I spoke in parliament yesterday about one of the pieces of legislation that will enable the building of the National Broadband Network.
Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill, 4 July 2011
I would like to begin by telling a story that comes from one of the many mobile offices that I enjoy running through my electorate of Fraser. I was standing one morning at the Kippax shopping centre and a woman came up to me and said: 'There are two issues I want to talk to you about. The first one is that I am retired, I am now in my 80s and I'm concerned about the local bus network.' So we talked for a while about the local bus network, where the stops were located and how that worked for her. Then she said, 'The second issue that concerns me is superfast broadband.' She said: 'I like to communicate with my daughter using Skype, and the picture is really patchy at the moment. You keep on talking about this superfast broadband thing, but when are we going to get it? When am I going to get a video connection that allows me to connect with my daughter?'
What this brought home to me is that those opposite are just so out of touch when they think that superfast broadband is about tweens playing video games. Superfast broadband is a technology that will fundamentally transform Australian society, and it will do that wherever you are on the age spectrum. That is why there are pensioners in my electorate, there are working age people and there are students who are enthusiastic about superfast broadband.
We know some of the ways in which superfast broadband is going to begin transforming our lives. We know, for example, that it will allow access to medical specialists. If you live in an area which does not have a particular medical specialist and you want the chance to see a podiatrist, say, then you will have the option through superfast broadband to do an online consultation with a specialist. Otherwise, you might have to wait in pain for weeks or months until a specialist comes through your town or you have a chance to travel to a place where they are. But with access to superfast broadband we will be able to use technology to deal with the challenge of distance.
With education, of course, superfast broadband is again a transformative technology. I know from the institution where I used to work, the Australian National University, that we initially experimented with what it would be like to have experts do a video seminar. It turned out that the existing technology just was not snappy enough. It really did not feel like you were in the room with the presenter. We tried it once with my friend John Quiggin, who is at the bleeding edge of technology. John's presentation was great, but it just did not work for those of us not in the room in the way it would have worked if he had been there. But as the connections get faster, as we get those 100 megabits a second speeds that are promised by some of this technology, we will get to technology where it will feel like you are in the room. That will fundamentally transform the research enterprise. It will change for the better the experience of being in an academic seminar. No longer will we need to rely on seminar speakers being in the same city; we will be able to immediately have a presenter from the best universities, whether they be in Boston or Beijing, brought in by superfast broadband. That will make Australian researchers more productive.
Superfast broadband will also transform the employment experience. At the moment, it is a challenge if you are a part-timer working in a team. People sometimes say to me that it is okay having one part-time worker in the team, but if you have two or three it is really hard for the team to get together and have a team meeting once a week. But one can easily imagine a situation under superfast broadband in which it is possible for a member of that team to be brought into the conversation, to join the team meeting, maybe for just half an hour in order to be part of the team, and to improve their promotion opportunities at the workplace. It allows the opportunity for part-time workers to be far more integrated into the workforce than they have been before. It offers the potential for people, rather than burning up time and putting out all those CO2 emissions when they fly to a meeting interstate, to use superfast broadband be part of that meeting, to use that new communications infrastructure to have quick conversations with people in other states and to make their small, medium or large business even more productive.
I was at a forum in Gungahlin, in the growth heart of my electorate of Fraser. The questions the Gungahlin Community Council asked about NBN Co. were not, 'Why we are having it?' or, as the member for Wannon might have asked, 'Couldn't wireless do the job?' Those questions were not asked. They asked, 'When are we going to get superfast broadband and could we speed up the process?' They are enthusiastic about the opportunities it offers for improving economic growth and the standard of living in Gungahlin. They recognise that we should, as the member for New England once said so pithily: 'Do it once. Do it right. Do it with fibre.' They recognise, as the member for Wannon and many of those opposite do not, that wireless has saturation problems. It is all very well if you are the only person connected to the wireless signal—then the speeds might be alright. But as other people come onto the network, as we get the crowding that happens as more people join the network or the crowding that we get over the day as more people log on at peak times, then the network slows down, becomes congested and ceases to be effective. That is the real challenge of wireless. It is a fundamental technological point. I am always mildly surprised when those opposite seem to be unfamiliar with the simple idea that wireless signals have saturation problems. We on this side of the House are committed to a National Broadband Network which will transform Australia for the better and be a key economic reform which sits alongside the major economic reforms that the government is putting in place.
The bill before the House, the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Fibre Deployment) Bill 2011, will require developers that are constitutional corporations to install fibre-ready passive infrastructure—infrastructure that makes it possible to quickly install fibre networks. It requires passive infrastructure installed in new developments in the long-term NBN fibre footprint to be fibre ready. This of course is a common-sense reform, one that is important to have in place to ensure that as many Australians as possible are able to get access to the National Broadband Network. The legislation allows carriers to access fibre-ready passive infrastructure owned by non-carriers and provides for the ACCC to have a role as the default arbitrator. The legislation creates a power for the minister to specify, by legislative instrument, developments in which fixed lines must be optical fibre. Giving the minister that power will be important in ensuring that the fibre network works as well for Australians as it can. It will provide for exemptions from the requirements to install fibre-ready facilities for optical fibre lines, it will provide for ACMA to develop technical standards that will cover interoperability, performance standards, and design features for superfast broadband rollout.
This legislation is critical to the government's policy of rolling out the National Broadband Network. It will ensure early and less costly access to fibre based broadband for residents in new developments. New developments, of which I expect to have many in my electorate—Fraser having most of the growth suburbs in the ACT—will experience cheaper superfast broadband. Getting that superfast broadband will be absolutely critical to those new residents feeling that they are part of the fibre network, that they have the benefits of superfast broadband network and that they are part of a community.
I have doorknocked some of the outer suburbs of the Fraser electorate. I know that, sometimes when you are doorknocking a growth suburb, you get a sense of frustration from people. Whether it arises from the bus networks, the road networks or the electricity networks, the sense of frustration of those in growth suburbs is keenly felt. This legislation accepts that that is a real issue and it steps up to the plate. Through this legislation we are saying that residents of new developments should get access to superfast broadband and that they deserve access to superfast broadband, with the e-health, e-education and teleworking benefits that superfast broadband will provide. It will give us reduced costs for the deployment of fibre by access to non-carrier duct work, ensuring that, to the greatest extent possible, we can use existing ducts and pipes rather than having to dig new ducts. There is no point in digging up footpaths that do not need to be dug up. If there are ducts in place, we want to create the opportunities for NBN Co. to use those ducts. Of course, this bill is implementing measures announced almost two years ago. The financial impact is expected to be small and it will be met from NBN implementation funding. In conclusion, I stress that the legislation before the House today is very much of a piece with a set of reforms that the Gillard government is committed to. We are committed to making policy not for the snappy grab on the evening news but for the long game—long-term reform, not simplistic three-word slogans. Those long-term reforms contain things such as compulsory superannuation—superannuation that will provide retirement security for millions of Australians, ensuring that Australians have the security of knowing that they can retire in dignity. We are putting in place a set of education reforms that will transform productivity—reforms such as providing school accountability through the MySchool website, rewarding the best teachers through performance pay, moving to demand driven university funding, and providing trades training.
All of these root-and-branch reforms of the education system are about ensuring that in the long run we have an education system that delivers productivity, because we on this side of the House know that long-term growth in living standards comes fundamentally from long-term growth in productivity. That is why we are so committed to these productivity-enhancing reforms such as superfast broadband and education.
Climate change is, of course, another area in which we are committed to the long term. We listen to the scientists. We listen to the economists. Of course, when the Leader of the Opposition does not like what he hears from the scientists, he is willing to go out into crowds of sceptics carrying unusual placards. When he does not like what he hears from the economists—and he is, of course, yet to find a single economist who will back his scheme of so-called direct action rather than a market based mechanism and carbon pricing—he says, 'Maybe that reflects on the quality of the Australian economics profession.' My former co-author, Joshua Gans, who won the medal for the best Australian economist under 40 a couple of years ago, put it best on his blog when, in response, he said that, no, that actually reflects on the quality of Australian opposition leaders.
Those opposite are opposed to fundamental long-term reform in the area of climate change. They are concerned instead with slogans. We on this side of the House are concerned with the long game, with ensuring that we price carbon and make the steady transition to a low-emissions Australia. We are committed to the highway network of the 21st century—the National Broadband Network—laying down an infrastructure that will be as critical to future generations as the road network and the rail network are to ours, an infrastructure that those opposite will oppose now but, I suspect, will look back upon in their dotage and think: 'How did I do that? How did I find myself on the wrong side of that debate? What was I thinking in saying that Australia should be stuck in the slow lane of the information superhighway?' I commend the bill to the House.
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