BILLS: Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Access Regime and NBN Companies) Bill 2015, second reading

on 29 February 2016
Created: 29 February 2016

It was interesting to hear from the member for Blaxland who gets a bit touchy on these sorts of subjects when there is nobody in the chamber. I just do not know why he does not ask questions—he certainly did not ask too many questions of Malcolm Turnbull, the member for Wentworth, when he was the communications minister—that is, Malcolm, not Jason; let's hope that does not happen too soon. 

He certainly did not ask too many questions about NBN, telecommunications or indeed mobile black spots when he had the opportunity. He still does not ask too many questions when the chamber is full, so I put it to him to ask a few questions about NBN in the chamber during question time. Be big, be brave, be bold and ask a few questions in question time of the Prime Minister, of the communications minister—or the respresentative of the communications minister, appreciating the fact that Senator Mitch Fifield is in the other chamber, the other place.                 

It is all too easy to come in here when the chamber is mostly empty and make big and loud statements about the NBN and our policy. I have to say that much of what he said is inaccurate at any rate. He talked about a solution in search of a problem.                 

We know, on this side of the House, that technology and connectivity are at the heart of what we want to encourage as a government. That is important, because it is all about what we are doing as a government. The Turnbull government has an agenda of innovation, agility and productivity and we, on this side, understand the importance of communications infrastructure when it comes to providing just that. In making this plan a reality, we want to encourage more people to live, work and invest in rural and regional communities. We understand that a reliable and affordable communications system is crucial to ensuring our rural and remote regional communities are part of our ideas boom.                 

As local members move throughout the many towns and communities of our electorates, people often raise with us the issues they face and that they want the federal government to help them with. My large rural electorate of Riverina is roughly the same size as the state of Tasmania. Many of my colleagues are in similar communities, as, indeed, are some of those opposite—the member for Lingiari and the member for Throsby, for instance—and I appreciate that they represent regional communities.                 

A few issues are raised with me more frequently than others when it comes to communications. Mobile black spots are the bane of many country communities—and, Second Deputy Speaker, member for McEwen, I have heard you raise this in this chamber. They are a significant impediment to safety, to productivity and to connectivity for people who choose to live and do business in the communities we serve. The Nationals get it. We do. We live in these communities too. We understand, as do our constituents, the frustration and the concern when the telephone simply will not connect or when a phone call is scratchy, and the potential that this reality has for instances of natural or medical emergency, and indeed other times when you simply need a phone just for convenience. I am proud to be part of a government which not only acknowledge what a problem this is but are actually doing something to fix it.                

Under Labor, not a dollar was spent on mobile black spots. But we are getting on with the job of fixing that problem. Our promise to establish the Mobile Black Spot Program was, for me, a real highlight of the last election. Thanks to the hard work of the member for Cowper, as shadow minister, we were able to say to the people who live with challenging mobile service that we were going to do something about it. It is all about connectivity.                 

Mr Stephen Jones: Are you going to talk about the NBN?                

Mr McCORMACK: NBN is one thing—and the member for Throsby asks whether I am going to talk about the legislation. I understand the importance of the NBN, but I also understand the importance of total connectivity. In the six years that those opposite were in government, we heard a lot about communications. We saw much of ministers in high-vis, talking about how the Labor Party backed better communications, how Kevin Rudd's rushed NBN plan was going to bring rivers of gold to communities without any regard for its cost or the time the network would actually take to build.                 

In my home city of Wagga Wagga, we saw lots of holes being dug and tape around some iron posts at little spots where the NBN was apparently coming to. But it was just a photo op in a hard hat. That was Labor's plan. There was never actually any fibre rolled out. There was never actually any fibre pulled through those holes that were being dug.                 

More importantly, in the whole time those opposite were in government there was not a word breathed about mobile black spots and, moreover, not a cent spent on them. There was nothing about the safety concerns, nothing about how a farmer or a primary producer should be able to do business from their farm, nothing about how school students in remote locations should be able to do their homework and connect with their friends online; just photo ops. Not just in communications but in so many other aspects of government, it was government by press release, government by media opportunity.                

I am proud that the Riverina has received significant investment from this coalition government as part of the first round of the Mobile Black Spot Program. Thanks to the hard work of the member for Bradfield, the former Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Communications and, now, Senator Fiona Nash, the National Party senator for New South Wales, as the dedicated Minister for Regional Communications, we are actually investing in communities. We are actually building towers.                 

I drove down the Sturt Highway yesterday on my way to Darlington Point to open new exhibits at the Altina Wildlife Park—I just thought I would throw in that plug because it is a great tourist drawcard—and I drove past Collingullie and there it was, that wonderful communications tower, brought to you by this government. We are actually connecting communities to the mobile services that they deserve, yet not a peep from those opposite when they were in government.            

Last year I was able to announce that, thanks to the first round of the Mobile Black Spot Program and co-investment from both Telstra and Vodafone, seven base stations would be built in the Riverina electorate. Telstra is investing in building base stations at Ladysmith, Mannus and Merriwagga, whilst Vodafone's construction will take place along the Mid-Western Highway as well as at Tabbita, where there is an important feedlot; Ungarie, who have a great football club, celebrating its centenary this year; and Weethalle, where they have had problems for years.                

In all, this is a $4.75 million investment. I wish it was more, Second Deputy Speaker, I will admit. But $1.59 million of this investment is coming from this coalition government and that will provide a service to more than 40 unique communities and locations, including critical road and highway intersections. I have always said that the $100 million could be spent in the Riverina electorate alone—and I am sure my rural colleagues would agree with me on that point, the fact that $100 million probably still would not get full mobile coverage of Riverina.                

My electorate stretches from Mt Kosciuszko—as former minister Simon Crean used to talk about, the high point of Australian politics, and I will agree with him, even though it is going to be in Eden-Monaro after the latest Australian Electoral Commission redistribution of boundaries—right out to the red soil plains of Hillston and beyond. There is very different geography, from Snowy Mountains to plains. The $100 million could be spent in the Riverina and you probably still would not get total coverage, but it is a good start. And it is $100 million more than what those opposite were going to provide. The Nationals were very much heart and soul behind getting this money. The Nationals get it. We understand. We care. We want to play a role in getting communities the connection they deserve to reliable mobile services as well as to a better and more affordable NBN.                

I am also pleased that there is an additional round of the Mobile Black Spot Program. It is important. And we will help those communities who were not funded in the first round to put their case as part of a competitive tender selection process once more. I am proud of what this government have achieved thus far. I know that those in communities which need better mobile services appreciate what we are doing, because they tell me so. But there is still more work to do. I went to a number of functions on the weekend and people were talking about the good job that our government are doing as far as creating jobs and prosperity, and they want us to continue. They do not want to go down the Labor experiment again. There are still communities which need better services and I will continue to work with the new minister, Senator Nash, who knows the Riverina electorate well and with the telecommunications companies to keep this issue front and centre of the government's agenda.                 

We are a government that understands the importance of using taxpayers' money as efficiently as possible. We understand that Australian taxpayers work hard and expect governments of all persuasions—whether they are Labor or whether they are coalition—to use the money that they pay in tax in a measured and responsible way—to be fiscally responsible. That is what taxpayers want. For this reason, upon coming to government in September 2013, the then communications minister, now Prime Minister, wanted to ensure that the rollout of the National Broadband Network was one which was fast, efficient and as cost-effective as humanly possible. The review found that a multi-technology mix was the best way to future proof the NBN for delivering universal access to fast broadband.                

I know that the Australian Labor Party member from the Griffith branch, Peter Knox, always writes letters to the editor and always says, 'Oh, McCormack was out there and he said that, for Griffith, the NBN wasn't that important.' But I did not say that. What I actually said—and I want to correct the record—was that I do receive far more complaints about mobile service than I do about broadband. That said, the NBN is important. That said, the coalition government needs to ensure that we get the NBN rolled out as soon as we can—and we are doing that. The nbn co is on track to meet its targets for the year within the budget set out in the company's corporate plan. Any suggestion to the contrary is just plain wrong. The company has met its targets for the past six quarters—and that is good. This is in stark contrast to the management under the ALP, when the company met only 15 per cent of its forecast rollout.                

The government has taken a businesslike approach. Do you know why we have taken a businesslike approach? It is because we on this side actually understand business. Unfortunately, those opposite are led by the nose by the unions and not too many of them actually understand business. After two terms of government, Labor had upgraded the broadband of one in 50 premises. By this financial year, nbn co will have upgraded one in four premises. So we are talking about one in 50 compared to one in four. You do the maths. It is pretty obvious. By June 2018, nbn co will have upgraded three in four premises. Our changes to the rollout will see the project finished six to eight years sooner and at around $30 billion less cost—nothing to sneeze at there.                

A multi-technology mix is a central tenet of our promise to deliver faster broadband to Australians sooner and at less cost to the taxpayer. This legislation seeks, in part, to implement the government's response to the independent cost-benefit analysis delivered to government in December 2014. For those opposite, a cost-benefit analysis is something where you have to weigh up how much something is going to deliver as far as productivity is concerned, how much it is going to benefit and what it is going to do for the taxpayers as far as value for money. I just say that because there were not too many things under Labor's watch that were ever cost-benefit analysis efficient. This coalition government wants to ensure the NBN is delivered in a way which has a competitive regulatory framework, provides greater certainty for industry and provides innovative, efficient and effective service delivery for consumers.                

This bill is a measured approach to the government's rollout agenda. Upon coming to government we wanted to take stock of where Labor's network was up to—I can that it was a mess—and ensure the consumer is getting the best benefit for their dollar. We know that those opposite used the NBN rollout as a political pawn, as a plaything for glossy brochures and promises which were, quite frankly, undeliverable in the time frame the ALP set out. We are taking a different approach. We are taking a measured, businesslike approach to the NBN rollout and, as I mentioned earlier, we want to make sure it is faster and available sooner and at less cost to the Australian taxpayer. This bill is a critical component of this agenda. It will better coordinate interactions between the facilities access regime in the first schedule of the Telecommunications Act 1997 and the access regime in part XIC of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010, making it clear that the latter regime ought to take precedence in the regulation of access to facilities. This is part of the coalition's endeavour to provide greater certainty and clarity in the communications industry.                

In the Riverina, the NBN rollout is well underway. In Wagga Wagga, my electorate's biggest city, around 17,600 homes and businesses are expected to receive an NBN service either through a fibre-to-the-node or a fibre-to-the-premises model under the NBN's three-year construction cycle. That is good for productivity for one of Australia's best electorates as far as productivity is concerned. I commend the bill to the House.