Wednesday, 5 March 2014
National Broadband Network Companies Amendment (Tasmania) Bill 2014; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
I table an explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows—
NATIONAL BROADBAND NETWORK COMPANIES AMENDMENT (TASMANIA) BILL 2014
This Bill would amend the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011 to require NBN Co to only make fixed line connections to the NBN in Tasmania using fibre to the premises.
This was an election promise made to the people of Tasmania by the new Coalition Government, which it has advised it will not honour.
I am introducing the Bill as a Private Senator’s Bill to give Government Senators the opportunity to honour their clear commitment to the people of Tasmania and ensure that a minimum of 200,000 premises are connected to Fibre-to-the-Premises in Tasmania.
The Broken Promise
On 26 March 2012 NBN Co announced that it had awarded a contract to Visionstream for the construction of fibre to the home for 200,000 Tasmanian homes and businesses, saying:
NBN Co has locked in the construction contract that will see Tasmania become the first state in Australia where the National Broadband Network will be rolled out in its entirety.
Visionstream Australia, part of the Leighton Holdings Limited group of companies, has been awarded the contract to replace old-fashioned copper telephone lines with the high speed fibre optic broadband network in cities, towns and suburbs covering around 200,000 homes and businesses.
Following the release of the Coalition broadband policy in April 2013, TasICT Executive Officer Dean Winter wrote to then Shadow Minister Mr Turnbull seeking his assurance that the Tasmanian NBN rollout would occur as planned irrespective of the election outcome.
On 27 May Mr Winter issued a press release saying he was confident that the rollout would occur as planned because Mr Turnbull had written to assure him that the Coalition intended to honour existing contracts.
Mr Turnbull repeated his reassurance on ABC radio on 8 August 2013.
On 15 August 2013, the then Opposition Leader Mr Abbott released the “Economic Growth Plan for Tasmania”. This document stated that a Coalition Government would honour all NBN contracts that were underway. This was a significant new qualification.
This revised commitment would have seen only approximately 120,000 premises connected to the NBN using fibre to the premises, with approximately 85,000 premises missing out.
After much public outcry, Mr Turnbull pledged to honour all existing contracts signed by NBN Co to roll out Fibre-to-the-Premises in Tasmania as, and I quote, “the alternative would be to breach them and that is a course we would not countenance.” Mr Turnbull also confirmed that the Coalition would complete the full NBN rollout in Tasmania by 2015.
On the same day, Senator Bushby said Coalition policy had been based on costing a full fibre rollout in Tasmania. Senator Bushby outlined that while the Coalition had not seen the NBN Co contracts for Tasmania, it was prepared to complete the roll out across the state. “In opposition, we're not fully au fait with what those contracts are, but we understand that those contracts are in place to roll out right across the state, and if that is the case, we will honour that.”
The first hint that the Coalition would not honour their commitment came in October 2013 when, overnight, the rollout maps on the NBN Co website excluded large parts of Tasmania, along with other parts of Australia, from NBN Co’s rollout footprint.
The Coalition’s explanation was that it had directed NBN Co to reflect the Coalition’s definition of construction – the second stage when a build instruction was issued to a delivery partner.
In describing the change in maps, Coalition MPs and Senators argued that construction hadn’t really commenced when field staff were actually in the streets opening pits and determining how much preparation was needed to install fibre. As part of this process ropes are even drawn through ducts for subsequent hauling of fibre.
When shown pictures of field crews involved in this stage of activity at the Senate Select Committee on the NBN, the NBN Co Executive Chair Dr Switkowski said those activities that he saw looked like construction.
In its Review of the Rollout of the National Broadband Network 5th Report, the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network, whose membership included the current Minister for Communications, Mr Malcolm Turnbull and Parliamentary Secretary Paul Fletcher, defined “construction commenced or completed” as:
“Construction Commenced or Completed represents Fibre Serving Area Modules (FSAMs) where contract instructions have been issued together with the initial Network Design Document so that construction partners can commence work on the detailed design, field inspections and rodding/roping activities in a FSAM. This is followed by the release of a rollout map for the FSAM on the NBN Co web site showing the coverage area for that FSAM and the estimated number of premises to be passed/covered. Construction Commenced or Completed includes Premises Passed.”
But in the new world of this Coalition Government, construction hadn’t commenced—or in the language of the Economic Growth Policy contract—was not “underway”. More than 50,000 premises were wiped from the NBN Co maps in over 20 FSAMs.
Suddenly the numbers in Tasmania had changed again—only 70,000 premises were guaranteed fibre to the premises and 135,000 would miss out.
In February 2014, the NBN Co Executive Chairman announced on ABC radio that the NBN Co contracts in Tasmania have been renegotiated and many Tasmanian premises would be connected to the NBN by a Multi-Technology Mix, comprising fibre to the node and copper to the premise.
Tasmanian Liberal Leader Will Hodgman heard the anger of Tasmanians about the Coalition’s deception over NBN. He was recorded by ABC telling a State Liberal colleague that the Federal Government’s NBN policy could cost him the election.
After pressure from the Tasmanian Labor Government, Mr Hodgman used a pre-existing trip to Sydney to lobby Mr Turnbull to trial fibre to the premise using aerial wiring on Aurora Energy poles. The Tasmanian Labor Government had already submitted a proposal to NBN Co, which would provide free access to Aurora’s power pole infrastructure. The Labor commitment is currently estimated to cost the State Government about $25 million over twenty years depending on the extent of aerial deployment. Mr Hodgman has made no such commitment on funding for use of Aurora Energy poles.
After the visit, Minister Turnbull remarked that Mr Hodgman had drunk “the kool-aid” on fibre-to-the-premises but then agreed to initiate a trial of aerial fibre to the premises to start “very soon”.
The Tasmanian Branch of the Communications, Energy and Plumbing Union lauded the Liberal trial as unnecessary and a political stunt. The Union said that approximately 17,500 homes across Tasmania are already connected to the NBN using electricity poles.
Last week in Senate Estimates, Dr Switkowski would not commit to any start of an aerial roll-out trial.
A week on from Dr Switkowski’s appearance at Estimates there are still no dates or locations confirmed for the trial, proving that it is a throw away announcement to get past the 15 March Tasmanian election.
A promise to trial an aerial deployment is merely an attempt to deflect the criticism. Tasmanians know what the Liberals promised, and it wasn’t conditional upon an aerial rollout trial.
They were promised that the contract announced by NBN Co in March 2012 to deploy fibre to the premises to over 200,000 premises in Tasmania would be honoured.
Support for this Bill will ensure the Government has to honour that promise.
This is a short Bill that adds a new Subdivision AA to Division 2 of Part 2 of the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011 that deals with the rules about operations of NBN corporations.
Schedule 1 would insert a new Subdivision AA—Tasmania before Subdivision A of Division 2 of Part 2 of the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011.
The Subdivision would require that NBN Co only provide fixed connection in Tasmania by use of fibre to the premises, and the capability to connect no less than 200,000 premises with fixed connection.
Item 1 would insert a new Subdivision AA before Subdivision A of Division 2 of Part 2.
Subsection 8(1) requires that no fewer than 200,000 premises in Tasmania are connected by fibre to the premises, and that no premise is connected with a fixed line (wire, cable or optical fibre) other than fibre to the premises. 200,000 is the number of premises specified by NBN Co in its media release of 26 March 2012.
Subsection 8(2) is for avoidance of doubt and ensures that a technology that isn’t all fibre does not meet the definition in subsection (1).
Item 2 clarifies that the new provisions do not retrospectively apply to any existing connection. At the time of drafting there were no connections in Tasmania other than by fibre to the premises.
The Senate has been advised that NBN Co is still operating under the Corporate Plan 2012-15.
Funding for the NBN Co as provided for in the Budget Papers is based on this plan and provides for Fibre to the Premises to 93% of Australian premises.
As such there are no additional financial implications of this measure.
I urge all Senators to support this Bill to ensure that all Tasmanians that were promised a fibre to the premises NBN connection before the election will receive that connection and not the substandard Multi-Technology Mix, comprising fibre to the node and copper to the premise.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.