Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Statements by Senators

National Broadband Network

1:54 pm

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in relation to the Abbott government's appalling approach to the National Broadband Network. In particular, I want to focus on the effect the coalition's bare bones NBN has on regional and rural Australians.

The second-rate NBN that we see being rolled out by the Abbott government is nothing like Labor's proposal. Even calling it a 'roll out' is being overly generous, when you consider the glacial pace at which households are being connected.

I want to talk a little about the background of the NBN. As part of Labor's NBN, 93 per cent of Australian would have been connected through fibre-to-the-premises broadband. While the coalition's current Frankenstein patchwork of an NBN only delivers 24 per cent of fibre to the premises. More than 41 per cent of Australians will be forced to use the fibre to the node and then copper to their home or business. So this government is still wedded to the copper network.

Back in 2003—and I am sure those opposite will remember this—during a Senate committee inquiry, Telstra's Tony Warren said: 'It is probably the last sweating, if you like, of the old copper network assets. In copper years, if you like, we are at a sort of transition—we are at five minutes to midnight.' That was in 2003. Minutes later, Telstra's boss, Bill Scales, also said: 'The only point of clarification, just so that there is no misunderstanding, is that when we think about the copper network, we are still thinking about 10 years out.' So that is five minutes to midnight in this context.

So in 2003 they gave it about 10 years, maximum. Even by that time line we are at a critical point in the copper network life span. The Liberals and Nationals are relying on a copper network which is more than a century old to deliver the high-speed broadband. It is a promise which they simply cannot and will not keep. A report earlier this year by cloud service provider Akamai ranked Australia 44th for average connection speed.

Let's talk about satellites now. In 2012 the former Labor government announced that there would be two new broadband satellites which would provide high-speed broadband to regional and remote parts of Australia. It is important to remind the Senate that at the time the Liberals and Nationals opposed these satellites. They condemned the satellite program as a 'Rolls Royce' solution and referred to it as 'a waste of money'. Spending this money on people in regional and rural Australia, who are the most isolated people in our country, is exactly what this government should be doing and should be supporting. But the doormats to the Liberals—the National Party—I suspect, just rolled over on that one. The poor access to broadband and limited access to data is a huge problem for people in the bush. True to their form, the Nationals in this place once again abandoned their constituency in the pursuit of political point scoring by their Liberal masters.

I am proud that the first satellite is due to be launched in the next few months and that it was a Labor government that has delivered this crucial resource for the benefit of rural and regional Australians. Across rural and regional Australia, communities are being failed by the Liberals and Nationals NBN service. Farmers, small businesses and children reliant on the School of the Air are having trouble connecting to the NBN; and, if they are able to connect, they quickly hit the low data-usage-limit, making it impossible to utilise for some of the most basic tasks. The coalition's chant—which I hate to use—'Fast. Affordable. Sooner.' which is how they described their version of the NBN, is quite frankly a joke and they know it. And now they are bleating about it as well.

One of the examples of how bad the situation has become can be found in article in The Australian recently which said:

On Lake Nash station about 380km east of Mount Isa, Fred and Sarah Hughes from family-run Georgina Pastoral share downloads totalling 180Gb per month between 35 people—equivalent to about 5Gb per person. Not long ago, their $10m-a-year operation was without internet completely for a fortnight.

And that was because you do not provide them with enough. It is unacceptable for those operations.

If the coalition government is serious about opening up northern Australia and increasing our trade and connectivity with the economies in Asia and elsewhere, then these businesses and communities need reliable access to the high-speed internet.

Debate interrupted.

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

On my left! We haven't even started question time yet.