National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 – Second Reading

I rise to speak in support of the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 introduced by the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull. I support this bill because the residents of my electorate of Bonner support access to fast, affordable broadband. Availability of and access to broadband services is arguably one of the most contentious and frustrating issues for the residents of Bonner. Many residents-especially those who live in the suburbs of Mackenzie, Wakerley, Gumdale, Ransome, and parts of Wynnum-Manly and Carindale-do not have access to any broadband, let alone faster broadband. The majority of those households do not care about the politics of the situation; all they want is to be able to access the internet reliably, quickly and, most importantly, at a reasonable and competitive price. What they do not want is to wait for up to eight years for technology and service that may be well out of date and, at the same time, is likely to contribute significantly to Australia’s debt burden.

That is why I support this bill, which requires the publication of a 10-year business case for the NBN and, even more importantly, refers the NBN project to the Productivity Commission for a thorough cost-benefit analysis. As others on this side of the chamber have noted, this is not a delaying tactic or an attempt to hold back the NBN. It is simply an attempt to establish the facts and allow an impartial body to assess whether or not this investment-the largest investment of taxpayers’ funds in infrastructure in our history-is a good idea.

I know that there is growing pressure amongst the business community for the government to undertake a thorough cost-benefit analysis of the NBN project. But, closer to home, my constituents constantly remind me that every dollar that this government spends belongs to the taxpayers of Australia. The coalition is beholden to the community to act as responsible guardians for every cent of taxpayers’ money, given that the government has repeatedly refused to undertake a cost-benefit analysis of this NBN project. This government has even refused to refer the NBN to its own, newly-created, specialist infrastructure agency, Infrastructure Australia. The organisation created by this Labor government, and tasked with developing a blueprint for modernising the nation’s transport, water, energy and communications infrastructure, has been refused the ability to scrutinise the biggest infrastructure investment in our nation’s history.

The Productivity Commission is strictly nonpartisan, and is the best possible organisation to ask what the implications of this project are going to be. It is staffed by experts who understand economics but also understand the importance of factoring in non-financial costs and benefits, such as spillovers from and the social consequences of various policy choices. It is astonishing to the coalition and, particularly, to the residents of Bonner that a government is proposing to spend so much money with so little consideration or analysis-particularly when this is against the backdrop of the waste and inefficiency that has been the hallmark of other Labor projects like the home insulation debacle, the green loans scheme, and the Building the Education Revolution school halls fiasco.

An encouraging example of a broadband project that has undertaken a cost-benefit analysis can be found in my home town of Brisbane, where the Lord Mayor of Brisbane and the Brisbane City Council are working with international technology firm i3 Asia-Pacific to facilitate the rollout of a fibre-optic network that has the potential to deliver broadband faster and more effectively than the NBN. I am looking forward to working with the lord mayor to ensure that this exciting alternative proposal is given the full support that it deserves.

Nevertheless, this government’s NBN is going to be an eight-year, $43-billion project. Surely it deserves a rigorous cost-benefit analysis. It would be morally reprehensible and beyond financial recklessness for this parliament not to pass legislation for this government to allow the Productivity Commission-an independent and expert source of advice on economic and regulatory issues-to make an assessment of this investment. The public deserves to know that their money has been well spent. Our economy cannot afford another BER debacle.

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