Thursday, 25 November 2010
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010
I will take that interjection because the whole idea is that this is going to be an affordable network. If you knew anything about the structure of the telecommunications industry you would know that the reason affordability is an issue for us is that, under the former government, telecommunications costs in this country were among the highest in the OECD. This was because the former government—the coalition, the Liberal Party—did not care enough about the economic relevance of our telecommunications infrastructure and the importance of affordable connectivity to our future economic and social wellbeing. If they had, conceivably we would have had stronger competition in the retail market and that would have forced telecommunications companies to invest in fibre infrastructure. The fact is that the coalition government themselves created the preconditions for the need for a National Broadband Network that will serve this country’s economic and social needs in the future.
The former coalition government were negligent in their management of telecommunications policy. To be negligent in telecommunications policy means you are negligent in economic policy, because so many of our future prospects for economic growth rely on telecommunications infrastructure. The digital environment resolves the issue of geographic isolation and allows our participation in a whole range of markets, including important services markets like financial services and those creative industries that sit on the back of the digital environment that the NBN will provide. Colleagues, it is important to understand that we have significant strengths as a country in all of these areas. The constraints on our sectors to expand their export offerings to grow our economy and create jobs have been caused by the former government through their neglect of our telecommunications infrastructure. The NBN is designed to resolve those constraints and make the most of the opportunity for economic expansion.
I would like to address some other matters—in particular, the lack of courtesy in the chamber at the moment. Nothing is more discourteous to the Australian people than to refuse to actually debate the substance of the bill at hand and address pretty straightforward amendments like this one so that we can get to the next one—which, interestingly, is an amendment to be moved by the opposition. But, so far, we have seen no intention from the opposition to vote on this first, very straightforward amendment—it was moved by the Greens, and the government have indicated that we are supporting it—so that they can move to their own amendment. What does that tell you about the tactics that are being perpetrated across the chamber? What it tells me is that the discourtesy we are experiencing from the opposition is because they are not interested in debating the issue.
I feel compelled to address the misleading statements that have been made. Senator Back and other coalition senators have said that the fibre technology is not future proof. That is not true. It is the best technology. If you want to spend money on infrastructure, putting fibre in place is absolutely the best way. We have run through the issues in this chamber about the capacity constraints of wireless. We have run through the issues about the degradation of bandwidth, the more people that subscribe through a given tower. We understand there are technological developments. But the world jury, all the telecommunications experts, concur that a fibre-to-the-home network is the most future proof technology and it is worth saying again and again and again. Upgrades in technology can be built into the system, and this is why it is future proof, at either end of the fibre. You do not need to roll out new fibre. As far as we can foresee, the fibre-to-the-home technology is absolutely spot-on and worthy of the investment we are making. Senator Back said that somehow in eight years time this technology will be outmoded. That is not true. To say in here that it is outdated is just shallow, spurious and misleading to the Australian people. This opposition needs to be called to account—and I would be happy to play this role, as we no doubt hear further contributions from those opposite.
Finally, I want to talk about Western Australia. My experience with Western Australia comes from those many long-suffering residents who are attached to a system of network technology called pair gain systems. Whether it is about the Wanneroo exchange or an exchange in one of the outer metropolitan areas of WA, I still get emails from people who cannot get a broadband service. They are on the waiting list for an ADSL service and are completely and utterly frustrated because of the capacity constraints of the existing copper network. We know and they know that the only permanent solution to the problems of the existing network is to build a fibre-to-the-home network. So I find it fascinating that Senator Back and others come in here and use the west as an example. These people have been so riddled by a depleted copper network that they are fed up, and frustrated. For those home based businesses in WA—and, let us face it, it is a significant growing economy—if you do not have a reliable high-bandwidth connection to your home you cannot run your business from your home. You cannot do it. And what about the old copper long tails, out of town? If you are a business trying to function and set up in an industrial area you cannot run your business if you cannot get a reliable high-bandwidth connection,. This is the fact of the matter in the 21st century. The NBN is the only technological solution that will resolve this problem—not just for homes but for the small businesses and home based businesses right around this country, who cannot even start thinking about it until they can guarantee that connection.
When I visited Narooma many years ago I learnt a lesson about what the National Broadband Network offers Australians. I talked to an engineer who was trying to use CAD software, computer-aided design software, for an engineering firm in Melbourne. His home of choice was Narooma. It is a beautiful town. He was not able to connect with his employer in Melbourne because there was not an adequate high-bandwidth connection available at that time. Just imagine if all Australians had an affordable high-bandwidth connection. It would allow them, if they so chose, to run their businesses and interact with their employers from wherever they chose to live. There is no more compelling reason for investing in national infrastructure. We do not want to discriminate. We want to make sure all Australians benefit from this. Only the National Broadband Network, with its fibre-to-the-home technology, is capable of providing this profound opportunity for everybody in this country.