Paul Fletcher MP

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Matters of public importance: Broadband

Parliamentary Speeches Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Well, here we go again—yet again we have the shadow minister maintaining the tradition of being a Labor shadow minister for communications and continuing to assert, in the face of the gathering evidence, that the rollout is going badly. When the light of broadband availability is spreading across the land, it falls to the Labor shadow minister to look for gloom.

Let's remind ourselves of Labor's history of trying to claim in the parliament something that was quite at odds with the reality. Their preferred tool for doing that is a matter of public importance debate. On 17 September 2015, the member for Blaxland, who was then the shadow minister, brought forward the topic: 'The Prime Minister's mismanagement of the National Broadband Network'. At that point, 1,291,635 Australians were able to connect. He was at it again on 21 October 2015, with 'the Prime Minister's second-rate NBN'. By that time, the number of Australians who were able to connect had risen to 1,374,408.

By 10 February this year he tried again, with 'the Prime Minister is failing Australians with his second-rate NBN'. Of course, the numbers continued to show an inexorable rise in the number of people who could be connected. At that point it was 1,719,122. On 3 May—remarkably, on budget day—Labor chose to raise the NBN as their brilliant wheeze as a topic for the matter of public importance debate. Then it was 'the government's failure to deliver on the NBN for Australians' when, by that time, the numbers had risen to 2,428,606. So we see that, as Labor continues to insistently deny reality, what is happening is that the numbers of people who can connect are rising steadily, strongly and inexorably due to the fact that we have a competent government that is competently delivering the rollout of this complex infrastructure project.

The member of Blaxland was delighted, I am sure, to finally be relieved of this smelly dead cat of a portfolio and to hand it to the member for Greenway. And she has been continuing to try to assert in some Stalinist fashion the alternative reality, which is at odds with the truth and at odds with what is actually happening. By 11 October the number of premises that could connect had risen to 3,207,727. So that inexorable, relentless, continuing rise in the number of people who can get the National Broadband Network has been continuing even while the member opposite, the shadow minister, has been trying desperately to assert that reality is at odds with what the numbers, what the reality, what the empirical observations, tell us. And today she is at it again, untroubled by the empirical evidence. She does not mind. She is not interested in what the numbers say; she is going to turn a blind eye to that and she is going to put forward the proposition of 'the government's latest failures on the NBN', while the number of premises that can connect now stands at 3,426,350.

We can only conclude that there is some kind of Labor shadow communication minister version of the prayer which is the opposite of the prayer of St Francis of Assisi: Where there is light, let me look for darkness; where there is progress, let me assert problems; where there is a network being rolled out with the numbers steadily and relentlessly increasing, let me in an increasingly desperate and, frankly, somewhat unhinged way, assert the existence of an alternative reality; let me clutch at the day-to-day vagaries of a massive project and claim that they show—to quote from her media release—'the government is in absolute disarray'. The position is absolutely the opposite of that.

We are seeing a steady, relentless, continuing increase in the number of people who can connect. Those numbers are reported on the company's website every week. The company has repeatedly said that it is on track, and its performance is backing up what it is saying: that, by the end of June 2017, half of all premises, 5.4 million, will be able to access the NBN, and it will be three-quarters of all premises in Australia by the end of June 2018. That builds on a steady increase in the number of premises—by the end of 2014, 604,000; by the middle of 2015, 1,166,000; by the middle of 2016, 2,893,000—and now, as I have recently informed the House, 3,426,350 premises are now able to access the National Broadband Network.

The claims of the Labor Party would be absurd even if they started with a blank slate, but we know they do not. The Labor Party, when it comes to the National Broadband Network, starts with a record of delivery that is one of the great displays of policy and execution incompetence in the history of the Commonwealth. The rank ineptitude of the other side of this House when it comes to the question of the National Broadband Network will still be studied in case studies in schools of business and government in 2030 or 50 years' time.

Let us not forget that what Labor proposed in the 2007 election was that there was going to be a national broadband network; it was going to be a 12 megabit per second network; it was going to deliver fibre to the node to 98 per cent of premises; and it was going to cost $4.7 billion and the private sector was going to pay for half of it. None of that got delivered. In a display of rank ineptitude, they managed to completely fail to hold a competitive selection process and, in 2009, they were forced to admit that they could not do it.

So then we had a new plan: the $43 billion fibre-to-the-premises model which was announced in a lather of excitement, and of course we were told that the private sector was still going to invest—'Don't worry; the private sector is still going to invest in the National Broadband Network.' And guess what? That did not happen. The implementation study, which was dropped out in the dead of night in May 2010, disclosed that the private sector advisers to the then Labor government, KPMG and McKinsey, said: 'The private sector is not going to touch this with barge pole.' And guess what? It turned out to be 100 per cent government funded.

And now it turns out that these geniuses in corporate finance presume to come in and lecture to this government about the financing structure of the National Broadband Network. What an extraordinary proposition after their rank display of incompetence and ineptitude over the six years in which they were in government. Let us not forget that then Prime Minister Rudd urged Australian mums and dads to invest through Australian infrastructure bonds. That did not happen either—and we should be very relieved that it did not, because that would have been a spectacularly poor piece of financial advice.

So this Labor opposition's track record when it comes to corporate finance, when it comes to the finance structure underpinning the National Broadband Network, is a track record that any rational person would be acutely embarrassed by, and you certainly would not be returning to the topic in some Pavlovian fashion week after week, month after month, as if you wanted to remind the Australian people of the gross display of incompetence and lack of credibility on this topic that manifests when it comes to the Labor Party and the National Broadband Network.

And now the shadow minister is in a lather of indignation, because we have said that, in addition to the cap of $29.5 billion on equity funding from the taxpayer into the National Broadband Network, there will be debt finance. We have consistently said that there will be debt finance. The company said just last week that it was very encouraged by the indicative credit ratings it had received from the credit agencies. We are confident, as the Minister for Finance said, that we could have raised private sector debt, but what we have chosen to do at this stage is raise the debt from the government. Why? Because it is cheaper. It is a very simple reason: it saves money for taxpayers. This is a financing strategy which saves money for taxpayers. This debt will be subsumed by the private sector within a few years. This is a rational, cost-effective strategy to maximise the best outcome when it comes to the National Broadband Network.

The proposition that the Labor Party, who delivered such a spectacularly inept display and skulked out of government with barely 50,000 people connected to the National Broadband Network, should presume to lecture this government—the proposition that they should be sufficiently irrational as even to raise this topic—is frankly quite extraordinary. You have a clear contrast: on this side of the House you have a government who are systematically and steadily rolling out the National Broadband Network, this complex project which we inherited in absolute disarray; on the other side of the House you have a party who have a hopeless track record of delivery. When it comes to NBN, they have a lot to be ashamed of.

Authorised by Paul Fletcher MP, Level 2, 280 Pacific Highway Lindfield NSW 2070.

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