Telecommunications Amendment (Infrastructure in New Developments) Bill 2020

04 February 2021

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (10:03): There was some advice or an observation given by the member for Grey to the effect that we would support this resolution because it just made common sense. I want to pick up on that commonsense element. Instead of the coalition deciding, for political purposes, to up-end the whole model of the NBN rollout as it was put out back in 2010, it would have made common sense to fibre up all premises. It would have made sense not to buy enough copper to wrap around the globe just in an effort to differentiate themselves politically on the issue of the NBN. It would have made common sense if, all for the sake of political expediency, the coalition had decided not to treat as second-class citizens—which many in Western Sydney have felt themselves to be—all those residents who have been lashed onto an HFC network that doesn't deliver. And it would have made sense if they'd done this right the first time and not spent billions and billions on top of what they'd already committed, in the end flying the white flag and admitting they had stuffed this up and, in the process, slowed down the rollout, cost us more and delivered a worse product to us.


It would have made utter common sense if the coalition had done it right the first time, and they didn't. As has been highlighted by the shadow minister in the amendment to this bill, we are absolutely making the point that this should have been done right the first time. They promised to deliver this second-rate NBN for $29½ billion; now it's forecast to be nearly double that, at $57 billion. What happened with the rollout is an unbelievable waste of money. As the amendment indicates, they promised that every Australian would have access to a minimum NBN speed of 25 megabits per second by 2016. Up to 238,000 premises in 2021 still can't get that minimum speed, despite what was promised. As the amendment indicates, we had the shambles of the deployment of the HFC network, and, after spending seven years and $51 billion on the NBN, the government has now had to do this embarrassing backflip from copper to fibre. This has been the problem with the way that the coalition has approached politics for the last 10 years.


There was such a massive reaction to this issue. I think even the coalition were caught by surprise at how many people reacted to their decision. It wasn't met with relief by the broader public; it was met with astonishment, and rightly so. In 2010, the coalition knew they'd stuffed up the rollout of broadband in this country. Under the Howard government, nearly 20 plans failed. When Labor announced in opposition and then in government that we would roll out fibre, the coalition saw how popular that was. They went out of their way not to absolutely oppose the NBN but to kill it by stealth; they basically bear-hugged it and choked it to death. This was the way they undertook their opposing view of the NBN. They tried to use HFC to buy in more copper; they tried to do anything other than what Labor did—it was just for the sake of politics. Too many public policy issues in this country have been driven by the coalition's desire to make itself look different, not to support stuff that's common sense, as the member for Grey said—which the government now tells us is common sense and which we should support. At the time, we said it made perfect sense. We didn't just rush this in. We knew that people expected a modern network that would support the growth of the economy, that would deal with the growth of data use and that would deliver what people wanted. We said all of that back at that time, and they said, 'No, we've got a better way.' But it wasn't a better way, and they knew in their heart that it wasn't a better way. They believed that all these things would happen, and they didn't.


All we've seen from the fibre-to-the-node prospect that the government put forward is it inching closer and closer to households to deliver exactly what we said: fibre would go up a street and right into a home and would deliver a modern communications network that families and businesses could rely upon. And they refused to do it. On this issue, on climate change, on fiscal policy, and on debts and deficits—all the stuff that you hear conservatives go on about and say, hand on heart, that they believe in and think they've got an alternative—they never have an alternative. They always mislead the public with the positions that they take. They think they can do things differently, and they always crab walk to the commonsense position in the broader public that everyone knows has to happen. Everyone knows that we should have delivered on fibre. Everyone knows what they were doing when they were wheeling out their debt trucks and going all over the country politicking. Everyone knows that these people couldn't deliver. In fact, the debt and deficit ballooned under their watch. Everyone knows we should be getting to a smarter point on climate change and finding better ways to generate energy without having the



emissions growth that we've seen and that we should start tackling. They always said they could do better, and they never could. We have been victim to the coalition's politicking, the hard Right in their party room and the way they've gone about. We waste all this taxpayer money, we waste all this time and we see ordinary members of the Australian public being forced to suffer the political games of the coalition. The NBN is an absolutely classic example of that.


This mob opposite doesn't care about the Australian public. What they care about more than anything else is power, and the way to get power is to score those political points, and it doesn't matter who suffers as a result. They wasted nearly double what should have been spent on the NBN. When you look at the time we lost and the opportunities that were forsaken as a result of it, you see that it is an absolute shambles, and they should be held to account for it. It is the job of Labor to keep reminding the public that, when it comes to delivering for the Australian people, the coalition is more interested in delivering for themselves—delivering themselves into power so that they can sit in the plush seats, do nothing and waste taxpayer money. The ordinary people of the country have to pay the bill for it. I'm absolutely happy to support the amendment moved by the member for Greenway, the shadow minister for communications, because it is an opportunity for us to point these things out.


In my neck of the woods, in Western Sydney, I have residents who live around Colebee who, many years ago, were able to benefit early through a fibre-to-the-premises deployment undertaken by Telstra. At the time, this fibre-to-the-premises deployment delivered great download speeds and, because of the configuration, upload was better than what was available at the time. But developments have accelerated and now people are able to find much better ways of getting upload speeds that meet the modern requirements of the community. However, that Velocity network has not kept pace with consumer expectation. In my area, I have had constituents approach me, concerned about the fact that they've got only one network that they can rely upon. There's very little competition and choice to go to alternative providers. The only technological choice that they've had is to rely on 4G or 5G. And, while these networks do provide a better service, they cost a lot of money if you want to access them. For a lot of people in my area, relying on a mobile network to manage their data needs is just unrealistic, and it's too expensive, frankly—they just can't pay for it. Especially through the pandemic, people have been working at home a lot more. People in the IT sector have much higher requirements, not just for downloaded data but for pushing it out, and they need the network to be capable of managing that. They just can't use a mobile network, and it's just not realistic to advise them to use a 5G network to do that, even though it's being rolled out in our area and people are very happy, in many respects, with that rollout.


I've been at Telstra to do something about this issue for some time, and I have to express a bit of surprise that, apparently, in the last few months, they've decided to sell their Velocity network. It would have been good to have known in advance that that's what they were doing. They've now onsold that network to someone else to manage. I want to give voice to the concerns of my constituents and their absolutely reasonable expectation that they would have a modern fibre network in their area that could meet their needs and, importantly, that they could have choice. For many years, particularly in the telecommunications sector, consumers have had the ability to choose a provider that satisfies what they want and meets their quality expectations. They should have that choice. They've only ever had Telstra. Telstra has provided a good service for many years, and I speak as someone who lives in that area and has had that service provided. But other consumers who live in that area have had a different opinion. It is absolutely their prerogative to make a choice, but they haven't been able to. So we will wait to see what the new owner of the network in that residential estate will be able to do with the network.


On behalf of the people that I represent in my part of Western Sydney, it is important that I flag to the House that they need, and understandably expect, more. They should see a better network. They should see that it moves with the times. They should see that an investment is made to ensure that their expectations on upload speeds can be met so that they can work from home, they can do their job and they can contribute. The network as it stands at the moment did a great job for many years; it can't provide it anymore. We do need to see that. The reason why it's a problem is that, with the network as it stands at the moment, NBN would either purchase it outright and upgrade it at some point in time or stick with it. Either way, it is going to require some sort of build, some sort of upgrade, and it may present, potentially, some sort of inconvenience to residents that have relied upon that Velocity network for some time.


People in the Colebee area need to be given a clear signal: What's going to happen to the network? Will there be an upgrade? Can they expect better service? When will this happen? What disruption will there be? I think the residents of the area have been very patient and very decent about it, but they are right to expect a better deal, and they haven't been getting it so far. It would have been great if residents in our area had got the NBN sooner. It



would have been excellent if they had got that purchase between Telstra and the NBN done sooner, so that we had seen a potential upgrade years ago. It didn't happen. There's no point crying over spilt milk. The biggest signal I want to send is: enough is enough. Colebee residents have been patient. Colebee residents have been able to use that network up until this point, but they do, rightly, expect a better network, and it should be delivered to them.