Senate debates

Thursday, 23 August 2018


Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2018, Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2018; Second Reading

1:49 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader (Tasmania)) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer) Bill 2018 and the Telecommunications (Regional Broadband Scheme) Charge Bill 2018. I acknowledge the National Students Leadership Forum for these wonderful young people here who, I'm sure, will have a great deal of interest in these two pieces of legislation.

These bills, which work in conjunction with each other, do two key things. One is to legislate certainty that all premises in Australia can continue to access high-speed broadband infrastructure beyond the NBN rollout. This obligation already exists, but this gives it certainty, and Labor supports this. The second thing they do is to introduce a telecommunications levy that will add $84 per year to the bills of up to 400,000 consumers and businesses on the non-NBN network.

Before moving on to the broadband levy, I wish to note that Labor supports schedule 3 of this bill. The proposed statutory infrastructure scheme will provide certainty as we move beyond the initial NBN rollout in 2021. The community will continue to have certainty about their ability to get access to broadband services at their new home or business. Schedule 3 largely codifies an obligation that already exists in the NBN statement of expectations. Labor supports this and considers it to be a sensible and natural step.

The original commitment by Labor in 2009 was historically significant, particularly for regional and rural communities. Our National Broadband Network was established to ensure every Australian would have access to high-speed broadband, irrespective of where they lived or worked. As a result, nearly three million homes and businesses across regional and rural Australia will have access to high-speed broadband, a sizeable portion of whom had no access to any broadband after 11 years of inaction under the Howard government. This was the single most important initiative to bridge the city-regional divide when it came to broadband in this country. Labor is proud of this achievement, and those who supported it in the Senate should be as well.

On the other hand, the government has nothing to be proud of in terms of what we uncovered last week. Last week, before the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, the NBN Co admitted to plans to charge regional Australians on the fixed wireless network $20 more per month than customers on the same 50-megabit speed who lived in the city. Simply put, a regional consumer could pay 44 per cent more than someone in the city for the same 50-megabit speed under this plan. This is an extra $65 per month, or $240 a year, that regional consumers would have to fork out. This is how this government views regional Australians. It takes them for granted. It doesn't view them as being as important as the city dwellers.

Where were the Nationals on this? Sitting on their hands as usual. The Nationals, as we all know, are the doormats for the Turnbull government. They were quite happy to sit there and let regional Australia pick up the bill for the Prime Minister's NBN mess. They come in here and cry crocodile tears but do nothing when it comes to standing up for regional Australia on these important issues.

Two hours after Labor called on the government to drop its regional broadband price hike, NBN Co reversed their decision, and so they should. The ABC has also revealed that the NBN sought to modify a record of their own opening statement to the committee on their website to include passages that were not in the original statement and were not spoken by the NBN executives.

The minister has also been pretending that no decision was ever made. In fact, he has claimed that consultation on the pricing changes was ongoing. The minister's argument began falling apart on Friday when an iTnews article, citing documents belonging to the NBN Co, noted that the $20-per-month increase was presented to the telecommunications industry as a done deal, not as something under consultation. The iTnews article also noted that the regional broadband price hike was due to come into effect on 20 August. That was this week. Had it not been for Labor, regional consumers would be paying more. This could have been a disaster for my home state of Tasmania, where up to 40,000 households could have been slapped with an extra $20 per month just to order the same 50-megabyte service as someone who lives in the city.

The intention of the NBN was always to bridge the digital divide between regions and the cities, not create a new one. We need to ensure these levies do not deepen the digital divide and make broadband less affordable for regional households and businesses. We need to make sure that regional communities have access to a broadband network that is fit for the future so that they can participate in the digital economy. Under this plan, if you live in Point Piper, the wholesale charge for the 50-megabyte plan will be $45 per month, but, if you live in regional Australia and want to order the same speed over the fixed wireless network, the NBN has proposed to charge $65 a month. This $20 per month is an extra $240 a year that regional consumers would have to fork out. Thanks to Turnbull's NBN shambles, a regional consumer could be paying—


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