Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (09:54): After listening to the shadow minister, I must say that was a very glass-half-empty summation of the National Broadband Network. We have actually come a very long way here in Australia. I don’t want to spend the whole of my allotted time going back through a potted history of this, but when we arrived in government the contractor that had been engaged to roll out the National Broadband Network in my home state of South Australia had actually gone through the hoop, as they had also done in Western Australia. The place was in shambles. It was the incoming Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who originally said he would roll out a National Broadband Network for $4 billion. In that period, $2 billion was actually collected that had been set aside in the Telecommunications Future Fund for future telecommunications purposes in regional Australia. There have been a lot of cost blowouts along the pathway. It’s been left to this government to pick up the pieces and plough on and get this job done. The NBN is largely complete now. Certainly it is complete in my electorate of Grey, where around 50 per cent of premises have access to the National Broadband Network. Other premises, for all kinds of reasons, have not made that move yet. Some were happy with the arrangements that were in place before, and some are happy with receiving their network connection via their mobile phone services. There are a plethora of things in that space.
Of course, as this rollout has gone along, the technologies have been moving very quickly. We are all watching very carefully what is happening with the rollout of the 5G network, which is, of course, another private network which will be competing at the top end. There’s a lot of interest in my part of the world in the launch of a new satellite system. New low, polar-orbiting satellites are likely to provide yet another platform for the distribution of telecommunications across the world. Perhaps in the next six, eight or 10 years that technology may even fill in all the spots where we have mobile phone difficulties now. It is a fast moving space. There’s a lot of investment that is at risk here and, as always, there is the risk of technologies being overtaken in time.
There are no simple answers when it comes to rolling out the NBN network, but I’d have say that in my electorate it’s been pretty successful. I think you can probably monitor the way government policies and achievements are interacting with the community by the feedback that comes into our local members’ offices. I can certainly tell you that in the early days of the NBN rollout we were getting a lot of people contacting my office, particularly from the areas where satellite is the platform that provides the connection to my constituents. But, as the satellite has improved its performance and as the size of the packages have been ramped up and prices have come down, I get less and less contact, almost on a daily basis. We are just not hearing the general public complaining about the NBN. So when I hear the shadow minister stand up and list her grievances I wonder how hard she had to work to find them, quite frankly, because it isn’t the kind of feedback I’m getting at ground level. I think part of the skill of being a member of parliament is being able to assess public opinion by the feedback you’re getting in your offices. Neither am I hearing it being raised around party room backbench committees as one of the key problems that we’re facing with telecommunications in Australia. More often than not, we are still discussing black spots when it comes to mobile phone networks. That seems to be of more interest to my constituents than their ability to connect to the internet.
The Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, an organisation that I’ve had quite a bit to do with on an ongoing basis, have reported that people’s lives have been changed by the satellite connections that are now available for School of the Air students. That’s a great development. Even when I was in opposition I said that the purchase of the two new satellites specifically for the purpose of rolling out the NBN to remote Australia was one of the real pluses of what the previous administration, the Labor Party, had done. I thought that was the part of the NBN network they actually did get right. It was delivered pretty much on budget and on time and, after those teething problems, has really been put to work.
Coming to the essence of the legislation before us today, the amendment, I have had contact over time with people who have purchased land in new developments only to find that it’s their job to get the NBN connected. Why on earth wasn’t the hardware already in the ground so they didn’t have to go through the expensive process of bringing it a long distance to their block? Of course, the existing legislation allows for incorporated bodies—these are the larger developers—to be caught up in the compulsion to do so. But there is the smaller end of the game—the unincorporated, somebody who might have a block. It might be a builder who has a block of land and decides to subdivide it into five or 10 different allotments and then starts selling them off and perhaps putting spec homes on them. This has been a hole in the system, so it makes sense that we should move at this time to fix up that anomaly. Anybody buying a house in a greenfield site would expect, almost without asking the question—in fact, certainly without asking the question—that they would have reasonable access to the NBN network. So buying their land only to find out that they might be challenged with laying a kilometre of pipe work to get it to their block comes as an enormous shock. It’s something that needs to be fixed, and I congratulate the minister for getting on with the job. Really, it’s the nuts and bolt of government.
Now, the opposition have moved an amendment to this, but, when push comes to shove, I expect that they will support this because it makes sense. Their amendment is couched more in terms of scoring a political point. I guess that happens on a regular basis in this place, but actually we should focus on what it is we’re trying to achieve here. I’m pleased with the changes. I think it will do what it needs it do. I’m pleased with the NBN rollout. I’m pleased that it’s largely complete across Australia. I’m certainly pleased that it’s complete across my patch, and there have been announcements made for the upgrading of both Whyalla and Port Lincoln to a fibre network in the parts of those cities that are requiring higher speeds. That was always a likely development of the rollout of the NBN. Rather than poke fibre down every road, as had been the initial plan, the plan is actually to upgrade the sections when the need is identified. On any level, overbuilding for something that may never be used because it may be superseded by a later technology has some risk in it, and we’ve managed to avoid those risks.
I think that, given the state of the rollout that we faced when we came to government, our government has made a very fair fist of getting the NBN network rolled out across Australia. I’m pleased with it. I’m pleased with this legislation. I’m very happy to support it.