Tabling - Broadening the Debate

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (10:30): On behalf of the Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communications I present the committee’s report entitled Broadening the d ebate: i nquiry into the r ole and p otential of the National Broadband Network, incorporating a dissenting report, together with the minutes of proceedings.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.

Ms BIRD: by leave—This inquiry was referred to our committee on 16 November 2010 by the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon Anthony Albanese MP. We received 252 submissions, including 17 supplementary submissions and 42 exhibits. These submissions canvassed a range of topics related to the potential impact of the NBN, including across government services, health, education, infrastructure, research, and community and social issues. The contributions were received from government agencies, some local councils, regional representative bodies, the higher education sector, the school sector, the business sector and private individuals—a broad cross-section of community and our economy was encompassed.

There were subsequently 15 public hearings at 12 different locations around Australia based on the evidence received. It should be indicated that the hearings were held in most capital cities but also in regional areas in most states, including at Launceston, Ballarat, Victor Harbor, Townsville and Wollongong.

We also did some site visits. At Scottsdale in Tasmania we inspected the infrastructure that was part of the stage 1 rollout. We visited the Institute for a Broadband-Enabled Society based at the University of Melbourne and we visited some other key places, such as NICTA, Google Australia, the Telstra Experience Centre and TwitchTV in Sydney.

It should be indicated, as I said in my foreword, that only very recently we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the first commercial mobile telephone becoming available. It caused me to reflect on the last 30 years. I will simply say that I was in the later years of my high school experience at that point in time and I compared that to the experience of my own sons who are in their twenties. We had no computer in the home. There was no such thing as mobile phones available generally.

We had one fixed-line phone. And we went to get our pay out from the bank at lunchtime, because that was your only option to get your money if it went into the bank. Indeed, in my part-time job I was responsible for putting pay packets together at Coles, where we had little yellow envelopes and we counted out the notes and coins and popped them into the envelopes. It brings me to consider where indeed the lives of my sons will be in 30 years when they look back at what we currently think of as an advanced use of technology.

Many of the conversations and submissions that we heard during this inquiry went exactly to that issue, about the exponential rate of change that has the capacity to transform our economies, our lives and our societies. I sincerely thank all of those people who very genuinely and extensively participated in the inquiry. I particularly recognise that across many of those areas, as the report indicates, there have been progressions and many new services and products available and utilised. We all know that from our own lives, but many of the witnesses indicated to us that they are now hitting barriers because of the infrastructure. There is a problem with the infrastructure not being uniform and ubiquitous across the nation. There are serious real and new services that they want to explore but they cannot without symmetrical services, higher speed services and so forth. It was a tremendous opportunity to have a look at that.

It should be indicated that we have made 16 recommendations, and those recommendations go to the very issue of: if we want to see the full transformative nature of this sort of very significant infrastructure in the nation, we should be looking at all opportunities to have the demand side—the uptake of that service—expanded. In particular, we go to the role that government can play as a leader in that process. We heard some good international evidence about proactive governments that are actually transforming the uptake and utilisation of modern communications services, and the importance that has to the environmental outcomes, the liveability outcomes of cities and regions and the access and equity issues for people with disabilities, for example.

There are a whole lot of very profound, important opportunities there.

I will obviously take the opportunity to have more to say when we hopefully refer this matter to the Main Committee, so I will keep my comments fairly general and brief now. I am disappointed that there is a dissenting report tabled with this report. I have had a minor opportunity this morning to have a look at it. I do not think it intellectually stacks up. I do not think it is consistent, and I think it is a little bit cherry-picking of the evidence. But that is the reality of these processes. It is the sort of report that, when your kids read it 30 years down the track, they may wonder why on earth you put your name to it. But, anyway, it is the call for those involved to put in that report—and I am disappointed that it happened.

I want to particularly take this opportunity in this chamber to thank the secretary of the committee, who did an outstanding job on what was a huge task. I want to thank, in particular, the committee secretariat who are with us today: Julia Morris, Andrew McGowan, James Nelson—though James is not with us—and Tamara Palmer, who did a tremendous job in working with the committee on a very, very large and significant task. Every member of the committee always appreciates the work that the secretariat does, but on this occasion, with such a significant, huge and encompassing task to undertake, I really want to pay tribute to their professionalism and the support they gave to all committee members. I look forward to taking the opportunity to expand on that when I have a chance to talk more broadly on that matter . I recommend the report to all of those who are interested and look forward to its contribution in broadening the debate on the NBN in our society.