House debates

Tuesday, 30 November 2021

Matters of Public Importance

Broadband

3:17 pm

I've 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 mismanagement of the NBN.

I call upon those honourable 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 Minister for Communications) Share this | | Hansard source

Going into the 2007 election, Labor took a policy to the Australian people that spoke to a smart future in which the transformational power of ICT would be harnessed for the betterment of all Australians, irrespective of where they lived or worked. But it also spoke to a decade of policy failures under this conservative government when it came to broadband, including when Telstra was privatised as a vertically integrated monopoly, entrenching the disincentives to invest and to engage in the best consumer welfare. They sold out the needs of rural and regional Australia. We had a litany of half-baked proposals that left Australia languishing as a broadband backwater in a region that was investing in fibre as the best form of communications infrastructure. Their hearts just weren't in it. If you needed any proof that absolutely nothing has changed since that time, we only have to look at eight long years of technological incompetence, cost blowouts and policy backflips to prove that their heads aren't in it either.

Nothing encapsulates proof of this more eloquently than the incoherent, rage-induced response by the minister opposite to the positive and well-received policy announcement by myself and the Labor leader recently to invest $2.4 billion, expanding fibre access to up to 1½ million additional premises currently relegated to a copper service under those opposite. It's noteworthy that up to 660,000 of these premises are in the regions. I think this media release is a timely reminder of why the minister opposite shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a keyboard when he's in a bad mood. There was so much tension in this media release you could've cut it with a butter knife, and even the shareholder minister, the Minister for Finance, wouldn't put his name on it. It was too much for even Senator Birmingham.

But let's be clear. It's difficult to know where to start with this rant of a statement by the minister on 17 November, but I'll give it a go. I'm going to start at the end. I want to remind members this minister, along with those geniuses Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott, abandoned fibre. They said their NBN would be a multitechnology mix incorporating copper and HFC. They said they'd deliver it quicker and cheaper. They said it would cost $29 billion and be finished by 2016. The price tag today is $57 billion and counting, and around Australia we've still got about 200,000 premises on copper that can't get the minimum broadband speeds required by law.

In September last year, in the most humiliating, wasteful, expensive policy backflip in the history of the federation, this minister announced—wait for it—that they would go back and they would build the fibre. After all that, what's the punchline? What's the punchline from this minister? What's his knockout blow in his last line? 'Only the Coalition can be trusted to deliver an upgraded NBN.' You can't make this up. Let that anti-logic sink in for a moment. It's the stuff of satire. It truly takes a unique lack of self-awareness to issue a statement like that. If we follow this statement to its illogical conclusion, the minister is arguing that only the Liberals can undertake a technology repair job that would not have even been needed if they weren't so incompetent to begin with.

Let's just be clear about what that is. I mentioned 660,000 premises in the region benefiting under Labor's policy. We've got this other pearler in the minister's media release:

It's clear that what Labor proposes here is more wasteful government spending of taxpayers money.

Let's be clear. In Labor's original proposal, 93 per cent of the fixed-line footprint would have fibre, not copper. Millions of additional premises in regional Australia have been relegated to copper under this minister, and this minister's view is that to upgrade those people to fibre is wasteful. I look forward to every rural and regional member opposite coming in to back in their minister. I look forward to the Liberal candidates for Eden-Monaro, Macquarie, Gilmore and Corangamite all coming out to back in the minister. I think I'll be waiting a while.

I'll tell you what else in our announcement speaks to the Labor mission. It's a modest one, but it makes a real change to the lives of children and their families. We know from ABS data that prior to COVID there were around 55,000 households in Australia that didn't have any access to the internet. For whatever reason, they had no access to the internet at home. The first time we actually obtained this data was during lockdown when we had remote learning going on, which became the norm for many of us. Schools, various state education departments, carriers and NBN Co intervened with mostly temporary solutions to help these students, and that's a good thing. I've heard firsthand about the difference that assistance made. But I tell you what: it's still estimated that there are around 30,000 households around Australia where there is still no internet at home, for whatever reason.

We have announced that Labor, working with NBN Co and the retailers, will give free internet access to those households for a year. We'll do that while we work on a long-term model. In some cases it might be quite bespoke, depending on the needs of those houses. Central to the Labor mission is equality of opportunity for everyone in Australia, regardless of your income, regardless of your postcode and regardless of what country you or your parents were born in. That is the Labor mission. We know Australians are looking to the future. We want to be better prepared in the new normals we have going forward—how we work, how we study. It speaks to Australians needing to have the best—not the substandard, but the best. We have got the substandard under this government. We are ranked 59th in the world for average broadband speeds. We are ranked 32nd out of 37 nations in the OECD.

I would put money on the minister's script, on what he is going to come and say in response to this. It's a document called 'same old talking points'. Consider this: the minister's response every time, just like he did only a couple of weeks ago, is to talk about 2013. Let's consider this: these tired old arguments have been systematically proven wrong over the past eight years on every single count. And consider this: we have Labor talking about the future and making it better, and all this government can do is talk about the past but neglect to mention all its failures.

We are talking about a future narrative here—how to make this national piece of utility infrastructure better for our needs in the post COVID world. It's very clear that COVID has demonstrated that reliable, quality, accessible high-speed internet is not a luxury or a nice-to-have. We said this all along: it is essential, 21st century, economic infrastructure. A future made in Australia requires the best-quality communications infrastructure. Optical fibre is the right technology to shape our future. We said this all along: do it once, do it right and do it with fibre. It's always been the right technology. It's not just about speeds; it's about our national story and asserting the kind of country we aspire to be. I tell you what: if Labor want to be a leader in the digital industrial century, not just a participant, we have to do better. That is our aspiration—a future made in Australia, a future shaped by the best-quality ICT.

We've known all along that the NBN is a critical piece of national infrastructure. But this tired, decade-old Liberal-National government can't be trusted when it comes to technology. They always get the big calls wrong on technology, just as they get them wrong in other portfolio areas—including energy. They always get it wrong. For them, it's always about short-term politics and never about the long-term progress of this country. That's why only Labor can deliver a better NBN and be trusted to shape our future the way it should be. (Time expired)

3:28 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3:38 pm

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

After eight long years of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, Australians are entitled to look back and ask, 'What has been the point of that?' As it heads into its ninth year and as it prepares to ask the Australian public to start a second decade in office, what has been the legacy of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government? You really have to feel for the historians of future generations. When they set about trying to tell the story of the achievements of this government, they are going to confront a very difficult challenge indeed. The first thing they are going to have to do is dig through a mountain of marketing guff, because those opposite—across Abbott, across Turnbull and across the Morrison government—certainly know how to produce a pamphlet. One cynic has gone so far as to call this model of government a 'pamphletocracy'. But, for all of its glossy graphic design and marketing slogans, this government has never had anything at the heart of it. It's never had a vision for the kind of country it was setting out to create or a policy agenda for how to deliver it.

Even worse, they haven't just taken up space and they haven't just wasted time; the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government have actively taken us backwards. The only thing that they have set about doing with any zeal has been trashing the policy achievements that had been put in place by the previous Labor government. There's no better example of this than the NBN.

For this MPI, I have delved into the back catalogue of this government's pamphlets for a deep cut. Tony Abbott's 'real solutions' election pamphlet—do you remember that one? It's a classic; it's a real classic. I was looking at it this morning, but I couldn't see the current Prime Minister on it. He didn't make the cut back in 2013. That's how many prime ministers and leaders this government has churned through. Prime Minister Morrison didn't even make the top six in the Abbott government in 2013. But this one is full of their greatest hits—and I know the members opposite are really looking forward to this one—like 'we will get the budget back under control, cut waste, start reducing debt and start delivering real budget surpluses'. Do you remember that one? It's a good tune, isn't it! Take a breath. Remember to breathe. It is breathtaking, I know! Because since then those opposite have delivered eight consecutive budget deficits, with a ninth in March in the new parliamentary sitting calendar that we saw recently. They doubled the deficit before COVID hit, and now we are left with $1 trillion of Liberal debt as a legacy for the nation going forward. And what do we have to show for it?

But I'm distracted by this. It's the NBN commitments I'm most interested in here. The first Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government pamphlet promised that this government would 'deliver broadband faster, sooner and at less expense to taxpayers and consumers than Labor's National Broadband Network.' It's almost as embarrassing as the deficit quote, because, despite this pamphlet-thin commitment, Tony Abbott also explicitly asked Malcolm Turnbull to demolish Labor's fibre-to-the-home NBN, and he did that and then some. When he axed Labor's fibre NBN, Malcolm Turnbull announced that he'd deliver a multitechnology mix NBN for a total cost of $29.5 billion. What they've delivered is a copper and HFC NBN that cost nearly three times as much—$57 billion. It's a $28 billion budget blowout. That's even bigger than the $20 billion blowout that they wasted on JobKeeper payments to companies that increased their revenues in the pandemic. So it's a big one in policy failures under that government. It's billions of dollars more than it would have cost to deliver Labor's full fibre-to-the-home vision for the NBN. It's a special achievement to bungle a policy so badly that you deliver half as much for twice the price, but that's what happens when all you have is a political strategy rather than a policy vision.

It has led the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government to sacrifice this nation's future in pursuit of short-term political interests. Here we are, eight years later, and what do we have to show for it? Australia is ranked 59th in the world for average broadband speeds and 32 out of 37 OECD countries. An Anthony Albanese Labor government has a vision for the future of our country and the courage to pursue it and the plans to deliver it, a vision for Australia to be a leader in the new digital economy, not just an international follower. We'll restore the original vision of the NBN as best we can given the mess this government has made of it. We'll extend the access of a full-fibre NBN to 1.5 million homes and businesses. An Albanese Labor government will make sure that NBN Co invests an additional $2.4 billion to boost fibre to the country making sure that 10 million premises in Australia have access to a gigabit connection by 2025. That's 90 per cent of Australian businesses, and we'll keep NBN Co in public hands while we do it.

3:43 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

What do you say to that? What do you really say to that? We used to hear a lot about the vision at the dispatch box, the vision about what Labor would do if they are elected, but some of us were actually there and remember the vision that Labor had when they were last in government about communications. I remember their vision for the NBN Co. It was on the back of a napkin, I think, and conceived on a flight.

An honourable member interje cting—

Yes, on the back of a napkin. See, that's the problem when you have a vision but you don't have the know-how to implement something as important and technical and practical as a national broadband network. I remember also Labor's original rollout of the NBN didn't go to important places like hospitals and business parks. In my own electorate, the largest business park west of Parramatta in north-west Sydney wasn't on the rollout plan. Why wasn't it on the rollout plan? The member for Greenway had a lot of streets and suburbs on her rollout plan in the original rollout of the NBN. It wouldn't be because it was a marginal seat, would it? Some whole suburbs and streets had rollout plans, yet hospitals were not being connected to the NBN nor were critical manufacturing and other facilities that needed NBN access. These are the wrong priorities that Labor had with their initial rollout of the NBN.

We remember their record on communications, and the public shouldn't forget it. I remember very clearly the wonderful phrase 'mandatory internet filter'. What a wonderful idea that was of the Labor Party's in office—to filter the internet. For five years they promised a mandatory internet filter, talking up their record on communications. They're the tech heads, to quote a former Prime Minister, the ones that understand communications. They tried to filter the internet for five years. It was five years before they had to kill this egregious waste of money that attempted to filter the internet. Thank goodness that went to bed.

It was also good that the coalition got elected in 2013. I highly recommend our Real Solutions brochure—good reading. And the Australian public saw that as well. They saw it and they voted for the coalition again in record numbers, another one of those election victories. The Real Solutions pamphlet was an election-winning set of policies. By the time those opposite had left office, 51,000 users had been connected to the NBN. At the time, if you remember back to that period, you couldn't get a subbie anywhere in Western Sydney to do anything, because all of them were chasing the NBN contracts from Labor. You might say: 'Great—that's fantastic. They were trying to build the NBN.' The reality was that, under Labor, under the mismanagement of the people they put in place, under the egregious amounts of money that they were offering, every subbie knew that, if you worked for the NBN, you'd be paid two to three times what you would be paid in any other job for less work. Subbies were literally not doing any work for anybody else, because they were being paid three times for the same work. Now, what company, corporation or anyone could afford to pay three times the price for the delivery of a service? Of course, a Labor-run facility. So, when the member for Gellibrand says, 'We want it in public ownership,' what he means is completely and utterly incompetent administration run by the Labor Party. And people shouldn't forget the cost of that, the cost versus the service. There were just 51,000 users after all of that waste.

What did the coalition do? We came to office. And, of course, that's why people elect coalition governments, because they get real solutions. And what did we do with the NBN? Well, we actually fixed it. We made it work. We got it ready for the pandemic. And thank goodness the coalition had been elected to office before the pandemic, so that, when people needed it, the NBN was there. It was there for people at home and in their businesses. We connected business parks, we connected hospitals, we connected people to the services they needed—the productivity driving force that this was supposed to be all about. The coalition's plan wasn't on the back of an envelope. Yes, it was in detailed policy brochures. We don't apologise for that. It wasn't a mandatory internet filter that we focused on for five years and then scrapped because it was a complete waste of time and energy. This was the chaos that Labor represented in all areas of policy, and communications were no different.

Labor wasted $6 billion on the NBN, for just three per cent of Australian premises. We came to office and we got it fixed. The NBN is working, it is viable and it is delivering for Australians. Again, that just shows that this coalition government, the Morrison government, has delivered real solutions for people. It is continuing to do the job—not just the vision but the 'how' you are going to get the job done. Only a coalition government can be trusted.

3:48 pm

Photo of Susan TemplemanSusan Templeman (Macquarie, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, I'd like to see some of the coalition government come and talk to businesses in the Blue Mountains, because what they'll tell you is that fibre to the node has been an absolute disaster for their businesses. Let me tell you the story of Ron. When it rains, his fibre-to-the-node connection stops. There's nothing. And what his customers get is a message telling them that his number doesn't exist. So, there's Ron, running a sound and light production company, and yet, with a drop of rain, his customers get told that he just doesn't exist. Now, how's that for the party who reckons they stand for small business?

Then you have Keaton, a children's filmmaker. He does want to see kids quotas—that's the other issue that this government has let him down on. But the main problem he has now is that he cannot run his business in the Blue Mountains. He cannot get the upload speeds that he needs, because fibre to the node is a substandard technology. He has to commute down to Sydney, to Gore Hill, where his production company sits. This is what this government has done to people who'd hoped to be able to base their business in the mountains.

My third example is Aaron. Aaron runs one of the most beautiful B&Bs that you'd find, in Leura. He rates really high on every score from his visitors. The one thing that lets him down is his NBN connection. We've tried everything we can to help Aaron because he doesn't want to have to wait for Labor to come in. He knows that when we win government he will have fibre to the premises, which his customers and visitors will absolutely love. They'll be able to stay there not just for a weekend but for some of their working week as well. But they can't right now.

What Aaron's been told is that he is more than a kilometre from a node. He can only get 21 megabits per second download and four megabits per second upload. How do you upload your photos to Facebook or Instagram with that? You can't do that, let alone do your work. He is being let down by this government. It is ironic that it's a government that pretends it cares about small business, when they are exactly the people the government pushed aside and said, 'You don't count,' when fibre to the node was rolled out to the upper Blue Mountains. That was a failed experiment. These people knew it was a failure, because they didn't roll it out to the lower mountains.

Labor will fix the upper mountains. We will make sure that anyone who wants it will be able to get it. Aaron did ask the question, 'How much would it be for me to get fibre to the premises under the Morrison government's plan?' He was given a neat figure: $12,500 was the quote he got for fibre to the premises. That is beyond his means. It's beyond the means of mums who need their kids to be able to access the internet for school. It's beyond the means of families where there's a student at university and that assignment is due and the fibre to the node is so slow that they can't connect. That's what those opposite have done to people living in the upper Blue Mountains.

It also applies to great swathes of the Hawkesbury. You've got 4,000 square kilometres in Macquarie and you've given them five different types of technology: satellite, wireless, some fibre to the premises—that would be when Labor was in government—fibre to the node and fibre to the curb. What happens to the satellite people? They're switching off. They are going to Elon Musk's Starlink satellites because they get such good speeds at the moment from that. But they have to pay, and it's only those who can afford to pay, which is the antithesis of what this program which was all about. This program was about equity, giving every Australian a fair go, a fair chance to make their way in the world, to build a small business no matter where they lived. Those on the other side have taken that away from people.

People who have wireless are left with this ridiculous technology that also doesn't meet their needs. I have one constituent who works for the NBN who refuses to connect to wireless. One hundred metres up the road people are on fibre to the curb but he can only get wireless. These are the sorts of stupid decisions that have been made by this government and the NBN, guided by nothing other than small mindedness without any vision.

I'm going to finish with the problems with fibre to the curb in the Blue Mountains in particular. When the storms hit and lightning strikes, it goes off. It disappears, little bits of ash come out of your box and your box is blown. We're told the new boxes are better. We're not seeing that. This government has let down everybody in the Blue Mountains.

3:53 pm

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Macquarie for her contribution. Let me start by saying that in that contribution we have exactly the reason why Labor's NBN failed so badly. It wasn't about providing telephony and data services to Australians; it was about making sure that their mates in the telecommunications industry got as much money as they possibly could. That's why they talk about equity and all the sorts of things they love to talk about. But they never talk about the opportunity for small businesses. They never talk about the opportunity for households. They never talk about the things that really matter.

When I first got elected to this place, in 2016, I met a gentleman by the name of Ben Christie, who runs a global company from Warriewood Valley in my electorate. I say to the member for Macquarie: Ben Christie had been waiting under Labor's NBN for nearly seven years for there to be a connection. He literally had to drive to Parramatta to be able to run his business. The dislocation, the amount of business he lost and the number of people he could not employ due to Labor's incompetence was just extraordinary.

So when the shadow minister for telecommunications puts up an MPI topic like this, I am torn between thinking that it's some sort of black humour and thinking that she just wants us to have a great laugh at their expense. What could go wrong with a program that was designed off the back of a beer coaster at the front of the Prime Minister's plane as he returned from Townsville in less than three hours? Of course, who of us in this place has not designed a $4 billion infrastructure spend on the back of a beer coaster in less than three hours? None of us, of course, because we are all geniuses and know it all! None of us had experience in rolling out a telecommunications company or data, but that didn't bother Prime Minister Rudd or Minister Stephen Conroy. They knew that they could do it. I thank God that they could not find a second beer coaster. God knows what the two of them would have come up with if they'd had an extra hour on the plane with a second beer coaster! They could have saved this country from who knows what? Let's think of a disaster they could have solved. Given a couple more hours they could have probably spent $170 billion. That's what we have from those opposite. They come up with all this vision. It is preposterous in its statement. It is preposterous in its thinking.

We have the member for Macquarie accusing this government of not caring about people in the upper Blue Mountains when those opposite were more interested in an equitable telephony system than they were in actually delivering services, and why? Because they don't actually care about the practicalities of life. They only care about the ideological outcomes. So now we have people in the upper Blue Mountains who can't get access to data services because of their poorly designed NBN which, once again, those on this side had to fix, just like with the NDIS and just like with the apology to the disabled and people who were sexually abused in institutions. It is always left to this side of the House to actually come up with practical outcomes that make a difference to real people.

You won't hear us talking at length about equity. You will hear us talking about equality of opportunity. You will hear us talking about freedom. You will hear us talk about personal choice, like whether you want fibre to the node or fibre to the premises. We don't believe that all wisdom in this nation resides only in this chamber. We believe that your ordinary, average Australian has the capacity to make decisions for themselves.

We know those opposite don't trust Australians. We know those opposite believe that they are not up to making even the choice as to whether they want fibre to the node or fibre to their premises. We know those opposite believe that these are decisions that should be made in a prime ministerial VIP jet on the way back from Townsville on the back of a beer coaster, because, after all, your ordinary, average Australian does not have the capacity to use a beer coaster! Only Senator Conroy and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd can do that! So we have a project that massively overran and massively undelivered. Once again, it was left to those on this side of the House to fix that problem.

3:58 pm

Photo of Libby CokerLibby Coker (Corangamite, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

An Albanese Labor government will fix the sadly botched NBN rollout that the Morrison government has given Australians. We all know that good-quality, fast internet is crucial in today's society. If we didn't know that prior to COVID, we certainly know it now. Working from home, studying from home and simply keeping in touch with family and friends relies on fast and reliable broadband.

Many families in my electorate of Corangamite are totally dissatisfied, frustrated and, quite honestly, angry at this government's woeful copper-to-the-node scheme. Some in my electorate don't even have NBN yet, despite the Morrison-Joyce government telling us that the rollout is complete. That's why Labor's recent announcement that we will connect 1.5 million households across the nation to fast fibre was enthusiastically applauded in my electorate. An investment of 2.4 billion to boost fibre access nationally makes absolute sense.

What doesn't make good sense is why this wasn't done by the coalition government. Instead, the coalition introduced an inferior system, relying to a great degree on copper wire to the home. By international standards, this was never going to cut the mustard. It was short-sighted, and it's limited our nation's productivity. Australia is now ranked 58th in the world for average broadband speeds. It's just embarrassing.

So I was recently thrilled to announce to my electorate that, under Labor, many areas now struggling with copper wire based NBN will have access to full-fibre high-speed internet in my electorate. That means that places like Bannockburn, Clifton Springs, Portarlington, St Leonards, Marshall, Moolap, Queenscliff and Point Lonsdale will all have access, under Labor, to fibre to the home. None of these areas were earmarked for upgrades under this half-baked proposal by the Morrison government to retrofit fibre to the home under its discredited NBN.

As a result, my office has been flooded with complaints about the coalition's NBN. A local project manager and software developer who works in Waurn Ponds, an urban area in my electorate, tells me NBN is his biggest concern in turning a profit. He says: 'It's so embarrassing. It's frustrating.' Another, David in Barwon Heads, tells me he's battling serious communication challenges with the NBN, at a time when his wife is pregnant and needs to keep in touch with medical specialists. In Torquay, the NBN can be so pathetic, a trickle of between five and eight megabits per second. That's not usable in this day and age for even the most basic of data communications.

How can this government hold its head up when talking about the woeful NBN that it's delivered to Australians? The truth is that the NBN has been a giant, expensive headache for so many in my electorate and across the nation since the coalition began rolling it out in 2013, and everyone knows it. It's riddled with problems. More than 27,000 Australians made complaints about NBN in 2020, including complaints about slow speeds and poor connectivity. The coalition's failed fibre-to-the-node infrastructure is now going to have to be rebuilt by a Labor government.

The irony is that under former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd we were going to deliver a fast fibre based NBN, but it was bagged by the coalition at the time. We had the future Prime Minister Abbott saying:

… do we really want to invest $50 billion worth of hard-earned taxpayers' money in what is essentially a video entertainment system?

Mr Turnbull in the same press conference said, laughably even by the standards of 10 years ago:

Should the taxpayer be paying $50 billion to subsidise people staying at home watching movies?

The facts are now obvious. The coalition have wasted eight years on an inadequate system when they could have rolled out Labor's fibre-to-the-home model right from the start.

What does the coalition's failed NBN model matter? Well, it matters to Australians. It matters to them because they want a fast system for their home businesses or for their students to study. It is absolutely imperative that we have a better system instead of this incompetent system that we have under the coalition. So it's going to be up to an Albanese Labor government to fix the coalition's NBN mess, and I look forward to that taking place.

4:03 pm

Photo of James StevensJames Stevens (Sturt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the matter of public importance. I would like to start by putting on record congratulations to everyone at the NBN for what they have been able to do in the last 20 months, in particular, since the coronavirus pandemic commenced, with the enormous amount of pressure that that put on internet connections throughout their network across the country. Of course, we all know and understand what happened early on in the pandemic and how people in many cases suddenly had to work from home. This put an enormous amount of pressure on the network. We made some very important decisions as a government to support capacity in the network, and I commend Minister Fletcher for what he did then and also for more recent announcements that he's made regarding the National Broadband Network.

Congratulations to everyone at the NBN, because that system could never have been put under more pressure in such an unpredictable way. As much as we make sure in our critical infrastructure that we're preparing for absolutely anything, the way in which the system stood up to those pressures goes to show not only that they were indeed prepared for a once-in-100-year event like that pandemic but that the system is very agile and nimble and can make changes rapidly. There are nearly, I think, 12 million customers with access to the NBN now. Of course, representing one of 151 electorates like other members here, I've got tens of thousands in my own electorate. It's a thrill to visit businesses, in particular, that are using the NBN in ways that put them in a globally competitive space. Creative industries is a good example. I've got the South Australian Film Corporation in my electorate but lots of other businesses that work in film, in post-production, visual effects et cetera, whose internet connection is very important. A city like Adelaide has a great competitive advantage because it sits nicely on a time zone against the western United States—so, Hollywood—and Europe, and that puts businesses in my electorate in a position to work on projects with other businesses in Los Angeles, London, Paris and Vancouver. They can effectively be doing projects where they're collaborating, where at 9 am, Adelaide time, the team in Adelaide are working on a particular part of a post-production visual effects project and at five o'clock they upload their work of the last eight hours. The team in London pick that up, keep working on the same scene for the next eight hours and then hand that over to someone in Vancouver or Los Angeles, and the cycle continues. That's all facilitated by having a broadband internet system that allows them to collaborate and deal with enormous packets of data in the efficient way this system provides to us.

We have, of course, had to do an enormous clean-up job from what we were left with from Labor after six years. I think they got around 51,000 customers onto the NBN in six years. I suppose it's not, in hindsight, a surprise that Labor could be so slow in rolling it out—an idea that the member for Mackellar has just outlined very eloquently. It probably didn't have as much thought and wasn't robust a concept as it should have been when you're talking about what is now tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers' funds. What's even worse is not the mess that was left to us after they had six years to get 51,000 homes on the NBN but the fact that, if they'd kept going and we hadn't been elected and taken over responsibility for deploying the NBN, it still wouldn't be finished by now. The KordaMentha process showed that the NBN under Labor would probably have completed rollout by 30 June 2024. Where would we have been in the pandemic with an incomplete national broadband network? Where would all those businesses have been—those that rely on that network, that infrastructure, that technology, which we fixed, we enhanced and we finished? We got the job done. I shudder to think how businesses would have survived over the last 20 months if they'd had the half-finished system that Labor continued to slowly roll out and deploy. So we're very lucky that the people of Australia made the right decision, threw Labor out in 2013 and voted in support of our approach to the NBN, which delivered a finished system that we continue to invest in and enhance into the future.

4:08 pm

Photo of Kristy McBainKristy McBain (Eden-Monaro, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Having fast, reliable, good-quality internet should not be a luxury in 21st century Australia. It should not be something that only people who live in the cities can access, and it shouldn't be the case that two families that live in the exact same suburb should have vastly different internet access. But under this Liberal-National government that is exactly what has happened in Jerrabomberra, a suburb that is only 15 minutes from where we are right now. The fact is that some people who live in Jerrabomberra have had great NBN access and have for many years experienced fast, reliable internet connectivity. But there are also a lot of people in Jerrabomberra who were dudded when this government trashed the NBN model to move to a mix of fibre and copper. In one suburb it all came down to the luck of the draw as to why some people have access to 21st century technology while too many households do not.

Obviously, the Jerrabomberra community was frustrated and angry. The residents and families have been paying the same amount for a vastly different experience. Thankfully, the Jerrabomberra community didn't sit by and accept this ridiculous situation. They have stood up and made noise for over a decade now. They have called out this government for the rollout and demanded that they receive the same access as their neighbours and the wider Queanbeyan community. Now, after years, the NBN is finally being rolled out to Jerrabomberra. The government is having to go back and fix what it got wrong in the first place. This tired, decade-old Liberal-National government cannot be trusted when it comes to technology or broadband. They have deployed a network that cost twice as much but does half of what it's supposed to.

Labor had a vision and a plan to ensure Australia was a leader in the digital industry, not just a participant. But then this government came in and butchered the NBN rollout. For them it's always about short-term politics and never about the long-term progress of the Australian people. Big announcements, no follow-through and botched rollouts have become a legacy of the Morrison government. The government promised to save taxpayers money by cutting corners. They said they could deliver something just as good at half the cost. This is just another untruth. This government has delivered a masterclass in technological and economic incompetence. Australia is now ranked 59th in the world for average broadband speeds and is 32nd out of 37 OECD countries. It's almost unfathomable that the government has spent nearly nine years and $50 billion on a second-rate network. Rather than realising their mistake early on, they doubled down, launching tirade after tirade about fibre. Then, just like that, around the corner in Jerrabomberra they are crawling back to the very thing they argued against. This not only vindicates Labor's policy but proves something many Australians have long suspected to be the case: the Liberals get the big calls wrong.

When I decided to run for the seat of Eden-Monaro I was determined to make a difference to the lives of the people I now represent. I vowed to advocate for my communities to get the education, the infrastructure and the services they deserve. I represent a broad and varying electorate, but there's one thing that everyone agrees on, from Eden to Tumut, from Yass to Cooma, and just down the road in Queanbeyan: for our kids to get ahead, for them to learn and succeed into the future, they need access to reliable internet. This is no longer a want. This is no longer a luxury. This is a vital part of our lives, whether you are in the city or in regional Australia, and this has become even more apparent during lockdowns when our children were learning from home and parents were working from home.

Our communities need an NBN that works. This is why I'm proud to talk about Labor's plan for the NBN, because Labor has a plan that will benefit people in regional Australia. A Labor government will ensure 90 per cent of Australians in the fixed-line footprint—over 10 million premises—will have access to world-class gigabit speeds by 2025. Labor will keep the NBN in public hands, keeping internet costs for families affordable while ensuring improvements to the network take place. This is key. We cannot privatise something that is fast becoming a basic need.

In particular, Labor's expansion will benefit regional Australia, which you can see has been left behind by the Morrison-Joyce government. This is, quite frankly, on stark display following the COVID pandemic. Labor will provide up to 660,000 additional homes and businesses in our regions with access to optical fibre. This investment has the potential to transform the digital capability of our regions, grow our local businesses and industries, and attract more. This is something that will benefit and serve our regional communities for decades to come.

4:13 pm

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

GOODENOUGH () (): Under the management of this government, more than 8.3 million premises have connected to the National Broadband Network, and there are currently 12 million premises ready to connect. What that means is that today almost every home and business in Australia can order a service of at least 25 megabits per second—much faster than was available when the rollout began. In fact, today 77 per cent of homes and businesses are on 50 megabits per second or higher plans. This compares to 70 per cent in October 2020.

Under this government's management, NBN Co continues to deliver strong financial and operating performance. Earnings before interest, tax depreciation and amortisation, including subscriber costs, amounted to $714 million in the first quarter, up from $102 million in the corresponding period last financial year. Total revenue achieved was $1.25 billion, up 17 per cent over the corresponding period last financial year. Over the period 30 June 2021 to 31 October 2021, NBN Co repaid an additional $5.3 billion on the Commonwealth loan facility, reducing the outstanding balance from $13.2 billion to $7.9 billion. This included successfully raising $2.8 billion from the US bond markets in early October.

NBN Co's monthly progress report for October 2021 showed that the network was up and running 99.96 per cent of the time. Average network bandwidth congestion being experienced by NBN consumers was around 21 minutes per week, well below the four hours and 52 minutes of July 2017. Also, 98 per cent of homes and businesses were connected within the target time frames agreed with phone and internet providers, recovering from 89 per cent in March 2021, when issues with a new workforce scheduling system adversely affected some connection and appointment metrics.

Let us contrast this record of achievement with that under Labor. The NBN was a complete mess. After six years of Labor, just 51,000 users were connected to the NBN. Labor paid $6 billion for the NBN to pass just three per cent of Australian premises—a rollout that was so badly managed that contractors downed tools and stopped construction work in four states. Under Labor, the NBN missed every rollout target it set for itself. Labor's approach would have cost billions more, taken years longer to complete and left millions of Australians behind during COVID-19.

Earlier this month, NBN Co announced a sixth tranche of suburbs and towns across Australia that will become eligible to upgrade to NBN's fibre to the premises, with a number of suburbs in my electorate of Moore set to benefit from access to ultrafast broadband. The announcement brings the total to 1.6 million premises of the two million target. This next stage will see another 200,000 premises eligible, many of which are in the Moore electorate, which will drive significant benefits to the community.

NBN Co is working with its construction and delivery partners to get premises across Australia ready to upgrade to ultrafast speeds when they choose to do so. This represents a key part of NBN Co's $3.5 billion investment that will see 75 per cent of Australia's fixed line network able to access ultrafast broadband by 2023. Towns and communities across Australia will benefit from being able to access ultrafast broadband. This will create jobs in the community, ensure local businesses can access the speeds they need to thrive, and improve connectivity for families in the entire region. The city of Joondalup has the potential to evolve into a digital hub supporting software development, cybersecurity, advanced information technology— (Time expired)

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

The time for the discussion has concluded.