Small Business And Infrastructure Investment

 

Click here to watch Sharon’s speech

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (11:27): I wanted to contribute to this private member's motion about the significant link that exists between infrastructure and small business, because it is an issue that has very much been at the forefront for many of my constituents over the last 12 to 18 months. Their concerns regard the infrastructure of the future—that is, the actual rollout of fast and reliable broadband that enables small and medium businesses, in particular home-based businesses, to be able to flourish. As a result of the change of government the rollout of the national broadband network was delayed. There was a period of about 12 months while very little happened as the new government determined what sort of technology it was going to use. There has been an understandable increase in frustration for those suburbs in my area that were anticipating getting more reliable broadband. That has led to a number of very significant grassroots campaigns.

I want to first of all refer to a Facebook campaign that was started by Karen and Mark McKenzie of the northern suburbs of my electorate. It is Facebook 2508+ Disconnected, a tremendous campaign. They experienced four years of delay and frustration in dealing with Telstra and in trying to get broadband to their new home—they had relocated from Sydney. In particular, they were frustrated about not being able to access broadband when they were told that it was available at their home. They went onto Facebook just to see and get a feel for the size of the problem. They have been absolutely inundated with people across those suburbs experiencing significant frustration. I quote directly from Mark's comments to me:

 

Key among the issues being experienced by this community are poor levels of internet service and internet reliability that are currently constraining the productivity of the many home-based businesses operating in the area. In a recent survey completed by the campaign organisers, more than 50% of respondents indicated that they were operating a home business—that is right: 50 per cent of those who responded were operating a home business—that was being negatively impacted by poor internet service.

 

The survey also revealed that more than 66% of respondents rated service reliability "poor" to "very poor" while a whopping 88% rated internet speeds as "poor" to "very poor"—with average download speeds regularly below 1MBps.

This is, of course, in a range of suburbs in the north of my seat, where people are located very close to Sydney. A lot of people—professionals, home-based businesses and consultants—relocate there, because it is a very beautiful part of the world and a lovely place to live, and discover the absolutely appalling standard of telecommunications infrastructure that they are faced with.

This campaign is not alone. For quite a while now I have been working with the Bundeena and Maianbar business chamber. They are also frustrated with both mobile and broadband services, and Scott Dovey, who is the president, has put an extensive and very detailed report together on the impacts of the very poor quality telecommunications infrastructure in their suburbs. In February 2015 the Bundeena Maianbar Chamber of Commerce ran a community survey. They had a total of 197 responses to that, which is about a 20 per cent response rate. They are a fairly small community, so it is actually quite a large percentage. They found that service interruptions for landline phones and internet were widespread, frequent and prolonged. Most internet connections via ADSL were very slow, if they worked at all. The average speed was around 3.25 megabits per second. Almost a third of the respondents in that survey indicated that they rely on their landline telephone to run their own business.

In recent years we have seen a huge shift in small businesses—in many of our electorates, I am sure—becoming home-based businesses, whether that is a direct business or a consultancy service, and these people are increasingly frustrated by the telecommunications infrastructure that services them. We have a new mobile base station being established at Coalcliff, and I have written to the minister seeking more detail on what that will actually provide in its time frame. I acknowledge that the minister is meeting with my constituents this week, and I am particularly asking him to give very serious consideration to their extensive concerns.