SPEECH - MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - BROADBAND - 5 DECEMBER 2017

Paul Keating nailed it when it comes this Prime Minister. He nailed it in two words: no judgement. 

This Prime Minister has not only declared in this place what the High Court would decide on citizenship only a short time ago, which didn't turn out too well, but we saw his repeated refusals to instigate a royal commission into the banks, and then we saw his backflip. Australians feel the impact of this Prime Minister's lack of judgement every day when it comes to his second-rate NBN. Australian consumers and businesses are bearing the brunt of his lack of judgement. They are bearing the brunt of its impact on their everyday lives, its impact on their ability to conduct their businesses and its impact on their children's ability to get an education and their ability to actually participate in the digital economy.

Whenever you hear this Prime Minister bang on about engineering and economics, I have one bit of advice: evacuate the scene—just run. You know that the poor judgement of this Prime Minister has led to the situation we have today of Australia dropping even further in the international rankings for digital capability. You only had to see this Prime Minister's performance, only minutes ago, where he tried to weasel out of the very real fact that he has failed to deliver on his 2013 election promise to give every Australian access to minimum speeds on the NBN by the end of 2016. We're nearly through 2017. We're nearing the first year anniversary of that broken promise. He promised faster and more affordable NBN sooner under his tenure. He has broken every one of those promises. He promised it would be delivered for $29 billion; that's blown out to $50 billion. Complaints have increased 159 per cent under this Prime Minister and his second-rate NBN. And I tell you what, the Prime Minister tried to tell us in some of his answers here today that NBN users are satisfied. They repeatedly say 85 per cent of NBN users are satisfied. I've got news for him: that would fail every pub test in this country. You would not get that past a single pub in this country.

What we have seen is the combination of broken promises and bad judgement of this Prime Minister, but few instances encapsulate it more neatly than the debacle of HFC in the multi-technology mess he has created. You just have to look at yesterday's question. Yesterday he answered a question about HFC and he said:

There are obviously always issues with these technologies.

That's not what he said before. Just have a look. In March 2015, the Prime Minister said this:

What our approach will enable us to do is deliver on our word, which is to deliver very fast broadband, in this case at extraordinary speeds, fibre equivalent speeds, much sooner, much cheaper and at much lower cost to customers.

That's what he said HFC would do. He also said on 24 August 2015:

… there are massive savings in time and money to be made by incorporating the HFC networks.

Wrong! He said on 13 March 2015:

 the use of HFC networks—could save the company four years to complete the project and around $30 billion in costs.

Wrong on every count! Even after he broke his 2013 election promise—the Prime Minister promised that 2.6 million premises would have access to the NBN over HFC by the end of 2016, but only 160,000 premises had access by that time, just seven per cent. That was just seven per cent of his target. The cost of the HFC technology has blown out by 45 per cent. The Prime Minister still won't release HFC cost estimates from his original NBN policy document and, in October this year, the communications minister said the government's second-rate NBN would be, 'The envy of the world.' I don't know what parallel universe that world is in, but it certainly isn't the one that Australians are living in today. And on 27 November—just last week—the NBN announced they'd be delaying the HFC rollout by six to nine months because the network was not delivering a reliable service. Two million homes and businesses across Australia are impacted by this latest delay, including more than 40,000 premises in Bennelong.

It's the Australian taxpayer who is being punished for these latest failures. The government says it doesn't know how much this will cost taxpayers. But previous analysis signed off by the NBN Co board indicates it could be anywhere between $420 million and $790 million if there's a six- to nine-month delay. Just imagine that: half a billion dollars just thrown down the drain because this Prime Minister couldn't be bothered to take the time to make sure the HFC network was fit-for-purpose before it was rolled out. That was bad judgement, and it's costing taxpayers, for this instance alone, half a billion dollars.

To add insult to injury, this Prime Minister promised a new level of transparency in the NBN, but have a look at this spin. This spin would put Shane Warne to shame. This is the media release from NBN Co announcing that six- to nine-month delay. I kid you not, this is the heading: 'NBN Co takes customer experience improvement program to new levels'. I don't know what new level that is when the NBN Co boss, Bill Morrow, actually broke the bad news saying:

Effective immediately we will delay new activations over the HFC network and delay the rollout until we can adjust a number of issues on the network.

So a six- to nine-month delay is apparently 'a new level of customer experience'. It sure is! It's just not a high one.

You can see that the government are pretty worried about this Bennelong by-election, and they should be. They should be worried. Their candidate, John Alexander, is a nice bloke. I don't mind him. He's a good tennis player; we got elected at the same time. I've got nothing personally against him, but the sad reality is this. He's been in parliament—or he was in parliament—for seven years, and guess how many times he mentioned the NBN in parliament? Just have a guess at a rough number. Eight times. Even then, there was not a single piece of advocacy for his electorate; he was simply mentioning the word. There was not a single piece of advocacy on this issue. But, to be fair, he hasn't had a lot to work with. The message is quite clear from the government that they simply do not care about the customer. This was supposed to be the year of the customer, according to the Minister for Communications. The year's only got a few days left, and customers have been completely and utterly forgotten by the government when it comes to the NBN.

It's quite clear. If the good residents of Bennelong are satisfied that half a billion dollars of taxpayers' money is set to be lost because of the poor judgement of this Prime Minister, then by all means, please, vote for the Turnbull government. If they're satisfied and not bothered by the fact that this government has broken every single promise it has made on the NBN, by all means, vote Liberal. But, if you live in Bennelong and actually aspire to have broadband treated as an essential public utility—as something that is as integral as sewerage, as electricity and as water—then, please, consider the fact that this government has failed to deliver on its promise to you. It has failed in every single aspect when it comes to its promises and this project. If you want to be able to watch Netflix without the buffering, if you want a first-rate NBN, if you consider that Australia's place in the global digital economy relies on the highest quality connectivity or if you consider that the internet is important for your small business, important for your children and important for your family, then there is only one way that you can vote in this by-election in Bennelong, and that's for Labor.