Monday, 19 October 2009
I want to speak about access to broadband in my electorate. It is an issue that is of some contention in Swan. In almost every corner of my electorate there are telecommunications problems, ranging from excruciatingly slow broadband to periodic outages. The problem affects thousands of families in the local area as well as businesses that are trying to survive in the modern economy.
At the last election the Labor Party told the people of Australia that it would fix their broadband problems. I can say today that this has not happened in my electorate of Swan. Perhaps one of the worst broadband black spots in the area is around Perth Airport in the City of Belmont. I know from my conversations with local residents and business owners that the lack of broadband in the area is a daily frustration and has serious implication for lifestyle and commerce.
The Eastern Metropolitan Regional Council has done an excellent job investigating and reporting on this issue through its 2008 broadband black spot survey. In July, I had the pleasure of meeting with Rhonda Hardy of the EMRC, who was involved in the survey and was frustrated at the slow pace of change in the City of Belmont. The EMRC commissioned the survey after identifying that difficulties accessing affordable high-speed broadband acts as a barrier to growth for existing businesses and to the attraction of new business to Perth’s eastern region. As a small business man myself, I know there is nothing more frustrating than when telecommunications slow down. Where my business was located, we had a terrible time getting broadband connected. Eventually, after Telstra had upgraded the exchange, we managed to get a very slow form of broadband which would always go out during heavy rain periods. I know the frustration that businesses have to deal with in not being able to access broadband. Some of these businesses can lose hundreds if not thousands of dollars a day because of this problem. In an electorate with over 20,000 small businesses, I certainly agree with the EMRC on this one.
I was pleased that a number of people in my electorate of Swan managed to make comments on the survey, and I want to take a moment now to read some of them out to give members an idea of the extent of the problem and of how valuable a good solution would be. Anne Davies from Ascot tries to use Skype to contact her family in Slovakia using wireless broadband. Janelle Edwards, who also lives in Ascot, and Helen Ainsworth of Cloverdale are part of the local small business community and expressed their frustration. Ian and Sandra Wallace of Cloverdale are frustrated at the lack of availability of ADSL broadband. John Wheldon of Cloverdale said:
I am 76 years old and recently decided to update to broadband. I tried numerous servers including Telstra and they all told me ADSL was unavailable.
Only last week, at the seniors’ forum I held in Queens Park, local seniors were encouraged to take part in computer classes as a way to avoid isolation and connect in old age. The Mayor, Joe Delle Donne, told seniors that classes were available at the Harold Hawthorne Centre. Poor broadband is just another barrier to connecting people in old age. Other Cloverdale residents also complained of the slow nature of dial-up access.
The suburb of Kewdale, a hub of small business in my electorate of Swan, also reported problems. Mr Simon Hole said:
I tried to organize broadband when I first bought the property but was told it was not available. I am thinking of starting up a home-based small business and am extremely concerned that my lack of broadband will impact upon my success.
A local teacher said:
I am a primary school teacher and require a broadband connection to access the EDWA website and INTEGRIS—essential for lesson planning and preparation.
Edward Dique of Kewdale was told by a provider that he was too far away from the exchange which is in Ascot. Ascot residents may be surprised to know that they are at the centre of the local broadband network! Redcliffe resident Amanda Ridge said:
If I could get broadband I would be able to work from home and not be forced to put my baby into care. It is unfair that some in the area have access; in some cases it’s your neighbour but you can’t get it next door. We are being severely disadvantaged!
I hope the above gives the House and the government some idea of the extent of the problem and the benefits that would be reaped from improving broadband within the city of Belmont area. Yet Belmont is not the only area suffering from poor broadband and telecommunications in general. A recent survey by the Wilson Residents and Ratepayers Association found that most residents have broadband internet access and that about 50 per cent of them had a wireless connection and the other 50 per cent had a cable connection. Telstra is the main provider for the residents, but many residents use a variety of other providers, including Optus, Westnet, iinet, AAPT and Amcom. The overwhelming majority—about 85 per cent—responded that their connections were very reliable.
A number of issues were also raised in the survey. Many wireless users said that they would prefer the cheaper option of cable connections but cable connections were just not available in their suburb. Many non-Telstra users commented that Telstra either had refused or were not able to provide a connection for their household, which is why they had gone to an alternative provider. Similarly, many respondents, particularly those living in the Cannington area of my electorate, commented that there was no ADSL2+ available to their household.
I could go on, but I have given you an idea of the problems in my electorate of Swan. I now want to turn to how the government is responding to the problem. A recent incident south of Canning River in the suburb of Langford shows how the federal government response has been disappointing. A lady from Langford contacted my office. She lives in a broadband black spot area. She had received a flyer from the federal government telling her that she lived in a broadband black spot area and offering financial assistance. After some investigation, my constituent found out that she could get a better service provided at cheaper rates by a local business.
This example tells me that the Labor government has not got to grips with the broadband problem facing my electorate of Swan. The government does not have its finger on the pulse. We have seen two years of confusion on the broadband issue that have culminated in a $43 billion pledge for a NBN. As we speak, the Labor Party are busy working out how to split up Telstra to make the National Broadband Network proposal work. I have received calls in my office from confused Telstra shareholders, of which there are 1.4 million Australia wide, uncertain about what will happen and what they should do.
The main point is that we are still waiting for action. The people of Belmont are still waiting. The people of Wilson are still waiting. The people of Langford are still waiting. The coalition is waiting to find out how the NBN will be rolled out. I want Australia to have a 21st century broadband network, just like this government does, and I want the government to be successful in improving broadband for the local residents in my electorate of Swan.
Australian federal governments are elected for a maximum of three years, and the Australian people have a right to expect progress on issues in this time. As members opposite are aware, this was a big issue when the government of today went to the election. I think people in Australia are expecting action and want to see something rolled out. There has been no progress. The government should be condemned for this. I implore them to improve on their performance. Let us get broadband out on a national basis. Our local communities need results now. The government needs to quickly invest in areas like Belmont, Wilson and Langford in my electorate to bring them up to speed. What better way is there to spur economic recovery than to enable businesses to grow with greater workplace flexibility? The opposition will continue to scrutinise the government’s proposals. Let us get some action now and roll out broadband for all of Australia.