Federation Chamber, March 6 2023

Dr HAINES (Indi) (19:24): I thank the member for Werriwa for this important motion. In 2013, the then independent member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, spoke in this very chamber about the ageing and poorly maintained copper-wire network for NBN in our electorate. Today, almost 10 years on, here we are, still talking about the copper networks. Dissatisfied, disadvantaged and disconnected, that’s how our Strathbogie Shire in my electorate of Indi and its residents feel about the NBN. Fibre is only available in two towns and then only to some. Most of the residents rely on fixed wireless and satellite. The mobile phone system and NBN alike face congestion, slower speeds and dropouts.

The NBN rollout has been disappointingly slow. If ever there was a case of overpromise and under-deliver, it has to be the NBN, most especially for rural, regional and remote Australians. In 2020, the Morrison government, however, announced that the NBN was complete. Well, we knew that nothing could be further from the truth. Even where people have an NBN connection, there’s absolutely no guarantee that they’ll get what they pay for. Broadband providers often advertise speeds which do not match what the customers actually receive. We knew in 2020, when that announcement was made of the completion of the NBN, and we know now, that NBN service levels of 25 megabits per second are considered to have been met if a user’s connection reached that speed just twice a day. We knew then, as we know now, that the standard of 19 days to provision a new service in regional Australia and up to three days to fix a network fault are too slow to attract businesses to regional areas.

So, when I introduced the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Faster Internet for Regional Australia) Bill 2022, I hoped it would establish ambitious standards for NBN and other service providers who own and operate broadband infrastructure so that they must meet service standards or face serious financial penalties—standards such as an average minimum speed of 25 megabits per second.

We cannot accept another government putting regional communities in the too-hard basket. Programs such as the Regional Co-Investment Fund were established by the former government to improve satellite or fixed wireless NBN connections, including upgrading both fibre to the premises and supporting higher speeds. This $300 million fund operates on a co-investment model, where governments stump up funding alongside NBN Co where investment would be subcommercial.

However, smaller local councils have sounded the alarm that they are most disadvantaged by this system. Their low ratepayer base limits their ability to co-fund this new infrastructure. When customers choose to explore other possibilities under the Technology Choice Program, it’s not uncommon for them to be quoted a $330 fee. One constituent in the town of Bright in my electorate was quoted over $19,000 for infrastructure installation to get fibre to the premises. We are talking about a service we have already paid for through our taxes. Why are we being asked to pay for it again?

On top of this, last week a government discussion paper revealed that the NBN Co chief executive, Stephen Rue, was paid almost $700,000 in bonuses for the last financial year. Three NBN executives collectively received more than $1 million in bonuses during the same period—and these are bonuses; this isn’t even their annual salary! By comparison, if the NBN were to be delivered to every one of the 494 households in little Violet Town in my electorate, a community who has no fibre network at all, it would cost about $2.2 million for fibre to the premises or $1.2 million for fibre to the node. In other words, it would cost about the same amount to finally give every household in Violet Town the NBN as it would to give four NBN executives their annual bonuses.

I appreciate that the current government has recognised the shortfalls that have resulted from the previous policies on the NBN rollout, but I’m calling on this government to really do something concrete, remedy these failures and make meaningful improvements that will prepare us for the future and bring us what we need today: excellent speeds and reliable service in rural, regional and remote Australia.

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