SPEECH - MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE - GOVERNMENT'S LATEST FAILURES ON THE NBN - 22 NOVEMBER 2016

It is no surprise that we see on the front pages today that in the minds of Australians they have completely lost confidence in the economic credentials of this Prime Minister and of this government—their ability to maintain our AAA credit rating, their ability to manage this economy. 

And it is instructive when it comes to the National Broadband Network. The constant, self-proclaiming as superior economic managers—so they said when it came to Australia's largest infrastructure project. Any semblance they may have had of any credibility has evaporated over the past week. 

We had the Prime Minister telling this chamber just last month that the NBN was one of the biggest corporate turnarounds in Australian history.

It turns out, Mr Speaker, that the only thing that is turned around is this government in doing a massive backflip on its commitment to limit its equity stake in the NBN to $29.5 billion.

What did they do on Friday? On Friday we bid a solemn farewell to what we on this side thought would be an ironclad promise—possibly the last promise standing from the government—on the NBN. The promise was that their equity contribution, due to run out on 31 December this year, would be absolutely capped and that there would be no more public funding going into this vehicle.

And we believed this because they said it boldly, confidently and often. They even said it as recently as a few weeks ago. They have declared for the past three years that it would always be capped at $29.5 billion. Surprise, surprise, Mr Speaker! Last Friday the government quietly announced a $19.5 billion loan to the NBN - $19.5 billion in taxpayers money to help complete the rollout of its second-rate, rubbish National Broadband Network.

We on this side honestly thought they would keep to this one promise because we heard it time and again. We had then Prime Minister Abbott in April 2013 announcing the coalition's policy on the NBN.

'What we are going to do is invest the money up to $29.5 billion.'

We had the then minister for communications, along with the minister here at the table, Mr Fletcher, on 13 May 2014 again commit:

"The Government's investment is capped at $29.5 billion, with the balance of the project to be funded by the private sector."

We had Senator Cormann in Senate estimates in May last year, when asked if the government was leaving open the possibility of more government equity for the NBN, answer:

"No. The equity cap that is in place is $29.5 billion, and our planning is for nbn to source the remaining funding requirements by raising debt from external markets … We believe and are confident that that will be able to be achieved."

We had the current minister for communications on 13 May this year say:

"Well, the Commonwealth has indicated that our cap on equity contributions will be $29.5 billion. NBN will have to borrow money beyond that, but $29.5 billion is the Commonwealth cap."

We had the same in the NBN Corporate plan 2017.

It is expected that nbn will continue to be funded with Commonwealth equity up to $29.5 billion.

We had the strategic review in 2013:

Equity funding is capped at $29.5 billion.

Well, have a look at what we have got here. It was absolutely consistent until last Friday, when this government decided some $20 billion of taxpayers' money would go back into the NBN.

And now this government is trying to find excuses for its latest broken promise. They put out a media statement saying that NBN's 2017 corporate plan 'assumes it will source private debt funding for the remaining $19.5 billion needed to complete the rollout'. And here is the big excuse:

A government loan on commercial terms represents the most cost effective way to raise the debt and secure funding to complete the rollout of this important national infrastructure project.

Well, it is no news—of course the government rate is always lower.

But it goes to the utter incompetence and inability of this government to manage this project. It was the last remaining promise that they had on the NBN that was still standing. We did not even think they were going to break it; they surprised even us.

It was so unequivocal that these promises are still on the Prime Minister's website today. Go to the Prime Minister's website today. He has his coalition broadband policy FAQs. He says:

Public funding of $29.5 billion will be required for a coalition NBN.

Full stop. No equivocation whatsoever. It goes on:

Labor currently claims funding of $44.1 billion will be required to complete its NBN.

Well, even if that were the case, the people of Australia would be getting a real NBN for less money than what this government is doing. It goes on—this is really good, these are the words of the Prime Minister:

There is no free lunch. If capital is tied up in the NBN then it has to be paid for either by taxpayers or consumers or both. Less funding is needed under the Commonwealth plan.

But not less money; this government has just tipped $20 billion of taxpayer funding into it. But here is the special bit that I love that is still on the Prime Minister's website:

Our goal is to ensure that all Australians have very fast broadband by 2016 and that everybody can access at least 25 megabits per second.

Well, with 39 days to go, there are still seven million premises that are not connected. I have done the maths. We only need 180,000 premises a day to be connected! Why is this minister sitting here? He should be out there with the pliers in the node. Everyone needs to chip in.

I note that even the SBS commented in an article yesterday entitled 'NBN a growing worry for federal budget':

"Concerns are mounting that Australia's broadband network will leave an anchor on the country's budget. The new $20 billion loan is an unanticipated commitment from the government. Malcolm Turnbull had previously indicated that the organisation would be able to operate without assistance from the government with only the initial funding."

Well, we now know that to be completely and ultimately wrong.

On that point, where is the minister in all of this? Unfortunately, the minister woke up yesterday to an editorial in The Australian of all places stating:

The end-of-year awards season is almost here but there’s already an odds-on favourite for the title of the most ineffective politician in the land.

Take a bow Mitch Fifield, the Homer Simpson of the Turnbull Government.

Well, I will not have Homer Simpson spoken about in those terms!

Frankly, when you have a minister like this it is no surprise—and I know that my colleagues contributing to the debate will back this up with the real world experiences of our constituents—as we have seen in the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman's most recent figures that came out last week.

And look at the top 10 postcodes for NBN complaints; we hear about it time and time again in this chamber. We had the minister sitting at the table take a question from the member for Robertson on 12 September about the rollout of the NBN on the Central Coast. He said:

'The Turnbull government is delivering when it comes to the NBN.'

What they are delivering on the Central Coast is amongst the top four postcodes for complaints. Toukley, Wyong, Central Coast, Gosford—all of these areas are recording the highest numbers of complaints. And where, overall, are the highest numbers of complaints? In rural and regional areas. They are being utterly let down by this government.

We have the front page from the News Mail in Bundaberg: 'Bundy tops the nation for NBN complaints'. Bundaberg tops the nation! What is the coincidence that is going on here? Amazingly, these are predominantly areas where fibre-to-the-node copper based technology has been rolled out.

If you wanted any example, any evidence, of why this government is so hopeless at delivering for the consumers of Australia, here it is in the TIO's own figures. Complaints have gone up by something like 150 per cent in some cases for faults and for consumers failing to get the product that they paid for.

So we can see quite clearly how much this government has let down the people of Australia and how hopeless it has been in terms of the economic management of the project. On top of all that, we have recently seen Australia ranked 23rd out of 26 countries when it comes to broadband satisfaction.

This government has utterly failed the people of Australia on every single count with the NBN. Sooner, faster, more affordable? It has been fail, fail, fail from this government every step of the way.