SPEECH - MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - MALCOLM TURNBULL'S DIGITAL DIVIDE - 24 OCTOBER 2017

Mr Speaker, if you were looking for your daily dose of inspiration today, you certainly would not have taken it from the Minister for Communications.

On the Today show this morning we saw the following:

Stefanovic asked Senator Fifield to fast-forward to 2020 and give his 30-second pitch to sell the "great turkey" to investors.

"This is a national broadband network, we're the first continent this sort of fast-broadband network," Senator Fifield said.

"It's fit for purpose and it's over to investors."

After an awkward pause, a baffled looking Stefanovic asked: "That's your pitch?"

"You're not going to be able to sell it, who is going to buy it?" Stefanovic asked.

"Australians just want hard talk from their politicians, they want you to take responsibility," he said.

The Minister for Communications may have no passion for this portfolio whatsoever and no vision about digital inclusion and ending the digital divide. But what is most telling is the fact that again we have all blame and no responsibility on the part of this government.

I tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker, you only have to look at some of the effort that this government and the current NBN Co put into spin over improving the consumer experience. We have, for example, the 'gen nbn' marketing campaign. How much money has it spent since January this year on that campaign alone? $9.5 million. In contrast, how much was spent on consulting engagements for customer experience and customer service? $2.6 million. Imagine if the amount of effort that went into spin from this government actually went into improving the consumer experience.

But, no, this Prime Minister has thrown up his hands and said, 'Big mess; not my problem.' It is an extraordinary change in language from what we have seen from this Prime Minister in the past. We had him talking only days ago about how the NBN was all in hand. We had the Minister for Communications saying that the NBN under this government would be the envy of the world. We had the Prime Minister waxing lyrical about how the NBN under his tenure is the biggest corporate turnaround in Australian history. All of a sudden, the Prime Minister says, 'Well, the NBN's a train wreck.' We've gone from it being in hand to being in chaos. We've gone from it being commercially viable to the boss of NBN Co saying he's not even sure if it's commercially viable.

The question arises: what has changed? What has changed in the space of such a short time? I'll let you know what hasn't changed. What hasn't changed is that the consumers of Australia are still fed up. They are fed up with the second-rate internet that they are getting under this government. The lived experience of consumers will trump any day this government blowing its own trumpet, this Prime Minister refusing to take responsibility and absolutely nothing happening to improve or to shorten the digital divide in this country. You have to ask yourself: do the people opposite actually believe in making sure that we eliminate the digital divide in Australia? When the minister was asked about this issue, what do you think the response was? Maybe it was a response about how we recognise that Australia is part of a global economy and that we need to have the highest quality broadband in order to compete in a globalised market for goods, services and employment, and in order to do that we need the best connectivity available for consumers, education and health care. No—none of that. All he gave is an answer that makes even Karl Stefanovic say, 'Are you serious?'

This is not some abstract concept about a digital divide. We saw only a few months ago that the Australian Digital Inclusion Index shows growing evidence around inequality and digital inclusion, and Australians with low levels of income, education and employment are significantly less digitally included. There is a significant digital divide between the rich and the less-well-off Australians. We see in the Australian Digital Inclusion Index yet another set of benchmarks that show that the government can't even get the basics right for every Australian to have the equality of opportunity to participate in our economy and enable Australia to compete on the world stage. Instead, they are ploughing billions of taxpayer dollars into a copper network that is simply not delivering for Australians.

Let's look at how the government has approached the issues of consumers. For example, the Prime Minister responded to last week's figures from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, which reported a 159 per cent increase in consumer complaints about the NBN. What did he have to say? At first, he said nothing. He just gave a smirk in response to a question about this. He then answered: 'Well, you know, complaints—they're a fact of life.' How out of touch can you get as a Prime Minister? How out of touch can you possibly get? The government claimed that the level of complaints is in line with the rollout. It's not in line with the rollout at all. For the first time, we see consumer complaints increasing above the level of the rollout—the first time this has happened. For the first time, we see NBN complaints being the highest source of complaints. The internet is the highest source of complaints in the TIO's complaints data.

What we also see is the business case under this government for the NBN completely unravelling. The economics are changing by the day. As I said, once upon a time, not too long ago, the NBN was supposedly the envy of the world and all in hand. Now the head of NBN Co is calling for protections and new taxes, saying, 'Not even sure that it's commercially viable.' I'll tell you what the reality is: under this government, the economics of the NBN are completely busted, but they throw up their hands and say, 'It's not my responsibility.' So not only are the economics of the NBN busted but consumer complaints are going through the roof. Here is their response to what they've been doing for consumers. They say they've instituted a broadband monitoring scheme to test internet speeds. I'll tell you about this. The minister sat on this advice from the ACCC for 14 months before it was instigated. Earlier this year, he said that this would be 'the year of the customer'. That was in April this year. We're still waiting. There are still about two months to go to see if this is actually the year of the customer.

What do Australians think of the government's second-rate NBN?

I will tell you what they think. You only have to look at the Essential report, where only 27 per cent of those surveyed say they support the Liberal government's plan—which actually represents an increase in support for the Labor plan since the question was asked in September 2015. So, more and more, we see Australians not only completely turning off this government but also starting to understand—indeed, many of them have understood this for some time given the level of complaints—that this is a second-rate network that is not serving Australians.

Talking about the digital divide, have a look at what the rest of the world thinks about us. Earlier in the year The New York Times did a dissertation showing that: 'Australia, a wealthy nation with a widely envied quality of life, lags in one essential area of modern life: it's internet speed.' That is how the rest of the world sees us. How on earth is Australia supposed to crack the digital divide under this government with a second-rate copper network, a minister who has no passion and no vision, and a government that won't take responsibility?