Lynch makes very clear in his commentary: we did look at the different scenarios. We looked at scenario 6, we looked at scenario 2 and we looked at all the other scenarios. Why did we choose scenario 6? We chose it because it meant that the network would be rolled out much more quickly, and the peak funding requirement was lower than for all the other options. Fast forward to 2021, and let's ask ourselves: how did the network perform through COVID, when several million Australians moved overnight to working and studying from home? What they found was that you really needed good broadband to do that, and you particularly needed good upload speeds, which the previous generation of broadband could not provide. DSL has poor upload speeds. The NBN's traffic loads during COVID were up by 70 per cent during the day, and the network just kept on performing.

A really critical point is this: if we had stuck with Labor's plan, then we would, in 2020, have had five million fewer Australian premises able to connect. So one of the clear reasons we chose to go with the multitechnology mode was that it would allow for a quicker rollout. That's not just theoretical. That's not just hypothetical. That's what happened. Can't we all recognise that Australia was much better placed in 2020 as a result of the fact that the NBN rollout, by the time COVID hit us, meant that 98 per cent of all Australian premises were able to connect to the NBN?

Remarkably, the shadow minister says that one of the issues that this matter of public importance debate is about is whether there has been failure with respect to the NBN rollout. We don't have to go all that far back in history to look at a rank instance of failure because, when Labor was responsible for this project, what a complete train wreck it was! Let's look at the actual numbers that were in the plans issued by the NBN Co. In the plan issued by NBN Co, they said that, as at 30 June 2011, the total number of premises to be covered would be 35,000. The actual number was 786. Their own plan said 116,000 premises would be connected by 30 June 2012. The actual number was 13,536. By 30 June 2013, there were supposed to be 419,000 premises connected. The actual number was 51,000. So Labor's record of delivery in relation to the NBN when they were in government was a hopeless catalogue of rank and serial incompetence. We inherited a train wreck of a failed project. Over four years, $6 billion was spent and barely 51,000 premises were able to connect.

The task that fell to our Liberal-National government was to get the rollout back on track. Where are we today? Today, eight million premises are connected, and 11.9 million premises are able to connect. In words that have been used in other contexts: compare the pair—51,000 under Labor and eight million under the coalition. And these people are dopey enough to put into the words of an MPI the question of who has shown failure when it comes to rolling out the NBN. What is the position of the NBN now and where do we go from here? With eight million premises connected and 11.9 million premises able to connect, we've just arrived at a point where the NBN has produced its first half year of being EBITDA positive, so we're making the business model work. The Labor Party established this government business enterprise. It was supposedly going to be something that would generate a positive return for taxpayers and shareholders—with the taxpayers as shareholders in the NBN. Of course, they had no idea how to execute that at all. We've turned it around. We've now got it on the path to financial performance as well as operational performance. I'll tell you one other thing that we have done: we've found a sustainable, credible path so that, by 2023, eight million premises will be able to order a speed of up to one gigabit per second if they choose to.

But there's one other big difference between Labor's hopeless plan and what we've done: we'll roll the fibre down the centre of the street and, if you want to order a service that needs a fibre connection, we'll then build the fibre lead-in. That's the successful commercial approach that's been used by Chorus in New Zealand. We're doing the same thing. It would never occur to these commercially clueless, illiterate types. They have no idea of business management. The idea of being capital efficient does not compute. They just don't get it. But you will get it if you have serious experience in managing a telecommunications business, and we've made sure that we have a capable board and capable management—people with experience. We're executing the rollout. So, frankly, if I were the Labor Party I would not be asking questions about failure when it comes to NBN, because the words 'Labor Party' and 'failure' will ever be associated when it comes to the National Broadband Network.

3:35 pm

Photo of Josh WilsonJosh Wilson (Fremantle, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

What a disaster! What a disaster the National Broadband Network has turned out to be! What a disaster that contribution from the minister was! This is a broadband network that is slow, expensive, uneven and unfair. It is easily the most important infrastructure project in this country in the last 50 years. It ought to be the foundation of our future prosperity, productivity, innovation, new business development and new service delivery. It ought to be the foundation of all of those things in the 21st century. Instead, we get the slow, expensive multitechnology mess from those opposite.

The facts speak for themselves, and the Australian people know and smell failure when it's put in front of them. We're the 13th-largest economy in the world. Our broadband speeds place us 62nd in the world. That's the reality of the multitechnology mess delivered by those opposite. New Zealand is the 52nd-largest economy. They have the 27th-highest speeds, just across the ditch. You know why? Because they knew what to do at the outset. They did it once, they did it right and they did it with fibre. That's what all of the experts in the sector tell you. That's what any sensible economist would tell you to do. But, no, those opposite had to come along. They didn't make up this disaster themselves. They actually had the rudiments of a decent plan that the Labor Party introduced. We grasped the NBN nettle and we set out to deliver a fibre-rich network to the people of Australia. They came along and, within the first five minutes of this now eight-year-long government, they put us on the path to an enduring disaster. Everything they've said about the second-rate copper version of the NBN has turned out to be wrong. They said they'd deliver a high-speed broadband network. They've missed all their targets. They've missed the speed targets at the low end. They've missed the speed targets at the high end. We are 62nd in the world.

They've put in place now a broadband network that is more or less obsolete at the point of delivery. That's what the geniuses opposite have delivered. They said that they would deliver a cheaper broadband network. That's what you will always get from those opposite. They will always build down to a lowball price rather than building up to a standard when it comes to the most critical piece of infrastructure in this nation—and they couldn't even do that. They couldn't even deliver on that lowball, cut-price, copper-bottom, second-rate piece of rubbish. They said it would be $29 billion. Then they said it would be $41 billion. Now it's already north of $57 billion, and it is obsolete at the point of delivery.

Do it once, do it right, do it with fibre. What did they do? They did it once, badly, stupidly, with copper—a slow, second-rate, 62nd-ranked-in-the-world service. Now what are they doing? They're going back and they're doing it again. They're going to pay more money to run fibre down the streets to deliver a fibre-rich network, which was the recipe we left to them from the outset. It's as if you decide to build an airline and you take some train rolling stock and superglue wings on the side and you say, 'There's our new national airline.' People say to you: 'You know, you can hop on those and you'll go somewhere, incredibly slowly and noisily. There's not a lot of altitude, though—just saying.' So you come back later and say, 'Why don't we build the rest of the aeroplane where the train was.' That's what this government has done, and the people of Australia know it.

We saw a person this morning at a UNICEF breakfast, a young woman from Orange in New South Wales. She was asked: 'How did you find dealing with the challenges of the pandemic? How did you find it went with your educational needs? How did you find it when it came to accessing telehealth for mental health services and other counselling?'

She said, 'Those services aren't too bad, but the problem is that I can't get them through the National Broadband Network, because it is so hopeless.' She had to participate in classes by taking a laptop and sitting at the top of a silo. That's what she had to do. People in rural, regional and remote Australia are driving from one property to another with their laptop to 'borrow the internet' from other people for basic business upgrades and to access basic services.

That's what the representatives on that side have delivered for rural and regional Australians. Rather than focusing on this massive disaster and doing something about it, they're now secretly gathering together to try to deliver nuclear power to Australia. That's the kind of responsible conduct and representative action you get from those opposite. Today we've heard about a 'distinctly Australian' approach. We did not get a distinctly Australian approach to the NBN. That was Labor's approach: a sensible, science based, fibre-rich network. What we got from those opposite was absolute economic and technological madness, a deeply stupid idea prosecuted and perpetrated by false claims and cover-ups that have saddled Australians with a lemon. (Time expired)

3:40 pm

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The NBN debate will always be one of great fascination. One side of this chamber delivered it, and the other side had that opportunity tragically torn away from them in 2013, just as they were getting beyond writing things on napkins and developing a national plan based on two nodal areas in the whole country. At the end of 2013, after six years of opportunity from the other side, we had the equivalent of three streets done in each electorate in Australia. That's right: just a couple of hundred households per electorate would have been where they got to after six years.

While I appreciate that the previous speaker has the rhetoric we've heard since 2013, the true reality here is that there simply is no counterfactual. We'll never know how badly Labor would have delivered their 2013 guesswork. We don't know what blowouts they would have had or what speed bumps they would have hit. But we're quite happy to stand by our challenges. In the great steeplechase of rolling out the NBN there were a few hurdles and a few water jumps, but it got delivered. And I'll tell you what: steeplechases are 7½-lap athletic events, and I was prepared to say, by 2025, 'Let's judge the two approaches.' There was the coalition, which obviously has a bit more business nuance and rolled this out as people were economically prepared to pay for it and to have NBN Co reporting EBIT profits by about 2020. And within a few years it will be a highly valuable government owned entity and increasing in value.

But no: what we had instead was estimates about where Labor would have got to by 2026. But in that great steeplechase they actually shortened the race by a lap. When COVID hit, that's all that mattered. Where would our great NBN have been under Labor had we let them do their snail-like rollout, house by house, whatever the cost? I don't care what the cost was in 2013. I care about the rolled out cost when it's delivered. There was actually no indication that you understood what it would be like to have millions of Australians relying on two megabits per second through COVID. And this opposition mounts their argument based on 'one person I met at a UNICEF breakfast'. That'll help! One person at a UNICEF breakfast who found it a little hard to connect—well, thanks very much, but I'll go on the Ombudsman's figures of a one per cent complaint rate, which includes servicing, connection, fees and cost structures. One per cent is what most networks around the world experience.

The true measure of our network was how it performed during COVID. Labor would never have been there, and Australians would have been left thoroughly exposed. Now of course what we can do, as the market demands it, is move to these better arrangements for the NBN rollout. This is about doing it as it's needed. It's fine to say that New Zealand was rolling a bit of cable down the street five years ago, but what Australia did—with a completely different population density—was to do it with the appropriate speed that users were prepared to pay for. And we now move to that important step, rolling it out for neighbourhoods that are prepared to pay for the extra speed.

I suspect that by 2025 Australia will have a new fibre network than one that started degrading in 2013, and we'll have technology rolled out as it is needed. That's the subtle difference between us and those on the other side, because you're trapped with your napkin modelling from 2013 that dilutes each time you go to an election. So you started with fibre to the premises everywhere. Then you slowly jettisoned that and you came back to it when you thought you could afford it, but you've never ever had to roll out anything except a few little trial sites in the most impossible place to try it, and that was Tasmania. So, at the end of your time, you had done a great trial, rolling up and down Tasmania. You didn't care who connected or who didn't. You were just trying to roll out some fibre.

What we've done is work on those percentages—those eight million who are connected and the 11.8 who are ready to connect. These are numbers you could never have achieved without dropping a node in the middle of a suburb and, for the investment of $25,000, connecting 200 households to those speeds of five to 25 or better. The reality now is that, if you had any sense on the other side that you didn't like the NBN, you would see the complaints rolling in to the Ombudsman. I ask you: present the report. We've had two speakers from the opposition and not a single reference to the Ombudsman's report. They're the umpire. I know that ALP members aren't happy, but I don't see a lot of Australians in my electorate, his electorate or even your electorate standing up. You're happy to go around and foster the little complaint sessions at ALP NBN forums. You get all your members along, hopping out of one Tarago, and a few unsuspecting people turn up, and I say to them, 'If you've got a problem, take it up with the NBN Co,' and they have nothing to show us. (Time expired)

3:46 pm

Photo of Tim WattsTim Watts (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications and Cyber Security) Share this | | Hansard source

If there is one thing we have learnt about this government, it's that it always puts itself first. When taxpayer funding is involved, this government's priorities are always its own political interests over the national interest. As a result, we've seen this confluence of rorts—all the ways that taxpayer funding is spent on the political interests of the Liberal and National parties, not in the national interest. So many rorts are swirling around this government that they've formed one giant megarort—a rort tornado or a 'rortnado'—at the heart of this government. That's what this government stands for. We've seen the sports rorts scandal where colour coded spreadsheets were used to allocate money away from electorates like mine, where there were sports projects that were independently rated objectively higher than those in coalition seats. But, no, the political interests of this government said that the money had to be spent in marginal seats, and that's where it went. We had the safer seats rort where the Minister for Home Affairs directed taxpayer grants for security projects, again, away from objectively rated proposals to where his interests and the political interests of the Liberal party land.

Of course, the other thing that we have learnt this week is that they put themselves first and you can't believe what they say. You can't take them at face value. Now we find that the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government have been using dodgy figures to justify their dud NBN political strategy. I don't say 'NBN policy'; I say 'NBN political strategy' because that's what it has been since the start. Before the 2013 election, Tony Abbott—remember him?—tasked Malcolm Turnbull with 'demolishing' the National Broadband Network. It was always a political job, not a policy job. It was always about their own perceived political self-interest, not the national interest. Abbott didn't task Malcolm Turnbull with building a national asset to turbocharge productivity growth in Australia, to power economic growth into the future and to build social inclusion throughout our suburbs and regions. He tasked him with a political demolition job, and the core of this political task was the MTM, or the multitechnology mix.

The political claim was that the coalition could build a cheaper NBN and roll it out more quickly if they abandoned Labor's fibre-to-the-home rollout, which was already well underway, with a mix, in exchange, of fibre, HFC and copper—oh, so much copper! And that was used to roll out this MTM model of the NBN. They said that continuing Labor's all-out fibre NBN would cost $72 billion, wasting well over $50 billion, and that's why they pursued the dud MTM model. Now we know, thanks to a report from The Sydney Morning Herald, that they knew all along that these figures were dodgy. The Sydney Morning Herald reports, 'Secret figures show full fibre NBN may have cost $10 billion less than claimed'—that is, less than claimed by those opposite The 2013 strategic review blanked this out, as the member for Greenway, the shadow minister for communications, pointed out earlier. Claiming commercial in confidence, it redacted '$10 billion cheaper' because it could 'damage the organisation's ability to negotiate or renegotiate any associated contracts', but we know the real reason. It's because it undermined the political narrative of those opposite.

This government is allergic to accountability. It is allergic to alternative views. It will do anything to avoid scrutiny and dodge accountability, including cutting the funding of the ANAO throughout the life of this government. They have never seen a cover-up that they didn't like, going back as far as 2016 when there were attempts to expose just how badly the NBN rollout was managed under those opposite. They tried to keep the real costs identified in the 2013 review a state secret. They went so far as to call the Australian Federal Police to raid the then shadow communications minister's Parliament House office and his office in my electorate in Melbourne's west, all to keep secret the fact that their cost estimates were a hoax and a political cover story, and that they could have built a full fibre network for $10 billion less than they claimed.

Using the AFP to conduct raids over leaks that make this government look bad is something they have significant form in—we all remember those raids on ABC journalists in their homes. Labor's plan would have been faster and cheaper, and the government knew it. They didn't want the cost per premises figures to be public because, as they said, it was commercial-in-confidence and would undermine NBN's contract negotiations. But it would have undermined their political argument!

The MTM quickly became 'Malcolm Turnbull's mess'. The cost to roll out this dud NBN blew out year after year after year. They should have listened to those of us on this side of the House. They should have listened when we said, 'Do it once, do it right, do it fibre.' We now know that even those opposite knew that doing it once, doing it right and doing it fibre would have cost $10 billion less than what those opposite told the Australian public.

3:51 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My favourite part of last week was when the Minister for Home Affairs looked across the dispatch box, eyed the Leader of the Opposition, and said, at the end of a question, 'You're in your dying days, brother.' I loved it, because it spoke volumes about the pressure that the Leader of the Opposition was under.

I expect that over the course of the weekend—and the Leader of the Opposition has been speaking to all his senior shadow ministers—that he will be saying to them, 'I need you to help; I need to lean in.' Equally, I think that in the lead-up to this term that when the shadow minister for communications was appointed to that position she thought to herself: 'Do you know what? I'm really going to make some mileage here with this NBN. I'm really going to hit the Liberal Party hard in relation to this issue.'

Sadly for her and sadly for our nation, we had a global pandemic. It hit this country hard. It saw tens of thousands—nay, hundreds of thousands—of Australians forced to relocate from their businesses to their homes. It saw schoolchildren having to undertake the task of in-home schooling. All of this put intense pressure on the NBN. So you would expect that the projections of those opposite that this was a second-rate scheme and that the rollout had been mismanaged—all of the rhetoric we're hearing from those opposite today—would have meant that the NBN would have come crashing down. It would have been woefully inadequate for the needs of all these extra Australians who had relocated from business premises to their homes, both for work and for school as well.

But, Mr Deputy Speaker, I'm here to tell you that it's not the experience of Australians, and it's certainly not the experience that the Joint Standing Committee on the NBN has heard when it's taken evidence on this issue publicly. We heard from a previous speaker about the ombudsman's report and the one per cent of complaints. What we didn't hear about was that the majority of those were not around speed or these sorts of things but rather connections and those kinds of logistical issues. So I suspect that what we have here is a shadow communications minister under pressure.

That's why I wasn't surprised to read the shadow minister in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, saying, 'Secret figures show full fibre NBN may have cost $10 billion less than claimed'. Except they weren't secret. Ironically, they were published on a website—in fact the NBN website—and they've been published since 13 December 2013. I expect that what's happened here is that we have a Leader of the Opposition under pressure. In turn, he's asking for support from his shadow ministers. They, in turn, ask their staff to look deeply into these issues—there must be something there!

We end up with a search of NBN's own website, which reveals this information which it is suggested is secret. Talk about hiding in plain sight. This is a report about the NBN on the NBN website.

Now, when I came to this place in 2013—and it is a great privilege—I had a sum total of zero connections to the NBN in my electorate. I had not one, none, nada, nil, zilch—you can keep going if you like. I'm pleased to say that, because of the multitechnology mix, we now have a full rollout and over 99 per cent of premises eligible for connection. I say it was just in time because, of course, we lived through the pandemic and we continue to live through the pandemic. Those opposite connected 51,000 premises in six years for $6 billion. That is three per cent of Australia's population. In a year more than that we've managed to roll out the NBN in my electorate to 96 per cent more people. If we'd waited for those opposite or adopted their model, we would have had Australians in the dark in the middle of a pandemic. Having the temerity to come into this place and suggest their plan would have been better beggars belief.

3:56 pm

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't know where the members opposite have been living to get all of this rubbish that somehow, if Labor had been in government for the last seven years, the NBN would have crashed during the pandemic. Let me tell you: in Parramatta it did. It was inadequate and it did come crashing down. I have people working for me and in my electorate who were not able to have two people online at once. Only one could work from home at a time. I have people in my electorate who were 'lucky enough' to get the NBN finally in 2020 after being promised it in 2014, 2016, 2018 and then 2020. They finally got it in 2020, and it is a disaster.

I have people on the Great Western Highway and in Dundas Valley, completely different areas of the electorate, that each are more than a kilometre from the node through copper: 1.2 kilometres from the node on the Great Western Highway and one kilometre in Dundas. They get 10 to 15 megabits per second if it works at all, and sometimes it crashes 70 times a day. These are medium-density buildings. The technicians are saying that they're coming out every single day with a complaint for the NBN and they're openly saying that it was never NBN-ready, that the NBN announced it was NBN-ready because the government wanted to deliver it so they could make this fabulous announcement that it was all complete, so they connected homes to the NBN with nodes 1.2 kilometres away. It is outrageous. It did come crashing down and it was inadequate during the pandemic.

Of course, in parts of Parramatta we didn't get it in 2020. We're not getting it until 2022—maybe—says the NBN. Maybe. This is Parramatta. This is the geographic heart of Sydney. This is the second Sydney CBD. This is where all of the high-rise development is going on. This is one of the fastest-growing areas in Sydney, and for the CBD itself and the area around it? 2022 maybe.

Now we find out that the great excuse that the government gave for rolling out this piece of trash which they jokingly call the NBN was that it was going to be cheaper and faster. Now we find out that it's not cheaper. In fact, by the time they do their overlay, realising now that it should have been fibre all along and paying for the rollout of fibre as well, it's going to be more expensive for this piece of trash.

What I want to know from the government is how my constituents in the electorate of Parramatta who are sitting with 10 to 15 megabits per second and get dropouts continuously all day get this great thing that the minister is now talking about: one gigabit download speed if they wish when the new fibre rolls out. Where is it going to go, when is it going to be there, how much is it going to cost and how the hell do you get in the queue? If it's going to be available, who is it available for and under what condition? Are the people that are sitting down the end of a 1.2-kilometre copper wire from the node going to get an upgrade, and how much will it cost them? Where is the information on this?

People decide where they live, where they rent, where they build their house, where they send their kids to school—they decide all those things these days—based on how good the internet connection is, because in Australia sometimes it's good and sometimes it's rubbish. People actually care about this, and they need to know, so they can make decisions about their lives, where this is going to roll out and whether they will be able to get it. This is important. This is not the kind of stuff that you keep secret—well, one assumes it will be rorted like everything else. One assumes with this government that if its members are not telling you where they're going to spend the money they're going to spend it in their own electorates, because that's pretty much par for the course with them. But I want to know how my constituents get this. I want to know whether people in red-brick buildings, people who are renting, people who have landlords and people who are in high-rise buildings that didn't get it because they were built before the NBN can get it, and I want to know what it's going to cost. I expect to know that so that people in my electorate can make decisions about their lives based on real information.

We know there have been 47 suburbs named. Some of them are in New South Wales; none of them are around me at all. But this is important. This is yet another case of a complete lack of transparency about an incredibly important project, a life-changing project. It should have been a nation-changing project. My constituents need to know. There were 10 to 15 megabits per second during the pandemic. Any member that gets up on that side and says the NBN was fabulous in the pandemic clearly hasn't been out much. Quite frankly, it wasn't adequate and it did crash.

4:01 pm

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The NBN is delivering for my Northern Tasmanian community. In a rural and regional electorate such as the electorate of Bass, the NBN is necessary for ensuring our local businesses, from SMEs to larger companies, can conduct their business. It allows them to compete on a national and international level. Local business leaders have embraced new technologies to foster productivity and growth, with programs such as the Business Fibre Initiative helping businesses innovate and grow through increasing access to and affordability of business-grade fibre.

Businesses like Definium Technologies, in Invermay, are benefiting from the NBN's Enterprise Ethernet. Definium Technologies is an Australian ICT and embedded software company located just outside of Launceston's CBD. They specialise in producing custom hardware and software solutions for businesses both in Australia and overseas. Led by CEO Mike Cruse, who grew up in Launceston before moving to Melbourne and then to Silicon Valley, Definium has designed and manufactured a large range of solutions from low-power wireless sensors and communications gateways through to industrial control systems. It is a fantastic company doing innovative things, and it could perhaps not have set up in our community were it not for access to the NBN.

It's not just small business, be it tech or otherwise, benefiting from our government's rollout of the NBN. In December last year I was pleased to join the state Minister for Education and Training, Jeremy Rockliff, at our local Kings Meadows High School to celebrate a partnership that's delivering high-speed broadband to schools across the state, including in Northern Tasmania. Through a new cooperative deal signed last year between the Tasmanian state government and TasmaNet, more students across our island state have access to the high-speed NBN services, improving the quality of educational services, particularly in some of our most regional communities. Through improved broadband services, our students can benefit from greater access to online services and more intensive and immersive online interaction, resulting in higher-quality education outcomes. Pleasingly, around 59 schools have now signed up for the Enterprise Ethernet, the NBN's highest-quality business-grade service, with another five to come online next month.

I'm somewhat bemused by Labor's attack on the government, given it missed every rollout target it set for itself when in government. As pointed out by the member for Barker, the NBN was a complete disaster under their control, with just 51,000 users connected in six years—an average of just 8,500 users a year over six years. Additionally, under Labor it cost an incredible $6 billion for the NBN to pass just three per cent of Australian premises. Who could forget when contractors downed their tools and stopped construction due to the epic mismanagement of those on the other side? Under the management of this government, today nearly eight million premises are connected, approximately 11.9 million premises are ready to connect and more than 99 per cent of all premises in Australia are able to connect, and 70 per cent of homes and businesses are on plans that are 50 megabits per second or higher. It puts Labor's figures to shame a little bit, doesn't it?

In September last year the minister for communications, Paul Fletcher, announced a $4½ billion NBN network investment plan that will give up to 75 per cent of fixed-line premises across regional and metropolitan Australia access to ultra-fast broadband by 2023 via a continuation of the multitechnology model of this government—an investment which will benefit many communities, including mine.

Our government has achieved the NBN efficiently and at a fraction of the cost of Labor's gold-plated approach that would have cost billions and left millions of Australians behind during the pandemic. It's the approach of our government that ensured NBN was there for our communities when they needed it. If the NBN had not been rolled out with the speed and purpose it has been under this government, using all available technologies, millions of premises throughout Australia might have languished on ADSL speeds of just eight megabits per second on average or endured lockdown with no internet service at all. When the pandemic hit, it was the efforts of this government that ensured our businesses, our homes and our schools could stay connected when it was needed more than ever.

4:05 pm

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

I'll just start off by saying that, on this side of the House, for a very long time now—in fact, well over seven years—we've been saying one thing, and we're continuing to say it, and you would have heard it today: do it once, do it right and do it with fibre. That was the correct way that this should have been done. That was the way that we promised in 2013 that we would roll out the NBN, with fibre to the node to every household in Australia.

Back in 2013, we remember the then Abbott government, together with Mr Turnbull, and the hoo-ha at their favourite News Corp outlet—Sky channel I think it was—when they did their announcement on NBN. Most of us would remember the holograms and the hoo-ha that went along with it absolutely saying that Labor had it wrong and they had it right. Well, in the last week or so, they have been proven wrong. We know for the last seven years the government have continued to tell the Australian public that their version of substandard NBN was the best deal for Australians. That's just simply not the case. The government have continuously flogged these old technologies for the NBN. As the member for Parramatta said, in places around Australia during COVID this past year, when people have had to work from home, we found out about the inadequacies of the NBN.

I too, in my electorate of Adelaide, had constituents ringing me who had to go on shift in their households so the kids could do their homework and the parents could do their work from home because, if you got two people on the computer, it wasn't downloading or it was so slow. It is not right in 2021 to still have these issues taking place. It's been a very costly and unnecessary mistake by this government.

Let's take a look at the range of bungles that have taken place. They promised that every Australian would have access to minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second by 2016. Well, we're in 2021 now, five years on. That was their commitment to the Australian people. That was a promise that they made during the election campaign, and people may have voted for them because of that particular commitment and promise. They haven't upheld that promise. We're now, as I said, in 2021, five years on, and these minimum speeds are still not being delivered over the copper NBN network. According to reports, 238,000 households still cannot access minimum speeds. It is unacceptable in a modern country, in a country that wants to pride itself on its IT technology, that we cannot access these minimum speeds.

Now we hear that some of the hardware that they have used could actually be dangerous. There have been reports from around the country that fibre-to-the-curb modems on the NBN have been literally getting fried during lightning storms. We have heard that some households have required up to six modem replacements, with technicians having to visit each and every time. If storms can blow up six consecutive NBN modems then something is clearly not right. They may try to blame it on renewables, as they did when South Australia had the most horrendous and worst storms it had ever had. We didn't have electricity for a few days, and they tried to blame it on renewables. Maybe they'll do the same with this. I was expecting it, but they didn't.

In another recent debacle, NBN Co has apparently run out of modems for their problem-plagued HFC network. The modem is a pretty essential bit of equipment when you're rolling out a national broadband network, most people would think. But they announced they will halt the activation of the new HFC network for several months because the HFC networks that the government purchased are not fit for purpose. Deputy Speaker, can you see the pattern of behaviour here? They spent $57 billion on a network and ran out of modems. Perhaps the answer is a financial mismanagement on the part of the government. The government announced in 2013 that their second-rate version of the NBN would be delivered for $29.5 billion. The cost then blew out to $41 billion and it continued to go up— (Time expired)

4:10 pm

Photo of Garth HamiltonGarth Hamilton (Groom, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm very happy to speak about the government's great achievements on the NBN. After all, when this government came to office, we had the task of fixing Labor's NBN mess, and what a mess it was! Labor had a gold plated approach which would have cost billions of dollars more and left millions of Australians behind. That is the standard the opposition sets: to do less with more. This government's approach has ensured that the NBN has been delivered economically, efficiently and in time for the demands of COVID-19, a time when connectivity mattered, particularly in rural and regional Australia. During the pandemic, we saw the expanded demand on the NBN. As a result of the Liberals' and Nationals' efforts in government, the NBN was able to meet that demand. In a time of crisis, good management mattered.

Let's compare the records of this government and the former Labor government. We find the contrast is stark. When Labor left office, a little over 67,000 homes in my home state of Queensland were ready for service, and less than 10,000 were actually connected. This was not good enough. As of February this year, the number of premises ready for service has soared under the Liberal-National government to 2,373,301. That is what good management delivers—better and more efficient services. In my electorate of Groom, which was almost completely ignored under Labor's NBN plan, only 1,163 premises were connected to the NBN. Today we have over 56,000 services connected to the NBN and 100 per cent of premises in-ready-to-be-connected areas.

That is why I'm more than happy to talk about the NBN and how, under the management of this government, nearly eight million premises are connected and more than 99 per cent of all premises in Australia are able to connect. Our plan is providing services and flexibility, particularly in regions such as mine, with many urbanised areas such as Toowoomba and Highfields and more rural areas such as Pittsworth, Oakey and Goombungee. We're doing this with a varied mix of technologies such as fixed line, fixed wireless and satellite—another example of technology driving Toowoomba's future. I'm more than happy to talk about how, in September 2020, Minister Fletcher announced a $4.5 billion NBN investment plan that will give 75 per cent of fixed-line premises across regional and metropolitan Australia access to ultra-fast broadband by 2023, and how this will occur via continuation of the multitechnology model. It's because of this approach by this government that the NBN was there for Australians when they needed it, when almost overnight we had to adapt the way we worked, learned, accessed vital services and kept in touch with our families.

I'm also happy to talk about the NBN under Labor, and how, after six years of Labor mismanagement of the NBN, just 51,000 users were connected. Labor paid $6 billion for the NBN to pass just three per cent of Australian premises. The rollout was so badly managed that contractors downed tools and stopped construction in four states. That is all before I even mention how under Labor the NBN missed every rollout target that it set for itself. It's very easy to set targets; it's quite another thing to hit them.

The issue the opposition is seeing to canvass here today has been dealt with at length and has been debunked at length, but let's do it again. The independent assessment of the 2013 strategic review found that the proposed Labor fibre rollout would have taken three years longer to complete than indicated in the Labor plan. This also included a revised and delayed end date of June 2024, with a peak funding requirement of $72.6 billion. That would have left Australian homes, schools and businesses completely unprepared, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Labor's NBN was going to leave Australians disconnected. According to the last published and, shall we say, very optimistic corporate plan under Labor, in June 2020, in the very midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, there would still have been well over 1.2 million homes and businesses that could not order an NBN service.

By contrast, this government has delivered the NBN efficiently and economically when Australians needed it most, with over 11.9 million premises ready to connect. Over 99 per cent of Australian premises can now order an NBN service, more than eight million premises have been connected to the NBN, and today 70 per cent of homes and businesses are on plans with speeds of 50 megabits per second or higher. Under Labor, the NBN was a complete mess. This government has got on with fixing that mess, and Australia is grateful.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The discussion has concluded.