Broadening the debate

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (18:16): I appreciate the opportunity to make a more extensive contribution to the debate than that which I was able to do in presenting the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Infrastructure and Communication entitled Broadening the debate: inquiry into the role and potential of the National Broadband Network . I acknowledge the member for Bradfield's contribution, addressing the dissenting report.

Personally, I think it is a pretty sad dissenting report that will not stand the test of time. I think if those who submitted the report were standing here 20 years ago, they would be saying, 'Who needs 512k speeds? What would you use that for? You could pick up the phone. Why would you send an email?' That would have been the whole context of their contributions to the debate. And the member for Bradfield, as much as anybody, knows the speed and rapidity with which people take up technological developments when the infrastructure is available.

So in 20 years time, when his son or daughter is reading in Hansard his contribution on this debate, I suggest they will be saying, 'Dad, what on earth were you thinking? How limited was your imagination in looking at what that technology would deliver to this nation?' I merely say to those who are looking at the dissenting report that it is a valiant effort to maintain the political debate on this issue, but I am sure those who have signed it will be hoping that it gets buried in the dust of time and that generations that follow them never look at it and see what they actually had to say about fast, ubiquitous and symmetrical broadband extension in this country.

 would also make the point that some contributions of members reflect a very city-centric view that presumes that people have access to 512k, let alone ADSL2. In fact, there was significant evidence that even the rollout of those technologies is far from satisfactory in regions and, indeed, in suburbs of cities around our nation. In my contribution today I want to take us through a couple of the points in this report that I think are really exciting. I would certainly encourage people to have a look at this report in detail, because a lot of people put in a lot of time and effort to indicate to us why they feel this is transformative infrastructure that will make a significant difference to the way we live, work and indeed play. But the important thing as a national government is how we live and work.

The member for Bradfield referred to some of the health initiatives in his contribution. He did make the point that some of them indeed do not require the speeds which will be available under the NBN. But I will tell you what they do require, and that is symmetry. They require good upload capacity, as well as download capacity, and these sorts of service delivery models will be delivered under fibre based technologies.

In particular, I want to take three issues, if I can get them done in a few minutes. The first one is the health sector which, indeed, indicated not only important improvements but significant improvements in the delivery of services, particularly to people in more remote areas, people with disabilities who have trouble accessing health services and young people who are more likely to access, in particular, mental health services online.

The report goes through many examples. In particular, I would refer people to the section on mental health and the evidence, provided by, in particular, Helen Pepper, who is the youth ambassador for Inspire Foundation, about the importance of good-quality online mental health services for young people. The Inspire Foundation indicated their desire to expand their model, which they would be able to do if they could get highquality, synchronised video based services available online, which would enable them to have more group interactions and better quality service delivery.

Another point that is made about health delivery, which I would remind people is an important aspect of our consideration, is the Access Economics study in 2010 that found that the benefits to Australia from extensive implementation of telehealth could be in the order of $2 billion to $4 billion per annum. The delivery of telehealth is only one area which would result in significant cost savings to us as a nation. So when those who oppose this model talk about a cost-benefit analysis, they quite significantly ignore the evidence that is available on some of the significant improvements, efficiencies and savings that we could make.

I also want to take people to some of the excellent evidence that was given to us about the education sector— obviously something that I am very passionate about—and the capacity for these sorts of high-quality, high-speed and synchronised services to provide a new and richer variety of online services in education.

In particular, we had some excellent evidence from people such as the National Library of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archives and the National Archives of Australia about some of the digitisation initiatives that have enabled young people to get much better quality information and to interact with it in far more effective ways when you have got this level of technological support to deliver that. I also would encourage people to look at some of the information provided by the Open Universities Australia about things like their 3D animated virtual world where students can go on an archaeological dig in a 3D simulated place, ancient Kashgar in Western China, and the students get a real sense through a second-life experience what it is like to actually be on a dig. There is no way that that sort of thing can be delivered over existing services and technology. It requires this level of technology to support that. Importantly, we have heard of examples like the YouTube symphony orchestra and the capacity for students to be at master classes in music with experts in their field, linked up around the world, and to participate in that in a way that allows them to form an orchestra and actually participate in a group, again, requires this level of technology.

Many of these examples that are throughout the section on education particularly make the point that many students now seek to do these extracurricular activities from home, whether it be music, learning a second language and so forth. So we need to provide these sorts of expanded educational experiences for students, school students and university students. Indeed, there are articles in the paper today about the importance of online post-graduate courses for students.Many students are participating in education online and, indeed, even mature age members of our community are looking to engage by watching uni TV and participating in guest specialist lectures, an excellent example of where people will be able to be part of the community from home. And these things do require us to lay down the infrastructure of the future for this to happen.

Finally, in the few minutes left to me, I want to draw people's attention to the section in the report on economic development and diversification. I think it is very important for us to acknowledge the extensive evidence we received from regions around the country about the capacity of videoconferencing, teleworking, cloud computing and voice-over-internet protocols to completely expand the capacity of regions to engage in not only the national economy but indeed the international economy.

Videoconferencing capacity is to enable professional development and professional connections and to support staff in our regional and remote parts of the country. Indeed, Mr Tony De Liseo, from my own area of the Illawarra, was talking about his business. He indicated that they are a staff development and training business and that about 30 per cent of their non-project billable hours are currently done online. This is an expanding model for businesses. He said that the problem they hit up against, of course, is the technological support that people have to enable them to participate, but it has a significant cost difference for businesses. They can participate in staff development and training in a more effective way and, if it is a half-day course, it does not require them to take three days because they have to have the staff member off travelling to a capital city or major centre in order to participate. Also, obviously, the big capacity for regions is the capacity to telework.

We had excellent evidence from people like Rising Sun Pictures, who won a technical Academy Award for their model of how they are able to access their creative people from around the country. Where otherwise the musician who would do the music for them, who lives in Byron Bay, would have had to go and live in Adelaide for three months while they were doing the project, now that they have him fibred up he can do all the work, interacting with them, and stay at home, so there is not a drain of these people out of our regions. It enables them to stay in the regions and expand the life of our regions as well.

Finally, I want to touch on tremendous evidence from Townsville about 'mumpreneurs', the expanding role of women participating in our economy by running home based businesses and how this will enable them to do that so much more effectively into the future.

I commend people having a good look at this report and the wonderful story it paints about the hopes that people in regional and rural areas of our nation and the suburbs of our cities have for this infrastructure.

Debate adjourned.