National Broadband Network in WA

HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [10.45 am]: I rise to speak in support of the motion. I am very
concerned that our state government is not supporting this proposal by the federal government to provide this very
important, long-term telecommunications infrastructure in this state.

This is a gift from the federal government to provide this essential infrastructure. I think it is very short-sighted of this government to not perceive this as a once only opportunity to take us into the future. I am very disappointed about this backward looking proposal that the federal coalition has put up.

This proposal has been described by a colleague of mine as “Bits of wire held together by pieces of string”. That is the counter proposal that the Tony Abbott team has given us.

This proposal for a national broadband network has been examined by a Senate inquiry. That inquiry has put in a lot of effort. It is a shame that this issue is being politicised at the very last minute into this lowest common denominator.

The Senate committee discovered that this essential infrastructure is necessary in this state’s economic powerhouse of the Pilbara, Port Hedland and the Shire of Roebourne. That economic powerhouse currently relies totally on dial-up and the occasional wireless access. This is very important essential communications infrastructure for this state.

That is what this national broadband network can give us. But I am not talking only about that, members. Between 25 per cent and 30 per cent of homes in Western Australia currently have no access to the internet. Those homes will be serviced by this infrastructure. Therefore, this is a very welcome proposal. The Greens participated in the Senate inquiry. During the inquiry, the Greens raised the issue of the geographic and socioeconomic digital divide.

Probably the only state that illustrates that apart from our own state of Western Australia is Queensland. Western Australia and Queensland are the two states that are powering our national economy. It is, therefore, appropriate that these two states should be provided with this infrastructure.

We can learn some very interesting things from an article in The West Australian today by Mal Bryce. Mal Bryce is a former Deputy Premier of this state. He established Scitech. He established Technology Park in Bentley. He also, as I am sure members will remember, established the Small Business Development Corporation. This is a man whose opinion is highly valued. I know not about his scientific qualifications.

But I do know that when Mal Bryce talks about science and internet technology, his views should be heeded. He states in this article — Australia will gain significantly through global competitiveness, increased productivity, a major stimulus to innovation, the online content revolution, the transformation of health and education service delivery, — Which is extremely important in those regions that our national colleagues are looking after so well —
the prospects of a low-carbon future and enriched opportunities for community development.

That is in a nutshell what this national broadband network will offer to Western Australia. It is remiss of us not to
support it strongly.

I do not understand why the Nationals will not get on board with this proposal. As I have mentioned, the Nationals
have a focus on providing services for regional economies. Why would they not support providing fibre optics to
those regional communities that are the most disadvantaged because of their distance from our city infrastructure?

This will connect them not just to the City of Perth, where they can apply for their driver’s licence more quickly or
whatever, but also to the international global economy that we are now intricately connected with. The kids who are
growing up in rural Western Australia have a chance at a future in this global economy if they can just link in, and
that is what this proposal for a national broadband network gives us.

The Greens have worked constructively with the government on this proposal, and they will continue to do that if the
Australian Labor Party is returned to government, to ensure that the national broadband network, which as Hon Liz
Behjat rightly acknowledges is a substantial investment in our future, remains in public hands.

That substantial investment and the infrastructure that it will deliver to us should remain in public hands and should not be sold off as Telstra was. It should remain in public hands and we will work, if the ALP is elected, to ensure that it remains there and is not sold off, because this is going to be very important infrastructure for the future of Australia.

We have also proposed that the government undertake a public interest test if it is considering such a move. If we
look at how the ALP government in the national arena has worked in the instigation of the Senate inquiry to consider exactly how a national broadband network can help us, we will see that that flavour is already there. We welcome that commitment to look at all points of view. Much of industry has participated in that inquiry and made significant contributions to what is now being put forward as a policy by the ALP.

It is also important to note that we are continuing to support extra consumer protection. That will be important, because users will need to have some protection when this broadband is rolled out.

That is the view that the Greens are taking. I am really concerned that our state government is not considering it as a boon for us that we can roll this out to our constituents at federal cost. I welcome Hon Kate Doust’s suggestion that we bring this to the attention of the citizens of Western Australia, because it is a very important issue. People will have to decide at the polls on Saturday which way they want to go.

Do they want the very substandard proposal that the coalition is putting forward or do they want a future for Western Australians in which we can be set up with some very important communications infrastructure? Clearly, I support the motion.