I am very pleased to move this motion today because it goes to the very heart of this government’s agenda for Canberra and for Canberra’s future. This Labor government recognises the importance of the digital economy.
Those on the other side of this chamber appear to be stuck in the past—on issues like the digital economy, public transport and climate change, as examples. They appear wedded to models of the economy, the community and our environment that seem stuck in the past and are resistant to embracing the opportunities of the future, to seizing these opportunities and leading our economy and community to a more sustainable, innovative and productive future.
It took a federal Labor government to develop the national broadband network. And it is taking this current Liberal government to bring it down. It is such a shame that we are bearing witness to the destruction of a nation-building project like the NBN under the watch of the Abbott and Turnbull government. But that is unfortunately exactly what is happening.
When there was a change in federal government in 2013 there were significant changes made to the NBN rollout plan. Under Labor, 93 per cent of homes and businesses would have got a super-fast version of the NBN that uses fibre optic cable to the home that delivered speeds of up to one gigabit per second, or a 100 megabits per second download speed. Federal Labor understood that the NBN is the new essential utility that people, homes, businesses and government need.
Instead, under the former communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, the coalition chose to run a fibre to the node scheme that promises speeds of just 25 megabits per second. Fibre to the node sees fibre-optic cables run along the street and terminate at a big box. The old copper network is then used to deliver service on what is known as the “last mile” to the house.
Unfortunately, even this second-rate NBN is rolling out slower than Mr Turnbull originally promised, and it is more expensive than he originally promised. The cost of the coalition’s NBN started out at $29.5 billion in April 2013, it blew out to $41 billion in December 2013, it increased again to $42 billion in August 2014 and recently it was announced that it will now cost up to $56 billion.
Earlier this month, as I have noted in the chamber before, I hosted a better broadband forum with the member for Fraser, Andrew Leigh, and shadow minster for communications, Jason Clare, at the Uniting Church auditorium in Gungahlin. It was a well-attended event with around 40 people coming out to talk about NBN rollout and connectivity issues at their homes, and in many cases their home businesses.
What became very clear at our forum was that Gungahlin, on the whole, does have a great advantage over the majority of Canberra. But even within Gungahlin there are streets and parts of suburbs that have been left behind. They are islands of non-connectivity.
Within the suburb of Casey approximately two-thirds of the suburb has an NBN connection, and the remainder are still waiting for any confirmation of when they will be connected. Nicholls residents, although knowing they are on the map, are getting mixed messages about what their eventual NBN will look like. Will it be fibre to the home or the slower, less effective fibre to the node?
Then there is the broader digital divide across Canberra. After the 2013 federal election the entire Canberra electorate was taken off the NBN map. There is particular frustration in parts of the Tuggeranong valley where existing services are extremely poor. Some still rely on ADSL1 technology. Telstra will not guarantee any minimum speed for some suburbs. And there is no fixed broadband available at all in Theodore, with most of this suburb relying on wireless 3G services.
The inconsistency of service, particularly throughout Canberra, means that those preferring or requiring fast and reliable broadband will gravitate to those areas where it can be accessed. Could this be one of the reasons we are seeing more people move into Canberra’s northern suburbs?
The really important point is: what does this digital divide mean? What it means is that those suburbs and regions without access or the means to move to an area with coverage can be at a real disadvantage—whether they be students researching for assessments, small businesses requiring large and fast downloads, or those incapacitated by age or disability hoping to access online consultations with health specialists from afar.
Attendees at my forum spoke of their frustration with the companies rolling out the infrastructure. Three residents of Dunlop in Belconnen spoke of their inability to even access ADSL through their existing copper network. And some residents of Casey expressed frustration that they were yet to be told when they could expect to be connected—when their neighbours just across the road are able to access the full benefits of the NBN.
That is why this motion today is so important. Broadband is considered by Labor to be an essential utility—like water or electricity. Labor’s national broadband network was designed to ensure high speed, reliable and affordable broadband and was available to every home in Australia so that everyone could be online at the same time, with no glitches or dropouts. It was great to see Canberra made one of the 19 designated early rollout sites, and I pay tribute here to our former senator, Kate Lundy. The initial rollout by NBN in Gungahlin under the former federal Labor government was one of the smoothest in Australia, and the take-up rates were amongst the highest across the country.
Australians generally are great early adapters to new technology, and I believe Canberrans love any new way to communicate and connect. Many of Canberra’s housing developers understood the value of the NBN for their developments, and the NBN rollout in greenfield sites across Canberra has been amongst the most successful in the country.
In addition, the initial rollout was supported by active program engagement from both the federal and ACT governments. The former Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, in partnership with the ACT government, supported delivery of a range of training and awareness-raising programs for businesses and households to help them grasp what the NBN fibre rollout meant and how they would be able to take advantage of this new, advanced network.
Many of the benefits of ubiquitous high speed broadband are with us now; others are only limited by our imagination. Some of the most common reasons for connecting to the NBN can include the need to study—perhaps live-streaming classes and lectures; running a small business from home; accessing the incredibly popular streaming processes like Netflix and Stan; and using cloud storage.
The NBN gives households multiple connections all at once so that an entire family can connect on multiple devices with high speed, quality connectivity; more efficient online shopping and banking; better quality videoconferencing and allowing people to communicate quickly and easily; access to home-based education and tutorials; and the ability to work from home—a fast and reliable internet connection allows genuine opportunity for people to work from home when they have access to broadband connections that equal the quality in their workplace.
Small business is of course a big winner when it comes to super-fast broadband. High speed broadband means our small business sector can access new markets and new opportunities. It can improve the online experience for customers, remove geographic barriers and increase access to market opportunities. It means more flexible working arrangements and the potential for new employment opportunities and connectivity with remote locations. And it means better cloud-based connectivity. Access to high speed broadband allows customers, suppliers, staff and stakeholders both remotely and in the office to communicate and engage on any connected device.
Small business can also benefit from a more reliable network, with the NBN fibre being much more reliable and more robust than our old copper infrastructure, which means fewer outages and less downtime. The NBN helps small business to be more interactive—businesses will be able to promote themselves using photos and videos over faster internet, with online shopping, graphics and video now integral to promoting products and services online.
Finally competition is enhanced because the NBN is a wholesaler and as such provides a level playing field for retail providers to work in competition with one another, meaning businesses and citizens will have the ability to choose their preferred service provider.
Here in Canberra—a public service town—it is also undeniable that better broadband would lead to better government. The NBN means government services can be faster and more efficient and digital services can be delivered to citizens as they live, work, learn and play. It creates a more connected community by creating new ways of engaging with democracy and participating in civil society through social media, flexible working arrangements and social inclusion.
Just yesterday I spoke about My Gungahlin. Mark Scarborough, of My Gungahlin, spoke at our NBN forum about his business, which plays a key role in connecting families, people and businesses in the Gungahlin community. He said it is highly unlikely his business could have grown and thrived as it has and connected people without access to the NBN.
Our digital economy can be much better supported, accelerating our ability to strengthen the workforce, boost productivity, build ICT capacity and facilitate collaboration. And it ensures a more open government, transforming health and education services, and providing information and services in a format and time that suits people’s needs.
Madam Speaker, this motion also calls on the ACT government to continue to invest in Canberra’s future through digital Canberra. The ACT government has long recognised the importance of digital technology to the territory’s economic growth and diversification. Accordingly, we have put in place a range of initiatives to maximise the many opportunities that will arise.
The NBN is a significant contributor, the essential utility, that allows us to take advantage of all the opportunities of the digital economy. The success of the CBR Innovation Network, which is fast becoming the go-to place for digital entrepreneurs, is reinforcing Canberra’s reputation as a sophisticated centre for ICT business creation and development. The network is now engaging with over 1,000 people and businesses per month on entrepreneurship and company development.
The government has also been active in service reform and my government, Access Canberra and iConnect are major initiatives helping us build a digital by default government—my government gives Canberrans the ability to engage directly with their local MLAs and on 31 August 2015 the ACT government’s twitter cabinet was broadcast live on the new Periscope platform, a world first.
Access Canberra is using technology to reduce red tape by increasing the provision of online services including payment of rates bills, licence renewals and a variety of government transactions. The ACT government’s digital Canberra challenge engages ACT innovators and SMEs to develop digital solutions for ACT government agency service challenges and is aimed at improving delivery of government services and programs to the community.
I am looking forward to watching the further rollout of our CBR free public wi-fi when it comes to our town centres including Gungahlin. CBR free is an important part of the ACT government’s commitment to Canberra’s future as a smart and digital city and is about ensuring everyone is able to share in the benefits that come with technology in a way that is free and accessible to all.
Regrettably the national rollout of the NBN has slowed considerably under the coalition government and in the ACT it has virtually stalled. The last NBN rollout update for the ACT was in December 2014, which detailed construction activity to June 2016. The last two media announcements by NBN during this year have been silent on any further ACT rollout. Chief Minister’s talkback on 666 ABC radio regularly receives inquiries from members of the public asking when the NBN will come to their suburb.
The success of the Gungahlin rollout addressed the poor quality telecommunications infrastructure in that population centre yet there remain pockets of low capability. Other Canberra suburbs simply do not even have ADSL quality infrastructure—areas such as Gleneagles estate, Monash and, as I mentioned earlier, Theodore. The Beard industrial estate was established with no telecommunications infrastructure and no immediate indication from NBN when such deployment may occur.
Earlier this month a Canberra Times article highlighted the inadequacy of the service in Casey, one of our newest suburbs. For the residents and businesses in these locations the rollout of the NBN is critical. No other telecommunications provider will make the investment to address their internet access and for them the delays are beyond frustrating. This basic lack of infrastructure prevents these areas taking full advantage of the capabilities of modern digital telecommunications, whether it be the ability to work from home, study from home or simply watch high definition digital television. I congratulate Labor’s federal members, Andrew Leigh for his advocacy for the Canberra’s north side and particularly Gai Brodtmann for her advocacy for Canberra’s south side to get better broadband services, and I encourage all southsiders to sign Gai’s petition to access the NBN.
Canberra is a city that embraces new technology and is a city that will thrive in the digital e-commerce space. It plays to our strengths: smart, connected, and forward looking. As the new Turnbull government lifts its language around being a 21st century government I call on the federal government to commit to a clear and comprehensive NBN rollout program for Canberra and deliver on this rhetoric. New communications minister Mitch Fifield will certainly have his work cut out for him to address these structural issues which obviously were neglected by Malcolm Turnbull who, although having the brief to destroy the NBN, at least rescued it somewhat from the former Prime Minister—but its new form remains a slower, more expensive, inferior infrastructure for our future. Canberrans deserve better.