Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Matters of Public Interest


1:55 pm

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I stand today in this matter of public interest debate to speak on the dilatory, negligent and potentially reckless behaviour of the Tasmanian Labor government with respect to the optic fibre cable lying dormant at the bottom of Tasmania’s and Australia’s Bass Strait. The Tasmanian government is currently paying—and has done since 2004—$2 million to the owners of that optic fibre cable. The reason that we have a lack of competition in Tasmania with respect to our broadband services is the Tasmanian government’s dilatory, negligent and potentially reckless behaviour.

The Labor Premier, David Bartlett, says that he wants to be ‘clever, kind and connected’. One thing we know for sure is that he is not connected. He has done little to nothing, together with his Treasurer, Michael Aird, to get Tasmania connected. As I say, $2 million of taxpayers’ money in Tasmania is going down the tube into a big black hole. They have failed to negotiate an arrangement with City Spring Infrastructure, the current owners of the optic fibre cable across the Bass Strait.

I ask the Premier why his government have sat on their hands on that Basslink fibre optic cable since the issue arose in 2004. I hope that Senator Conroy, as the relevant minister at the federal level, can lean on and educate his Tasmanian colleagues so that we get a solution to this very, very important issue and we get competition in Tasmania with respect to broadband services. The Basslink energy cable was completed in 2004 and contained a fibre-optic link capable of increasing Tasmania’s broadband capacity, and it has lain dormant since that time. The Tasmanian government have been unable to come to an agreement with Basslink’s owners. That is the bottom line. It is $2 million a year of taxpayers’ money in Tasmania. Just last week, I talked to Will Hodgman, the Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania.

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

A very good man.

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

‘A very good man,’ Senator Macdonald says. He is, and he is fighting for Tasmania. I also met with Peter Gutwein, the shadow Treasurer, and likewise have previously talked to the Hon. Jeremy Rockliff, the shadow minister for infrastructure. They all want a solution to this dilatory and negligent, potentially reckless behaviour.

This would deliver benefits for small business throughout Tasmania. It is not just for those in Hobart and those in Launceston; the benefits would flow throughout the community to the rural and regional communities, not just to small business. This will benefit those who are involved in education and those who are involved in health in those rural and regional committees in Tassie. Remember that we are the most decentralised state in Australia.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Polley interjecting

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Polley; that is absolutely right. Together with the Leader of the Opposition in Tasmania, Peter Gutwein, Jeremy Rockliff and the Liberal opposition in Tasmania want to make a difference. We have had discussions with Digital Tasmania. I held a forum on this topic some months ago, and Andrew Connor spoke then. His views are the same now as they were then—that is, we need a solution and we need it fast. There is $2 million of taxpayers’ money going down the tube for no benefit, all because the Treasurer, Michael Aird, and Premier Bartlett cannot do a deal with the current owners. It is not good enough. We need to send an unequivocal, very firm message to the Labor government in Tasmania that we deserve better. The people of Tasmania want us to stand up and say, ‘We want to make a difference for people in small business and those in rural and regional parts of Tasmania that we know will benefit so significantly from this link with the optic fibre cable.’ So let us stand up and make a difference.