Shayne Neumann MP
Federal Member for Blair

Australian Labor
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THE MTM: MALCOLM TURNBULL’S MESS

11/10/2016

GRIEVANCE SPEECH - HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES - FEDERATION CHAMBER

E&OE

Deputy Speaker, I feel aggrieved. Many residents in the electorate of Blair, reaching through most of Ipswich and all of the Somerset Region of south-east Queensland, also feel aggrieved in terms of telecommunications. They were promised fast broadband and an affordable NBN by the Abbott Turnbull government and it has not delivered.

The former Prime Minister, the member Warringah, and the current Prime Minister, the member for Wentworth, promised in April 2013: Under the Coalition’s NBN all premises will have access to download speeds 25mbps to 100mbps by the end of 2016.

All premises by the end of 2016 - well, that is not going to happen.

In fact, in my electorate office this morning, my staff could only achieve a download speed of 3.4 megabits per second. I think we can agree that, in spite of it just being over three months away, the Government has no way of fulfilling that promise -another broken promise by the Abbott Turnbull government.

We have come to expect failure in relation to the NBN and telecommunications. It is no wonder telecommunications and stakeholders are in uproar because this Prime Minister was the former Minister for Communications.

 

The so-called NBN network remains hit and miss. Why? This Government was too arrogant to continue Labor's fibre-to-the-premises broadband rollout. Instead, they took us back in time, to ancient days technologically, by trying to convince the country that fibre and copper could work just as well and for a lot less money.

What we have instead is not an NBN but a Multi-Technology mess, or Malcolm Turnbull's mess - an MTM.

The cost has skyrocketed. The pace of rollout has slowed to lower than the download speeds that most Australians would expect and have in their own homes.

NBN Co has confirmed what we all knew, that the HFC network was a lemon. It paid $800 million for the Optus HFC network, and when the now Prime Minister was the Minister for Communications, he travelled the country lecturing anyone who had inadvertently caught his eye of the virtues of this Multi-Technology Mess. They spent over $1 billion on maintaining the old copper network and now they have ditched it for – wait - fibre optic cable.

Five months earlier, the current Minister for Communications was heralding this fibre-to-the distribution point or fibre to the kerb as “fantasy fibre”. But those 700,000 customers connected to the Optus HFC network are now going to have fibre to the kerb. In October 2014, the now Prime Minister told Parliament one of the biggest changes he was making in relation to the NBN would be upgrading the HFC network to ensure that everyone gets very fast broadband but at a much lower cost. Now they have junked it.

Those of us on the sensible side of this place understand that decent broadband is essential for conducting business in 2016. It is essential for communicating and staying in touch with the fast-paced world in which we live.

It is necessary for young people, studying, researching and learning.

It is critical for job seekers.

It helps people be connected and reduces social isolation.

It allows technological advances to support those people with disability, older Australians and those living with dementia.

The internet-of-things is providing incredible opportunities for those people living with security, dignity and opportunity problems. We are a nation in transition, which is why Labor in Government invested in the largest piece of nation-building infrastructure ever - a National Broadband Network.

The Prime Minister's second-rate NBN has divided communities in my electorate. There are suburbs where, on one side of the street, people have Labor's NBN, and across the same road there are residents who rely on the copper network of the last century - a Multi-Technology Mess. Essentially, we have digital divisions in streets, suburbs, regions and country areas in my electorate. Looking at the rollout plan, large chunks of my electorate will remain neglected. They are not slated for anything in the near future.

The Government, in its arrogance, dumped Labor's plan to roll out fibre to the premises. The cost is double. Instead of being $29.5 billion as the coalition promised in Opposition, this Government has seen a massive blowout in projected costs, to about $56 billion. They talk about a budget emergency - it is one they have created through their own mismanagement. This second-rate broadband is taking twice as long to build, and it will not be done by the end of 2016 - that is for sure.

We have seen this nation drop from 30th to 60th in the world in internet speed rankings. We are not keeping up as a country. We know that fast broadband will help create jobs, and the MTM is preventing businesses in Blair from transitioning to the future economy.

Reliable broadband is not a luxury in Blair, where devastating floods in 2011 and 2013 cut off individuals and communities for weeks at a time. Floodwaters have tormented the old copper network in remote areas of my electorate, the northern areas of the Somerset and places like Moore, Linville and Toogoolawah, for example.

This brings me to a related area of telecommunications. In February this year, I wrote to the Minister for Communications, Senator Fifield, about the Mobile Black Spot Program. While I was pleased to see funding allocated to residents living in Moore and the Somerset Dam, I was extremely disappointed that this vital technology upgrade was not made a priority. I visit these communities regularly and I know from firsthand experience the dearth of mobile coverage.

Most parts of Moore and the Somerset Dam simply have no mobile reception. It is not poor or unreliable; it does not exist. In 2016, just a couple of hours from Ipswich, residents cannot make mobile calls or send text messages. It means that parents cannot contact children. In particular, these areas that I mention are only about an hour or an hour and a half away from Ipswich. Drivers on isolated roads cannot call for roadside assistance if they get into trouble. During times of natural disaster, residents cannot contact loved ones, let alone emergency services.

In Moore and Linville during the 2011 floods, individual residents went door-to-door checking on the elderly and making sure prescriptions were filled. They then had to make their way to the fire station to radio for supplies, assistance and medications. You see, the copper landline had been washed away, and mobile service was non-existent.

You can imagine how disappointed I was as the local Member that neither Moore nor the Somerset Dam had made it in the first six-month rollout schedule for black spot funding. It could be another two and a half years before these isolated communities see mobile coverage. It is unacceptable. By then the Mobile Black Spot Program will have been another failure, something overpromised and under-delivered on. This government's independent auditors slammed this program, claiming it was 'beset by weaknesses and provided poor value for money'.

Many of those Opposite campaigned on the back of this program in 2013 and in 2016, claiming a Turnbull Government was going to fix the mobile black spots and bring mobile coverage to the regions. What happened was that 80 per cent of funding went to Coalition electorates and just seven per cent went to Labor electorates. It is worse than pork-barrelling. The Australian National Audit Office found that one in five mobile phone towers funded in the first round provided little or no new mobile coverage. Funds were used to help win campaigns - if I might put it like that - but delivered nothing, in effect.

The program was clearly not aimed at improving mobile coverage in the bush or regions. It was about helping Coalition candidates win seats. Even then, they could not be delivered.

I am aggrieved. In the second half of 2016, most residents in my electorate of Blair will not have access to world-class broadband. Worse than that, they cannot access mobile telecommunications services and phone coverage - no broadband, no mobile phone coverage and up to two or three hours away from Brisbane. How do those people living in Ipswich and the Somerset region compete in a global economy?

There are young people in my electorate who do not have the opportunities that the member for Wentworth, the Prime Minister, has for the young people in his electorate. Young people in the regions, older people in rural communities, and families in small regional towns - they are the ones who have been failed by the Government's failure in telecommunications.

It is time this Government had a look at itself in relation to this area. We have an 11 per cent gap in digital inclusion between city and regional Australia, and that is on top of the lower wages earned by those living in regional Australia. Digital divide has a snowballing effect - those with the best access to technology and telecommunications can compete, stay up to date and, potentially, earn more. Those Opposite call themselves the voice of regional Australia, but this Government's second-rate broadband, the MTM, and its blackspot blunders have widened the digital divide.

They have to do far better, and it is about time they did better in terms of telecommunications for the people of Blair.

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