Senate debates

Thursday, 24 March 2011

National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010; Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measures — Access Arrangements) Bill 2011

In Committee

4:13 pm

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for the Murray Darling Basin) Share this | Hansard source

You said ‘improve’ as well. Answer this question, then: is your department working on potentially more amendments? Are there more amendments still to come? Do you know that there are actually more amendments to come that you will proclaim will improve this bill? Are there further changes? Tell us whether, to the best of your knowledge, at this point in time, this is the final version of the bill; whether to the best of your knowledge, at this point in time, we have all of the amendments before us; and whether, to the best of your knowledge at this point in time, each one of these amendments is settled, unless something unforeseen comes up, unless there is an amendment that fixes a typo. Tell us whether there is work going on to produce further amendments or not. If you do not deny the fact that there is work going on, work happening to produce further amendments, then it will be quite clear that you are asking the Senate to start this process with one hand tied behind its back—not knowing exactly where you are going, not knowing exactly what it is that you are planning to undertake during this debate.

You are right—the opposition has fundamental problems with your National Broadband Network. We have made absolutely no secret of that, none at all. We have real concerns, and we have highlighted those again and again. Our concerns are valid and understandable. This is a vast, vast expenditure of taxpayer money. This is a vast interference in the way the telecommunications market operates in this country. This will have implications for many, many years to come. As I have said many times before, the debate is not about whether Australians should have access to fast, affordable, reliable broadband. That is something that we want, it is something that you proclaim to want and it is something that I think every senator in this chamber proclaims that they want to see happen. The debate is about how you give Australians access to fast, affordable broadband—how you make sure that that broadband is delivered in the most cost-efficient way for taxpayers, in the most effective way for the operation of the telecommunications market and in the best way to give consumers, in future, the best chance of accessing what is necessary for the technologies of today and of years ahead and accessing it at the lowest possible price.

We believe that your National Broadband Network is the wrong way to go about doing that. We believe that because it involves such vast sums of public money being spent to create a new, vast government-owned monopoly that will involve overbuilding and overlaying infrastructure in many areas that already have good broadband services. It will involve taking services out of the hands of, in many areas, a market that is actually working to provide good broadband services and duplicating or taking over those services in all of those areas, rather than focusing, as government should, on the areas of market failure—on the people who are actually missing out on broadband services. These are the areas we think government should get in and focus on. These are the areas in which you should be delivering your services.

The backhaul rollouts that have been undertaken focus on areas of geographic disadvantage. These are not unreasonable areas for government focus. But you are building a giant new government monopoly and building it in a way that takes away any competitive sense in large tracts of the Australian community and takes away from what is, in many parts of Australia, an already functioning broadband market. In many parts of Australia, people already have good, reliable broadband services—fast services—that are priced competitively. That seems to us to be the wrong direction for government to go.

That is why I do not shy away from the fact that, yes, we oppose the NBN, we oppose the spending of these billions of dollars of taxpayer money and we oppose the fact that you are going to borrow billions of dollars as a government—that your 100 per cent government-owned entity, NBN Co., is going to borrow billions of dollars on behalf of the government. All up, some $50 billion will be churned around in this.

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