NBN a shambles of the Coalition’s making

Published on Mon 1 August 2022 12:38pm

I find it astounding—astonishing—that, on the first Monday of a new parliamentary term, opposition members bowl up and want to talk about the NBN and what a great job they’ve done. It’s over cost, slow and absolutely awful, and, of course, we are now going back to the sensible plan, which was a fibre-rich network for the 21st century.

Mr Wilson (12:38pm) – There’s no doubt that the NBN needed to be the first and most significant major infrastructure investment program of the 21st century. It was the big missing piece when it came to national infrastructure in Australia, and it is a shambles. It’s been delivered in an awful, terrible, slow, expensive, substandard way. We essentially have a network that is obsolete on delivery. And I’m astounded to be standing here on the first Monday of a new parliamentary term, in the second week, to find that the motions being brought by the opposition include this one. I mean, you’d only do that if the general instructions were, ‘Let’s go and have debates on literally the small handful of the most terrible things we did over the last nine years,’ because it is just ridiculous. We had the new member for Casey saying that he didn’t think this parliament should be looking in the rear-view mirror. You can understand why the opposition would take that view; that’s in keeping with their new policy of mass collective amnesia about what’s passed over the previous nine years. People around the suburbs should keep watch over their wing mirrors, because rear-view mirrors, wing mirrors and everything else are at great risk under the approach of the opposition.

At the same time, we had the member for Sturt, who brought the motion, begin this debate by saying, ‘Let’s celebrate the 2013 election of the coalition government.’ Here we are—it’s a new parliament—and he kicked off this debate by saying, ‘Let’s celebrate.’ I don’t know how many rear-view mirrors are swinging in his office, but the member for Casey might want to go around and have a look. Some of them probably need to be collected.

What’s the reality? The reality is that we’re the 13th-largest economy in the world, but we’ve got broadband speeds that place us 60-something in the world. That’s the reality, right? The reality is that those opposite decided to abandon a plan for a fibre-rich network, using a 21st-century technology, and double down on 19th-century telephone copper wire. We became one of the largest purchasers of copper wire on the planet, because their approach to the NBN was akin to someone starting an airline by going around and trying to superglue wings onto a train. That’s more or less the approach that was taken by those opposite. The network that we have was obsolete on delivery. We have people in rural and regional Australia using satellite, sometimes fixed wireless, or literally driving from property to property to borrow the internet—just as you might go next door to borrow a cup of milk—because they need to do systems upgrades or need access to downloads for the sake of their children’s education. We have people in a seat like mine, the division of Fremantle, using satellite on the urban fringe of capital cities.

We have a plan, if that’s what it is, that was supposed to be $29 billion and delivered by 2016; it’s not complete now and is at $58 billion plus—a plan that involved an equity investment by the government but where the rest of the financing was supposed to come from the private sector. No-one in the private sector wanted to lend money to the NBN. The government stepped in and did that, so we’ve got this massively slow and over-budget exercise that has given Australia in the year 2022—we’re nearly a quarter into the 21st century—an absolute disaster of a broadband network. We know precisely what is required to enable families and households to participate in telehealth and tele-education—things that became even more important in the course of the pandemic—and we know the kind of speeds, networking and accessibility that businesses need to improve productivity and connect to the wider world, especially from an island continent. Yet we’ve got this disaster.

I find it astounding—astonishing—that, on the first Monday of a new parliamentary term, opposition members bowl up and want to talk about the NBN and what a great job they’ve done. It’s over cost, slow and absolutely awful, and, of course, we are now going back to the sensible plan, which was a fibre-rich network for the 21st century. Yet someone before—I think it was the member for Moncrieff—was suggesting that it’s the opposition, it’s the coalition, that cleans up the mess that the Labor Party makes. We are literally standing in the smouldering ruin. How on earth anyone from that side can make reference to a mess that needs cleaning up and not have a ridiculous grin on their face is beyond me, but that’s where we are. The NBN’s a disaster, and we’ll clean it up.

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