I thank the member for Lyons for this important motion. I’m encouraged by the government’s budget commitment to improve the NBN, which is critical technology that has been substandard for far too long. But let me say ‘I am watching you’ because Australians should be able to connect to the internet no matter where they are. It is an essential service as vital as water, electricity or roads but for too long those in the regions, including in my electorate of Indi, have not received the fast, reliable internet that our city cousins are benefiting from. The promise originally was bold but the disappointment has been bitter.
Constituents frequently contact me about the woeful speeds of the NBN. These constituents are businesses, doctors, students, older people, younger people. The Mitta Mitta Brewing Company recently told me that on weekends the NBN is so slow it can completely drop out and they can’t use their EFTPOS machine. That’s a pub with free beer if you can’t charge the customer. We need to get this fixed. In Beechworth GP clinics installed NBN only to discover it is so unreliable that it becomes a health hazard when telehealth services constantly drop out. Constituents from Kinglake and Marysville, communities that were significantly impacted by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, contact me, fearing the next disaster event, when committees will struggle to stay informed and connected because the NBN speeds are just so poor.
One constituent contacted me only last month sharing her frustrations. She said this: ‘I feel the NBN service is extremely subpar here and well below what was promised. Not being able to join web-based hosting services not just affects my work but it potentially affects web-based learning because I’m a part-time university student and it affects my capacity with telehealth services, to name just a couple of vital things I need it for.’
Professor Ross Garnaut recently wrote in his book The Superpower Transformation that connectivity to internet services as a main hurdle standing in a way of low- and zero-emissions economic growth in rural Australia. This is particularly so for the farm sector, who, without connectivity, cannot take advantage of technologies dealing with weed spraying, renewable energy production or labour efficiencies. So, clearly, quality NBN is not just about streaming your favourite movie or playing a video game. A fast, reliable NBN is about health, education, jobs, food production and knowing what to do when the next bushfire happens.
Since my election, I have worked hard to offer solutions to this problem. In the last parliament, I introduced the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Faster Internet for Regional Australia) Bill 2022, and the purpose of the bill was simple: to ensure all regional Australians have access to fast, high-quality and reliable internet at the same standard our city cousins enjoy. The bill aimed to achieve this by establishing solid standards that the NBN and other companies who own and operate broadband infrastructure must meet to avoid facing financial penalties. Under the bill, the NBN must deliver a minimum of 25 megabits per second at all times of the day on average—not at three in the morning but all day. By comparison, right now constituents tell me the NBN in their houses serves up an average of 11 to 14 megabits per second. Sometimes it’s as slow as five megabits per second. And it’s not just in their houses; it’s in their businesses too.
People are usually shocked to learn that no internet standards like those I proposed in that bill exist right now. It’s quite shocking. What this means is that, in regional electorates like mine, there is no competition and there is no incentive for NBN to provide a high level of service. I recently met with the Minister for Communications to talk about improving standards for internet providers, and I look forward to working more closely with this government to enshrine in legislation—not in regulations but in legislation—the highest standards we should expect from statutory providers like the NBN.
In Indi we’ve also formed the Indi Telecommunications Advisory Group, which I’ve steered since 2019. It was established before me by my predecessor. This group comprises representatives from all of our local government areas and from the telecommunications companies, as well as citizens who are highly skilled in this area. We’ve developed community-led responses to connectivity issues like those we see in the NBN. It’s initiatives like these that show I can offer well-researched community-led solutions to work with NBN, because without good internet regional committees are held back from reaching their potential as the engine room of this nation.