Few things better encapsulate the out-of-touch attitude of this Prime Minister and this government towards ordinary Australians than the issue of broadband and their second-rate copper NBN.
You only have to look at the answers in question time yesterday to appreciate the scale of just how far removed this Prime Minister is from the lived reality being experienced by consumers every day, from all age groups, from all walks of life, in every part of the country. Three themes have come out from this government: the preference for spin before the lived experiences of consumers; peddling the fallacy that their NBN, on their watch, is on track and on budget; and continuing the blame game and buck passing—the failure to take responsibility even into their fifth year in government.
In stark contrast, those of us on this side of the House have been listening to consumers. When it comes to broadband as an essential utility, this out-of-touch government favours spin above the consumer experience. We know how important it is for consumers, businesses and the economy as a whole to get world-class broadband to every part of the country.
Looking at every measure on which this government set itself—faster, sooner and more affordable—they have failed on every single count. The evidence is crystal clear. It was supposed to be delivered by 2016. As at 31 December, 7 million premises were still waiting. They promised they would deliver it for $29 billion, and it's blown out to $50 billion. And it's not faster. All you need to do is have a look at the level of complaints that are coming in at record scale from consumers right around Australia. They talked a big game about how their second-rate version would be cheaper. Yesterday, the Prime Minister tried to assert the same. But we've actually known since 2014—thanks to the minister at the table, the Minister for Urban Infrastructure—that the claims that they made when they were in opposition about the cost of Labor's NBN were just wrong. We only need to look at The Sydney Morning Herald on 18 February 2014, where the minister at the table admitted:
… the Coalition's claim that Labor's NBN would cost more than $90 billion … was wrong.
When asked if the $90 billion estimate was a "political figure" floated to win votes, Mr Fletcher admitted that figure was also wrong.
You don't need to look very far to see the complete disregard this government has and how they've absolutely taken their out-of-touch approach to the next level. Have a look at the Prime Minister only days ago, when he was asked about the NBN on radio. The Prime Minister said:
I think we've got this in hand.
Neil Mitchell said:
But Prime Minister people tell me it is not in hand. Every time we raise it the board is full of people complaining.
We have the cost blow out of $20 billion, a roll-out schedule three years behind the promised delivery time and Australia slipping from 30th to 50th in the world in the international broadband rankings. We've had a 150 per cent increase in TIO complaints about NBN faults. There has been—wait for this—a 1,075 per cent blow out to $640 million in the copper remediation bill.
Those opposite will like to favour the spin, but those of us on this side know the sheer despair that is being felt by Australians for their inability to access broadband and, when they can access it, it's unreliability—the fact that it simply doesn't perform to task. I have one story—we've all heard it—of students who can't download what they need for their school work or their tertiary education. They park outside the public library just to get the free wi-fi or go to McDonald's to be able to access some broadband.
People understand this. It's something for which those opposite give very little credit: the consumers of Australia understand what they should be getting and what they would have been getting under Labor's superior model. People go around the world—I get this all time—and come back and say, 'I was in a remote part of Cambodia, and I had the best internet I have ever had compared to my own home.' The government is completely oblivious to the lived experience of consumers.
Those opposite also purport to be the champions of small business. Let's have a look at what the Council of Small Business Australia had to say in July:
… its members are frustrated and "shocked" with slow connections and poor service under the National Broadband Network, with the problems causing many businesses to suffer substantial losses.
Peter Strong from COSBOA said what the public was told about the NBN was 'not the reality'. He said:
When people think NBN, they think fast internet but then they sign up and find they are getting slower speeds than they were before. We were told it would be so fast it would shock us. It has shocked us but not because it’s fast.
Mr Strong also said that members had reported problems with dropouts and patchy service.
The New South Wales Business Chamber reported that 43 per cent of the 850 businesses it surveyed said they were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the NBN. This is from a government that purports to be the champion of small businesses. This survey from the New South Wales Business Chamber reported it is costing small businesses an average of $9,000 through delays, disruptions and loss of sales. An article in the Newcastle Herald noted that the owner of a Newcastle post office has been without phone and internet for nine days and is out of pocket thousands of dollars and is sick of waiting. The article states:
Australia Post Edgeworth owner Paul Roddenby said his connection was fine until a national broadband network (nbn) technician visited on October 5 for work not requested by the shop.
"He did something, then he said he’d be back in five minutes, and he never came back. It hasn’t worked since," Mr Roddenby said.
Since then, the Australia Post outlet has had no phone, not internet and no answers.
Well, you don't have to look very far for the lived experiences and frustrations of the consumers of Australia with this government's inferior copper based network.
There are Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman complaints about faults on the NBN jumping by 147.8 per cent. Complaints about slow internet speeds are soaring by 48 per cent, and fibre to the node remains a key source of dissatisfaction. You only have to look at the top 10 postcodes for complaints about the NBN and—what a surprise!—seven of them are in fibre-to-the-node areas. Even NBN's own survey data shows that consumers rate the copper NBN below every other technology, at only 41 per cent advocacy. We've even had the NBN CEO forced to concede that this government's 30-year business case doesn't set aside any funding to upgrade the copper network. This means the current business case assumes Australians are going to be stuck on copper until 2040!
On top of this, we've seen nearly a tenfold increase in Australians seeking to pay—themselves—to switch their NBN connection from copper to fibre. And we had the Prime Minister, before the 2013 election, promise that individuals would have the option of paying somewhere between $2,250 and $3,000 to switch from copper to fibre. But NBN revealed the average quoted cost today has been $15,800 greater than what the Prime Minister promised. You don't need to take it from me. In fact, even the government's own MPs are criticising it. The member for Mallee bemoans the rollout of faceless NBN. The Guardiansaid:
… the Mallee MP said he had seen problems with the rollout first-hand as his constituents struggled to make their services work, and he had been forced to dedicate one of his electoral officers to dealing with the complaints.
So there is a dose of reality from at least one member on that side of the chamber.
When it comes to copper or coal and you hear this Prime Minister talk about engineering and economics, you know it's a farce. You know he has failed. You know that this copper NBN is letting down Australians.