Thursday, 21 June 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Coonan. Will the minister please provide details to the Senate on government action to further protect, enhance and support the future of telecommunications services in rural and regional Australia?
Yes, Senator Barnett, with pleasure I will deal with the issues of ensuring that those in regional and rural Australia enjoy equity in telecommunications services. As I have said, the Howard government has now released a comprehensive and far-reaching broadband policy, the first that this country has seen. It will mean that all Australians, regardless of where they live, can have access to broadband. It includes the construction of a new $1.8 billion state-of-the-art independent network that will extend high-speed broadband to 99 per cent of the population by 2009.
It also includes a process to ensure a fast fibre network build covering capital cities and regional centres, and legislation to lock in the $2 billion Communications Fund to ensure the future benefit of regional and rural Australians. I am sorry to say that it is necessary to do this but the Labor Party has committed to drain the entire $2 billion from the Communications Fund, rob the bush of its ongoing funding and squander it on a commercially viable network but that will only reach 75 per cent of the population. The Labor Party has no answer at all as to how to provide a broadband service to the remaining 25 per cent of Australians who will miss out under its one-size-fits-all approach.
Over the last couple of days we have seen the Labor Party’s proposal, which will not deliver fibre past 75 per cent of the population, simply wilt under the barrage of admissions from their own side. First we had the shadow minister for defence, Mr Fitzgibbon, a shadow cabinet minister no less, admitting that millions of Australians would be left out in the cold, neglected and forgotten, under Labor’s broadband proposal that did not have any technical backing. They are at it again with an admission now from Mr Warren Snowdon, the member for Lingiari, who said in an interview with Territory FM yesterday:
In the case of the Northern Territory we would say that all of the major urban centres would have access to fibre and the remainder of the Northern Territory would have the next best technology which would provide the best in equivalent level of service that we can possibly make available.
Interviewer: Which would have to be wireless, I presume?
Warren Snowdon: Wireless in some form, yes.
So not only do we have a clear admission that Labor has no idea of how far fibre would go beyond major suburban centres but also a clear admission that the best service for regional areas is wireless. Labor should know by now that there is more to policy than simply issuing a press release. Its inexperience is well and truly on show for all to see. Labor is simply out of its depth when it comes to important decisions that affect all Australians.
I thank Senator Barnett for the supplementary. I can inform him that there are no alternative detailed policies at all, that I am aware of. It is now 90 days since Labor’s hollow press release and I now call on Senator Conroy not to hold back, don’t be shy, show us Labor’s coverage maps and show us Labor’s costings to back up your claims. Tell us who will be in and who will be left behind, and tell us what will be fibre and, now, what will be wireless. Here is a test for the Labor Party; Labor must now put up or shut up on broadband. Labor has been caught spruiking a broadband story that does not stack up. The Australian public deserve better than a flimsy, uncosted, untested and incomplete proposal that leaves 25 per cent of Australians without a service.