National Broadband Network – Government Failure


Peter Khalil: As a federal member of parliament, I occasionally receive updates from private providers about the delivery of essential services in my electorate, and during November I received such a letter from Telstra. The letter informed me that ADSL exchanges in the suburb of Fawkner, in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, are currently at full capacity and, as a result, some residents have been unable to access fixed broadband service at their home or business. While Telstra have informed me they will endeavour to resolve the ADSL availability crisis in Fawkner as soon as possible, it struck me as extremely disturbing that even a best-case scenario for the families that live there and the businesses that work there will merely result in them receiving a standard of connection that reached obsolescence near the turn of the millennium, 18 years ago. They will be increasingly unable to cope with modern online services.

I wrote about this issue in an opinion piece for the Moreland Leader, the local newspaper, the week after receiving the letter, which induced an inundation of complaints from frustrated people in similar situations, both from my electorate and elsewhere in the country. Without access to a fixed broadband service, they are forced to use a cellular wireless service, which is not suitable for all applications, particularly not for commercial use. In some cases, there are people relegated to dial-up internet. It should be plain to everyone in this place how unacceptable that is. Broadband internet—I would hope those opposite agree—is no longer considered a luxury item.

A US government Broadband Opportunity Council report from January this year described broadband as having taken its place alongside water, sewerage and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities. The situation is no different in Australia, with so many of our affairs now being conducted online. Virtually everything is done online. Banking, filing a tax return, Medicare or Centrelink paperwork—which is actually online—or even applying for a job are now approaching the point of being impossible without access to a computer and access to internet. With an increasing number of essential services and communications moving online, the challenge for us is to make the Australian internet more inclusive, and this is becoming far more urgent.

The purpose of making these comments today is not to have a go at Telstra for the issue of no expansion of their technology in that particular suburb of Fawkner, or for the fact they are expanding an obsolete technology as a back-up. It is to yet again highlight the desperate need of this government to get the rollout of the national broadband network under control. While the suburb of Fawkner is one of the more egregious examples of this government’s failure—indeed, pretty much all the northern suburbs in my electorate have suffered from a lack of rollout and are on ADSL and are really struggling with their connections—it’s this government’s failure to deliver essential infrastructure where it’s desperately needed which is having the greatest impact.

There is nowhere in this country where the benefits that flow from modern broadband connectivity would not be felt. It is in the national interest for the government to get the NBN right, to get the project under control, and to get it rolled out uniformly to the whole nation. We remember the Prime Minister famously proclaiming before the last election that the government would deliver the NBN to all premises by the end of 2016. It is now close to the end of 2017. We remember when those opposite broke that promise they made to Australia. We are a full year after that. They’ve let the nation down. We are still waiting for the NBN rollout to be completed. Meanwhile, the project is plagued with cost blowouts, delays and rising dissatisfaction from people who are connected, as connection quality slips and consumers suffer.

I hear the member for Leichhardt muttering about it. I’m sure there are people in his electorate who are not getting the NBN and who need the NBN for their businesses and for their work. I’m sure there are many people. In fact, I might give him the statistics so he can have a look at how many people in his electorate have been let down by his government. Many people do not have even the slightest indication of when they will be receiving the NBN. In the final sittings of 2016, I spoke in this place to highlight how the failure was having a very real impact on homes and businesses in my electorate—as you do as a member. I’m here today saying many of the same things I said a year ago, and I don’t want to be saying them again a year from today. You need only ask residents in the south of my electorate, who actually received the first-rate fibre-to-the-premises NBN under the previous Labor government, about the benefits that should be delivered to everyone.