MATTERS OF URGENCY;Broadband – 05 Mar 2014

When the Prime Minister visited Cadbury in Hobart prior to the election, he said it was unusual for a federal government to co-invest with a profitable company but that Tasmania is a special case. I agree: Tasmania is a special case. It is an island state heavily dependent on exports, and Tasmania has been hit hardest by the global financial crisis and high Australian dollar. But a decade ago, when the Tasmanian Labor government developed the backbone for our optical fibre network, they knew that Tasmania’s economic future lay in information and communications technology. The full fibre optic rollout of the National Broadband Network in Tasmania is vital to securing Tasmania’s economic future. Tasmanian Labor understands this; federal Labor understands this. The only ones who do not seem to understand it are the Liberal-National coalition, and yet they pretend to care about jobs.

Let me tell those opposite what will create jobs in Tasmania. In Tasmania, a state which is heavily dependent on primary industries, an organisation called Sense-T is developing the world’s first economy-wide sensor network. The data being gathered by the Sense-T project is increasing the productivity of farms, oyster growers, wineries and a variety of other businesses across Tasmania, and this is just one example of the economic and jobs potential that is possible with the speeds of Labor’s NBN—the real NBN, not the coalition’s fraud-band alternative.

Many Tasmanians, especially those engaged in the digital economy, understand the importance of high-speed broadband to create the jobs of the future. They understand Tasmania’s potential to be a leader, not just a passive participant in the digital economy. They understand that to be a leader we need fast broadband, and 25 megabits per second just is not going to cut it. They understand that if Mr Abbott is serious about his promise to create a million jobs in five years the full fibre-to-the-premise rollout in Tasmania is a good place to start. But Mr Abbott and his colleagues just do not get it.

When Mr Turnbull was appointed shadow communications minister, the riding orders from his party’s leaders were to demolish Labor’s NBN. Today, Mr Turnbull has executed those orders with distinction. Knowing that fast broadband is popular in Tasmania, those opposite, including Tasmanian Liberal senators, kept the coalition’s real agenda deliberately hidden before the federal election. Every time Senator Bushby or Mr Turnbull or any other Liberal member or senator was asked whether the full fibre rollout in Tasmania will be honoured, they could not give a straight answer. Instead, they said that existing contracts would be honoured. In the words of Senator Bushby: ‘If contracts are in place for the full fibre rollout, there will be no difference in who gets fibre to their home in Tasmania under Labor or Liberal.’ Those were obviously weasel words—a deception designed to give Tasmanians the impression that a full fibre rollout was a coalition election commitment. They deliberately misled Tasmanians into thinking that those who were in the optic fibre footprint under Labor’s NBN would have fibre delivered to their home. Then they had the temerity to accuse us of a scare campaign when we pointed out that 85,000 homes would miss out, and yet now it appears that the actual number will be much higher. What a joke; what a hoax from those on the other side; what a ruthless deception those opposite perpetuated against the Tasmanian people when they dashed one of the best hopes for our state’s social and economic future.

Tasmania’s opposition leader, Will Hodgman, said that this issue could cost him the election, and it should. State Labor has always offered unqualified support for the NBN. In fact, it was thanks to the work of the state Labor government that Tasmania became the first rollout site, whereas Mr Hodgman’s recent conversion to the full fibre rollout in Tasmania absolutely smacks of opportunism and political desperation. I know Mr Hodgman has found the road to Damascus, but I am not quite sure he is going to walk down it. You would want to be very, very careful: Tasmanians will not want to pay and should not have to pay because you made a promise to them before the federal election that they would have fibre to the home. My question to those opposite is: how much is it going to cost Tasmanians to get fibre from the node to the home? It will cost $5,000 or $6,000.

Tasmanian voters were conned and deceived by the coalition prior to last year’s federal election. I hope that Tasmanians do not allow themselves to be conned a second time. They should not be conned into thinking that the Abbott government’s agreement to run a trial of fibre to the home using aerial wiring is anything but a decoy to get their state colleagues through the next election.