SUBJECTS: 2017-18 Budget, Stake Park for Riverstone campaign, NBN consumer failings, ACCC internet speed monitoring, spectrum reform, SBS funding.
My friend the member for Richmond took the words out of my mouth when she said, 'This is a budget that does nothing for middle- and working-class Australia.'
I think that that is evidenced by the fact that, in my electorate of Greenway—and I have checked with my staff, I have checked
through my emails and I have checked through my correspondence—I have barely heard a whimper from my
constituents about this budget. I am very amused to hear that the Prime Minister is reportedly talking to the party
room about the need to go out and sell this budget. I would like to know, firstly, who they are trying to sell it to.
Mr Pasin: It sells itself!
Ms ROWLAND: My friend from Barker interjected and said, 'It sells itself.' No-one is buying, buddy!
The only feedback that I have had on this budget is outrage from my local community about the cuts to schools
and the fact that this is a budget that completely ignores the needs of middle- and working-class Australia.
I will touch on two things. The first is a local piece of expenditure generally, and it enables me to talk about a
very important group and an important project that is being conducted in my local area. The other focus I will
have is on the portfolio of communications, which, again, simply registered a nothing in terms of the impact on
the portfolio and the complete lack of focus, lack of vision and, quite frankly, lack of competence by the relevant
minister when it comes to doing his job.
To start off, I was very impressed when sometime last year I met with a local group called Skate Park for
Riverstone. This group was brought together thanks to a number of individuals including Sonia Grima. These
people have been advocating for a very long time to have some sort of youth facility in the Riverstone area
and specifically a skate park facility.
Riverstone, as many people might know, is an area of north-west Sydney undergoing tremendous change. It was once semirural and is now regarded as outer urban. When you drive down the streets of Riverstone now, from one week to the next it is a mass of new housing development. With that comes new families, changing demographics and new challenges. So I was extremely pleased to be able to support the campaign being undertaken by Sonia Grima and her fellow Skate Park for Riverstone members.
Many of them, of course, are children and young people. They were brought together following the death of a
14-year-old skateboarder named Michael Hannon near Campbelltown in January. It brought home to them the
need to have safe operating facilities for teenagers. He, unfortunately, died after a collision with a car. Sonia
Grima took it upon herself to form this group and to lead the charge for a local skate park in Riverstone.
It was very pleasing to see that Minister Fiona Nash has said that she is prepared and is working towards delivering
a $400,000 grant to enable this to go ahead. Recently, Blacktown City Council was told by the minister:
I recommend that you do not enter into financial commitments or begin any construction work on the project
until such time as a Deed of Agreement has been signed with the Australian Government.
Blacktown council submitted these application documents in December last year. Understandably, I have been
receiving a number of requests, from people who are interested in and supportive of the Skate Park for Riverstone
project, to follow this up. I have written most recently to Minister Nash this month seeking an update. I look
forward to this being delivered. Of course, Blacktown council is the sponsoring entity for this project. The mayor,
Stephen Bali, is very supportive of this. I genuinely hope that it will be delivered very soon—that we can finalise
these funding arrangements and that we can actually get on with the job of delivering, as a community, for young
people in the Riverstone area.
I pay tribute to Sonia Grima and her team. I want to assure them that I am doing everything possible as their local member to ensure that this gets delivered, and I am very prepared to work with the federal government, and of course Blacktown council, to make that happen.
I move on to issues of the communications portfolio. Again, as I said, this exposes the utter incompetence of this
minister and this government, including decisions made by the now Prime Minister when he was the Minister for Communications, decisions he made which are now coming home to roost, wrong decisions made in terms of technology choice and false assumptions made on the basis of finances—simply getting it wrong every step of the way.
I note that in a speech to CommsDay in April this year Minister Fifield declared 2017 to be the year of the customer. Well, what does it say when, in debates in the parliament towards the end of last year on the issue of the NBN and on the issue of the long-term interests of end users, barely a member on the government benches could summon an understanding of the poor consumer experience that is currently going on in relation to this failed network—this multitechnology mix which is delivering nothing but stuff-up after stuff-up for consumers?
You do not need to take it from me, because the facts are these. TIO complaints about NBN faults soared by almost
150 per cent over the 2015-16 period and complaints about specifically slow speeds increased by nearly 50 per
cent. Seven of the top 10 postcodes for TIO complaints about the NBN during this period were for areas—what
a surprise!—served by fibre to the node. So the Prime Minister's choice of technology, copper, of which he has
purchased 15 million metres on his watch is delivering—surprise, surprise!—such a high level of complaints that
have never been seen before. The TIO has subsequently advised the Joint Standing Committee on the National
Broadband Network that the total complaints in the telco sector are projected to reach 150,000 for the 2016-17
period. If this projection materialises, it will reverse years of progress that the sector has made towards a focus
on consumers and reducing complaints.
In December 2016, just a few days before Christmas, it is notable that the government stripped information
from the NBN website about what technology households and small businesses would be connected with. The
reason offered for this was that consumers, apparently, do not care about what technology they are going to
get. After being called out on this underhanded act, the NBN website was updated within a few weeks and the
technology information became available. It is notable that this government, which on its watch failed consumers,
has suddenly discovered consumers now because of, I suggest—and I am quite sure I am not wrong, and I am
sure the member for Longman would support me on this—complaints to our offices about the poor quality of
this government's broadband. For me, it is the No. 1 unsolicited complaint that I receive as a local member.
It is interesting that the ACCC gave evidence to the NBN joint standing committee that it first proposed a fouryear
broadband monitoring and reporting program. So this was the government's solution—it would have a
broadband monitoring program. Bearing in mind that we are at the end of May 2017, the ACCC first proposed
a four-year broadband monitoring and reporting program in the week commencing the 15 February 2016. So
it was over a year ago. What has the minister been doing? It has gone into the Fifield triangle—this void into
which every important decision is simply sucked and then spat out in the most underhanded way. Why has it
taken 15 months to get this speed-monitoring trial underway? Why weren't consumers the top priority for this
government until, all of a sudden, it discovered it had a problem?
Further, the $7 million in funding allocated for the speed-monitoring program over the forward estimates is not
from government. It is not funding from government at all. It is the telco sector that has been made to pay for it.
Of course, it is not going to pass that cost on to consumers, is it? If the government itself never had any intention
of funding this monitoring program from consolidated revenue, why did it take so long to get up and running?
I will end on this point on this topic of consumers. On 7 April 2017—so only recently—the ACCC issued a
media statement in response to the government's announcement that it will 'fund' the speed-monitoring scheme.
The release stated:
After appointing a qualified testing provider, the ACCC will commence the program in May 2017 …
There is not long to go until May 2017 and—what a surprise!—the ACCC only just issued its tender documents
this very afternoon, not meeting the deadline. I do not blame the regulator. It can only take so much direction. I
blame this minister. I claim this hapless minister and his predecessor for putting us in a position where consumers
are treated as though they are at the bottom of the food chain.
Turning to other issues in the communications portfolio, I want to talk about spectrum reform. Despite all the
rhetoric that this government espouses about the importance of communications in today's digitally networked
economy, there is nothing in the budget to demonstrate that this government has any vision whatsoever for the
media and comms sector or that it is prepared to put its money where its mouth is to support Australia's successful
transition to a digitally networked, knowledge economy of the 21st century.
Spectrum, as I said, is a case in point. When he was communications minister, the now Prime Minister, Mr
Turnbull, kicked off the spectrum review on 23 May 2014—that is, more than three years ago. We have been
waiting a long time for the spectrum review. The S pectrum review report included an implementation time
frame which stated that the consolidated legislative reform package would be released in September 2015 to
enable the passage of the legislation by early to mid-2016. That has come and gone. The original timetable
would have seen the new legislation passed a year ago and here we are, almost at mid-2017, and not only has
the legislation not been passed but the exposure draft has only just been released for initial consultation on what
will be a two-step process before the legislation is introduced to the parliament later this year. When asked at
estimates earlier this year as to whether he was concerned about the government's delay in progressing spectrum
reform, the communications minister passed the buck, saying the delay was on account of the industry wanting
consultation. Blame the sector because that always works! Apparently, it has nothing to do with the minister's
lack of policy vision and nothing to do with the resourcing of public sector agencies tasked with implementing
the recommendations of the S pectrum review report.
Despite this being a generational opportunity and despite the fact that spectrum reform is worth so much to the
economy and the fact that the review process has been subject so far to so much delay, what is in this budget
for additional allocation for spectrum review implementation? What has the ACMA been allocated to prepare
for spectrum review implementation in this budget? In a round figure, nothing—absolutely nothing; zero. The
2017-18 budget makes no provision for preparatory work to be undertaken by the ACMA to inform the draft
bill. It is extremely concerning. Normally, spectrum review and spectrum management and implementation has
a bipartisan approach because we need to make sure that it is aligned with international standards, and we know
how much value that this scarce resource has for the economy. It is deeply concerning that the regulator is
expected to prepare for this generational change on the smell of an oily rag. With $177 billion in value to the
economy over 15 years at stake, one would think it an opportune time to grant funding to the regulator to ensure
the best practice research and design work is undertaken to inform the draft bill and ensure swift progress upon
passage of the bill in transitioning to the new framework.
I want to end on a brighter note, and that is that the government provided $8.8 million to the SBS in the
budget this year. I am very pleased to say that because it vindicates Labor's longstanding campaign, driven by
this government, against the coalition's broken 2014 election promise of no cuts to the SBS, as well as then
communication minister Turnbull's dud plan to increase advertising on the SBS to compensate for the cuts. We
on this side of the House oppose the government's attempts to increase advertising limits on the SBS in 2015
and we made it very clear that we would oppose it again when it came up again in 2017. In March this year, the
government quietly resurrected its plan to increase the amount of advertising on the SBS by introducing a bill
to the parliament. The Prime Minister wanted SBS to double the amount of advertising it runs in prime time—
a clear vindication of Labor being steadfast in our opposition to the SBS being forced to survive by increasing
the amount of advertising. Rather than supporting a public broadcaster—bear in mind, this was on the back of
a broken promise by then Prime Minister Abbott—this government simply sought to have the SBS increase
advertising to the detriment of consumers. We are very pleased that we have been vindicated on that point.