I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Access Regime and NBN Companies) Bill 2015.
It gives me the opportunity to highlight the fact that access to high-quality, real broadband is one of the most fundamental issues facing the electorate of Greenway. Indeed, it is probably the single biggest issue on which I receive unsolicited representations from residents in all parts of the electorate. As I warned prior to the last election, the electorate of Greenway has been divided into an electorate of NBN haves and have-nots. We have those fortunate people who managed to obtain the real NBN—Labor's fibre-to-the-home network—prior to the last election and we have other areas of the electorate where people literally look across the road and see people who do not have broadband and certainly do not have the NBN.
I want to take this opportunity to highlight a few matters. First, I point out not only how potent this issue is but also the fact that residents understand why broadband is important. They understand many of the technical issues that we probably think are beyond them. They are savvy people, and I can tell you as well that they know they are not getting the promise made by this Prime Minister when he was Minister for Communications. They know they were promised to have minimum speeds delivered by the end of 2016. That promise was made by the current Prime Minister in 2013. It did not even last the year. That was one of the first promises to be broken by this government.
I want to take the opportunity to highlight a few other issues, in particular how lack of affordable and reliable broadband is impacting on small business, the changing nature of small business and why more than ever we need to get this investment in real infrastructure done, and the importance of recognising that innovation cannot just be talk. It needs to have the underlying fundamentals of infrastructure going along with it.
Lastly, I want to talk about some of the lived experiences of my constituents, be it in small business, school or their home use, and the level of frustration at this issue and in particular the level of frustration with the government who came in here and, just as with the last speaker, said Labor had botched this job and they were going to do it better. That was more than 2½ years ago. They completely failed to live up to their promise.
I am not surprised that in this morning's Sydney Morning Herald we see the headline 'Turnbull's NBN plan in crisis'. There has never been a clearer example of this Prime Minister and this government being all talk and no action. Apparently he invented the internet. Apparently he was given the task by then Prime Minister Abbott to demolish or destroy the NBN. Effectively, he did that. He did that through the most misguided means of thinking that he could make such promises and not deliver on them, turning his back not only on the physics but also on the reality of what is involved in building the biggest infrastructure project in Australia since the Snowy Mountains Scheme. He thought he had all the answers. He made all these promises and absolutely failed to deliver.
His mantra was that it was going to be 'Fast. Affordable. Sooner.' Fail, fail and fail by this Prime Minister. It is worth noting some of the commentary in today's headline.
The report— that is, this report about the epic fail that the NBN has become under this government— which was never intended for public disclosure, reveals the extent to which the more than $46 billion project has drifted off course, mainly during the time when Mr Turnbull was in direct control as communications minister.
I also quote:
… the NBN Co's own documents show that for all that money, it remains bedevilled with problems from the slow design approvals by power utility companies (FTTP did not require electrical supply but FTTN does) and as a result of material and supply problems. Even expertise in dealing with the copper network is scarce.
It is pretty fundamental. When he was Minister, the Prime Minister would come in here and say, 'Oh, nbn co didn't know how to dig holes.' You would think nbn co would know that you need an electricity supply, would know that you need these fundamental things, would know that you actually need some technicians who know how to deal with copper. I note the current Minister for Communications Fifield said in his response today that the coalition had taken a 'businesslike' approach to the project. If this is business, they would be out of business.
You only have to look at the importance of high-speed broadband to the changing nature of work. One of the terms that has become quite common now is understanding the notion of freelancers, as we like to call them. I note a most informative article by Rich Pearson of Upwork in Business Insider on 23 February. He notes the freelance economy is growing:
While the government is moving in the right direction by putting innovation at the forefront of the agenda, they need to more substantively support this statement by investing in digital infrastructure in order to maximize the potential of this growing segment of the workforce. The move towards an 'Ideas Boom' is a great first step, but they haven't fully executed against their vision.
One key ingredient to achieve that is:
Building a future-proof, world-class national broadband network. According to a Nielsen report, three-quarters of the nation's businesses believe a national broadband infrastructure will increase their ability to engage in the digital economy
This is a fact that has been known for some time. I even quote from a Deloitte Access Economics report from September 2013, which noted households 'would reap the benefits of a boosted e-commerce industry'. They even go so far as to quantify the benefits that would accrue to certain types of cohorts if the national broadband network is built. I note a single-income couple that runs a small business and has two children could be more than $7,000 a year better off due to factors including boosted productivity and better education opportunities for their children.
Even if you do not want to take it from that study, you can have a look at the report that has been put out by the New South Wales government. We see the New South Wales Minister for Small Business smiling at the front of the document and talking about the opportunities for business. He says technology advances create opportunities and risks for businesses of all sizes and goes into the NBN, talking about how it is a large infrastructure project to significantly increase internet connection speeds for businesses and households and noting that small businesses can indeed benefit from this. It is no secret. But let's look at how this is actually failing small businesses in practice, by not having a real NBN and by this government failing to deliver on its promise. I quote an insightful article by Eloise Keating, for example, 'Australian SMEs failing to get onboard with cloud computing: research':
Sam Bashiry, founder of Smart50 finalist Broadband Solutions, told SmartCompany in the overall scheme of things, the NBN will 'change things for the better' for companies like his own, which offers broadband products in the B2B market.
But he says the proposed benefits of the NBN have been thrown around for 'way too long' and to date, the connections that have been rolled out have been focused on residential users, rather than businesses.
I totally agree about the importance of rolling out this project to every business and every household. That has been the entire aim of this project as devised under Labor. But what we see happening here, under this government, is lip service being given to the importance of broadband for small businesses. I quote from PwC's Small business: digital growth report:
Small businesses will only realise the benefits of internet and mobile technology adoption if the underlying infrastructure (and the software running on the infrastructure) provides them with a suitable level of reliability.
It is at this point that I can indeed turn to another real-life example. One of these announcements we have had from the government in the past year or so has been single-touch payroll. I see an announcement by then Minister Frydenberg in December 2014. In July last year, SmartCompany reported, under the heading, 'The rollout of single-touch payroll treats businesses with contempt':
Some small businesses are pretty much ready for a system such as ‘Single Touch Payroll’ to be rolled out, as they have moved to ‘cloud’ accounting software. However, many have not moved to these ‘cloud’ systems and many will not at the moment as their internet access is so slow. Enter the Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull.
The Communications Minister would have us believe that the rollout of the NBN is going swimmingly and that in this country we have no issues with getting internet access at reasonable speeds. Now, this doesn’t even pass the bulldust test as people try and use the internet for their business daily and many know that it’s not up to scratch.
This is the reality for small businesses. In particular I note the large and growing number of small businesses who operate from home. Let's look at Renai LeMay's article in DeLimiter:
The performance of data uploading features strongly in a variety of case studies of iiNet small business customers,' the company wrote. 'In all cases, upload performance is the key to their purchasing decision. Nowhere in the strategic review—
This is the strategic review undertaken by then minister Turnbull—
is there any consideration of upload performance to the small business sector of the economy, or at all. Any business utilizing broadband will confirm that upload performance is ‘mission critical’ and yet little attention has been given to this issue, which is strategically important to the Australian digital economy.'
It goes on. We have a situation where then Minister Turnbull rejected claims—he argued that, if businesses and residences wanted to have fibre cables extended, it would not cost the amount of money that we in Labor estimated it would. Let's look at a recent example, again, as reported by Renai LeMay:
The NBN company has given a Newcastle business an estimate ranging up to $9,500 to extend fibre cables 300 metres from the local streetside 'node' through existing Telstra pipes to their facility in the Newcastle CBD, as signals continue to grow that the Coalition's election estimates on fibre on demand costs were inaccurate.
I note that this is hitting home in Greenway. And I note that before the last election the coalition announced that it was going to reassess broadband rollout to the western suburbs. The Hills News reported that then Shadow Minister Turnbull said, 'the Coalition’s fibre-to-the-node policy would prioritise businesses, schools, and employment areas before homes'. This is most confusing. As I said, I argued before the election—and, as we have seen, after the election—we are creating a divided society in the electorate of Greenway.
Here I can quote from some real-life examples. I have an email here from Previn from Acacia Gardens:
My request to you is to help get Acacia gardens onto the NBN rollout schedule. I feel for anyone living in Acacia Gardens who is trying to run a home business. I've had to purchase extra wireless internet cards so that my wife can do her schoolwork as at times it's too slow for Google docs to work.
Here is a recent one from Mr and Mrs Watson from Kings Langley:
We have been told by every internet provider that they are unable to provide Internet in our area because there are no ports available.
We are currently using a mobile hotspot for internet. We are paying $49.95 a month for 1GB. When we go over our 1GB allowance our internet slows down to excruciatingly slow speeds.
We are not prepared to wait until the earliest estimated time which is the first half of 2017. This is over a year away.
I also note an email I have received from Narinder from Glenwood:
It becomes really difficult to work from home for my son as it takes a lot of time to upload files and share data with his office.
And here is one from Simon in Glenwood:
I manage & provide technical support for corporate IT systems which have very high availability SLAs & when I work on a customer problem I need a reliable network otherwise it can compromise my efforts in solving issues for my customers in timely manner.
Here we have Cheryl from The Ponds:
The NBN is all around me and my next door neighbor was lucky enough to have the Internet installed through Telstra. It seems The Ponds is hit and miss with Internet services from what I have found out from my inquiries I am really frustrated.
I have a number of other emails from constituents—I could actually go on all day—because of the number of people I have contacting me saying that it is simply not good enough.
If we are serious in Australia about having world-class broadband, we need to ensure that we get the underlying infrastructure right. This government needs to acknowledge that it has completely botched, with its multitechnology mix, delivery of world-class broadband services.
I see members who are probably going to come in here and probably say that they are improving on the situation. The reality is it is not being improved. Residents in my electorate understand perfectly well that they have been missing out under this government. They promised big time. They overpromised and completely failed to deliver. We can sit here and argue about it—and I am very happy to do that, and I can give real life examples—but the reality is that unless this Prime Minister starts showing some leadership, when it comes to delivering world-class broadband, it is going to remain exactly what it is. It is going to be all talk and absolutely no delivery for the people of Australia.