Thursday, 22 September 2011
Parliamentary Budget Office
Earlier in this debate, my friend and colleague the member for Chifley made reference to the behaviour of those opposite during the debate on the Parliamentary Budget Office. I would like to explore this theme a little further. This was an important piece of legislation. It means that for the first time we will have an independent body which is well resourced and has access to the data and the expertise to independently cost promises made by members and parties in the lead-up to an election. We can understand why those opposite spent so much time filibustering and trying to frustrate the passage of this legislation. When this legislation finds its way into law there will be no excuse for those opposite to try to slide into an election campaign, like they did with the 2010 election campaign, without having their promises properly costed. We all know the story of their $11 billion black hole, and that was embarrassing enough for those opposite, but we now know that their fear is that if this parliamentary budget office gets up and running, is well resourced and has the capacity to do its job, their great fraud—the $70 billion black hole that exists within their budget costings—will be verified and available for all to see. That is what they fear the most.
During question time and after question time, we are entertained and admonished by the member for Sturt, who regularly admonishes us for doing what he calls slagging and bagging of those opposite. I believe he may have been in the chamber during some of the debate the other day when we saw one of the most outrageous attacks on a distinguished public servant that I have ever heard in my life. The former head of Treasury, Ken Henry, a public servant of high standing who has served under both sides of politics, was terribly defamed and attacked by the member for Mackellar during that debate, and not one word of defence was heard from those on the other side of the House. It really was a shameful display. But that was not the last we heard of that sort of behaviour, because yesterday they raised a matter of public importance on economic issues. I thought that it was going to be an important opportunity for us to join in a serious policy debate around the important economic issues facing this country. But after 40 minutes we had not heard one positive contribution towards economic policy from those opposite. Indeed we saw a platform for the member for North Sydney to launch into a litany of potty jokes—ridiculous jokes that would embarrass any year 7 kid in the playground. He went on to continue a theme that is all too prevalent from those opposite by taking the micky and making fun of foreigners. We know that they have some concern with Malaysia and the affairs in that country, but the behaviour we saw from those opposite—particularly from the member for North Sydney—during the MPI debate was nothing short of disgraceful.
Members might recall that, when the member for North Sydney was referring to the Treasurer's award for international finance minister of the year, it was too difficult for them to do the decent, dignified, graceful thing and pass a simple 'congratulations' across the chamber. Instead they decided that they were going to have a shot not only at the Treasurer but also at everyone else who had ever received the award. I pay tribute to Crikey, who have done some investigative journalism on this. He was making fun of previous recipients—a Slovakian, a Serbian, a Nigerian, a Bulgarian and a Pakistani. We later found out that the Pakistani minister, who later became the Prime Minister of that country—Shaukat Aziz—went on to become a significant figure in the IMF and was credited for bringing their shambolic public finances into order. We also heard them make fun of the Nigerian recipient. That was Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who went on to become the Director of the World Bank. We know that they do not like foreigners, but they have no regard for public order and proper behaviour in this place.
) The following notice was given:
That this House:
(1) condemns the:
(a) Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel; and
(b) targeting of Max Brenner chocolate cafes as part of this campaign;
(2) rejects this tactic as counterproductive to the promotion of the rights of Palestinians;
(3) reiterates Australia's support for the two-state solution and the right of the Israeli and Palestinian people to live peacefully within internationally recognised borders; and
(4) urges the leaders of the Israeli and Palestinian people to resume direct negotiations.
I rise to inform the House of a new parliamentary seniors advocacy group that I have established with the member for Shortland, the Parliamentary Friends of Seniors and Ageing. The member for Shortland and I decided to form the group as a response to Australia's ageing population and the challenges that this has brought to the nation. We both sit on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing and it became clear to us through this work that a parliamentary friends group was needed to explore in detail the multitude and complexity of issues to do with seniors. I am pleased to say that PFSA is a bipartisan group. I hope that all members and senators will get involved in proceedings over this parliamentary term and beyond. We have now been recognised by the Speaker as an official parliamentary group. I thank the Speaker for that recognition and for his support for the organisation.
On Tuesday we scheduled our first meeting and I am pleased to say that we were honoured to have the Council on the Ageing attend. COTA spoke about important issues, such as housing security for seniors and its response to the Productivity Commission report. The meeting was a success. I thank the members who attended. It was a great way to kick off proceedings for our parliamentary group.
One of the areas that I am particularly keen to take action on and explore with the PFSA is the aged crisis in Australia. There is a shortage of beds. The government funding model and demographic pressures caused by the ageing population put pressure on the industry, which is teetering on the brink. I have taken a particular interest in this issue in my electorate of Swan, which has many aged-care facilities, such as SwanCare in Bentley Park and Southcare in Manning. I held an aged-care industry forum that was extremely well attended by executives from across the local area, as well as a seniors forum with the member for Mackellar at Bentley Park that sought the views of seniors on this issue.
The message that I took away from these forums is that seniors worry about aged care and want to know that their future is secure. At the same time, the industry is struggling. The issue of bonds is a controversial one, but it is an issue that desperately needs to be looked into. I know from speaking with stakeholders in my area that bonds are a real issue and have been since about 1998, when the Howard government first mooted them for high care. I see now what is happening to some of the high-care facilities in my electorate. Funding by banks has been withdrawn. So they have to reclassify themselves as low-care centres so that they can get bonds so that they can survive and keep the wood in the door. This is an issue that will be faced by many governments and it is something that we need to look at carefully and take action on.
The Productivity Commission report into the restructuring of the aged-care industry was released by the government on 8 August. As yet, the government has not responded to that report. There are 58 recommendations, too many to discuss in the time that I have left. In conclusion, I hope that the House will welcome the establishment of the Parliamentary Friends of Seniors and Ageing.
I want to talk about a recent visit of mine to an active after school program. The Illawarra Primary School has an active after school program at the Kingborough Sports Centre in my electorate. The Kingborough Sports Centre have built a new gymnasium with $1 million of federal government funding, some state government funding and some local government funding. It is a fantastic facility down there and I had the pleasure of officially opening it.
On this occasion, I was down there with the active after schools group. Over the last several years of being a federal MP, I have had many parents, teachers and students write to me about what a wonderful program the Active After-school Communities program is and how much the children enjoy it. I have been very privileged to attend quite a few of these in my electorate, from playing basketball at St John's at Richmond to playing football with the students at Bellerive. I have also had the opportunity to do some dance and DJ'ing with the students from South Arm Primary School. But on this occasion we were playing some games in the new gymnasium down at Kingborough with the Illawarra children. Approximately 5,500 primary school students in Tasmania participate in this program, so it is very popular in Tasmania, with around 90 schools and outside school hours care programs participating in this wonderful program. I was really pleased that Minister Arbib committed $43.9 million to continue this program as part of the recent federal budget. I know that that decision has been very well received in my electorate. Certainly the Illawarra Primary School children have been participating in the program since 2007. Some of the things that the Illawarra children have done just this year include cheerleading, skateboarding, archery, Zumba and soccer.
I also had the pleasure of meeting one of their local coaches, Les Richardson. Les has been doing 40 soccer sessions for Illawarra Primary School over the last 12 months and he was recently presented with a five-star Community Coach award, so I want to congratulate Les on that award. It was really pleasant to be with him to see him work and to see the pride he is instilling in his young pupils while teaching them soccer skills in the gymnasium. Certainly his enthusiasm for the children and for the program is second to none. We all know that it is coaches like Les and other people working on a program such as this, people who give their time and effort, who make these government programs such a success.
I also want to talk about the Active After-School Communities office in Tasmania being run by Blair, Aaron and Kerry, who do a fantastic job in organising local sports. They have a very large range of opportunities for the students to participate in. As you have heard, from all the sports I have talked about, it is a great program; it is very well run in Tasmania and the Tasmanian students just love it.
Canning Vale Primary School's Education Support Centre's new Independent Living Centre made a great impression on me. Led by principal Dianne Harper, the centre is embracing gen Y technologies such as interactive whiteboards and iPads to transform the lives of children with profound disabilities. With specially designed applications, or apps, students with otherwise limited communication abilities are now interacting freely with their teachers, families and friends.
There was much ballyhoo a number of months ago when Malcolm Turnbull began to use his iPad during question time in parliament. Similarly, Labor's Tony Burke was also much aligned when he dared to read from his tablet at the dispatch box.
To see how the iPad is opening doors for these children was quite simply amazing. As we know, children can be fickle characters when someone might not be quite like them. The specialist support teacher spoke to me of the way new technologies are facilitating social inclusion. The site of an iPad and its proficient operator is enough for children to disregard any barriers that may have once been built by disability. One app allows students to press an icon for their name, home, family, food and drink, to hear a prerecorded sentence which clearly conveys their need or want at the time.
Another fascinating application uses a friendly purple cat to improve speech patterns. The cat asks questions such as: what is your name; where do you live? They are simple questions for you and me but ones that can be hard for some students to answer clearly. The children reply to the cat by speaking into their iPad; their sentence is recorded and played back to them. A thumb's up or a shake of the head lets the child know how clearly they are speaking. The tools used by these young students can also be utilised by those in their teens and older to give freedom of independence. The quick press of a button on their iPhone or iPod using these same apps can clearly express to passers-by the need for assistance at any time.
We take for granted our ability to clearly communicate with others the simplest things each and every day. I take my hat off to these children and their teachers for embracing technology that is giving freedom and independence. I congratulate principal Diane Harper and staff for their dedication to their students and look forward to assisting in the school in the future.
I rise to speak on behalf of a constituent who has been treated unfairly and unreasonably by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Chifley constituent Peter Horwood was engaged by the ABS in April this year on a six-month casual contract. He was appointed as an area supervisor, with his principal aim being to assist with the local conduct of the 2011 census. While he initially received positive feedback from the ABS for his work, about halfway through his engagement period with the ABS management summarily terminated Mr Horwood's six-month casual contract. Mr Horwood visited me last month, understandably distressed about his treatment. I am loath to raise this matter in this forum. However, I have been staggered by the way the ABS has dealt with this matter both in the decisions taken against my constituent and in their failure to adequately deal with the issue when it was raised with them.
From what I could gather, relations between Mr Horwood and local ABS management soured in July, specifically over two areas. Firstly, the ABS claimed that Mr Horwood did not undertake a training session in the way that was expected. Secondly, the ABS claimed it was not satisfied with the quality of communication between itself and Mr Horwood. Time limits prevent me from going into detail about these matters, but after reviewing the documentation—and sometimes the lack of it—I pretty quickly came to the conclusion that the ABS had dressed up a decision and was now stonewalling and refusing to admit error. For example, on the first matter I raised, I could appreciate that on the face of it the ABS objections to the quality of training conducted by Mr Horwood were serious. But imagine my surprise when I learned that the ABS had present at the training session conducted at Mr Horwood's home a senior manager who at no point took any step to correct those perceived training errors that the ABS believed were so grievous that they warranted the termination of my constituent's contract, impacting negatively on his livelihood. It is these types of examples that concern me about the way in which the ABS had conducted itself.
I wrote to the ABS indicating that I believed the process of terminating the contract was deficient and the outcome excessive; that the claims that termination was warranted due to a failure to observe process, while there was evidence the ABS did likewise, were surprising; and that the claim that there were problems with the quality of communication between Mr Horwood and the ABS seemed serious but further examination of the claim would not hold that this was a reasonable allegation—it certainly was not durable enough to base a decision to prematurely terminate a contract. The ABS was, quite surprisingly, evasive and initially avoided engaging meaningfully with me on this matter. I finally had a senior New South Wales ABS manager agree to discuss the matter in detail, but it was clear that he was being given instruction on how to manage this issue. This was evident from their letter back to me on 30 August, merely stating that they would talk to me about this issue and would not reinstate my constituent; they refused to address in writing any of the claims and points I had raised.
Overall, I believe the ABS has deliberately structured these contracts in such a way as to sidestep its obligations. I would expect more from a government agency, but I believe this deliberately reflects an aggressive HR approach, and I intend to follow this up with the Assistant Treasurer.
From my earliest days in this House I have been a passionate supporter of the state of Israel and an advocate for a real and lasting peace in the Middle East. That peace, of course, must be built on the principle of a negotiated two-state solution that delivers peace and security. These are the principles for any genuine resolution to the Middle East conflict, and those principles are now under threat by the unilateral Palestinian bid for statehood in the United Nations.
The central theme of the Middle East conflict has been the consistent Arab refusal to accept the natural Jewish right to national self-determination in the ancestral homeland of the Jews. There is no moral equivalency to be found here. In 1937, in 1947, in 1967 and a decade ago, the Palestinian Arabs rejected diplomatic proposals that would have granted them political independence. Why? Essentially because those proposals required territorial compromise and the acceptance of Jewish statehood. Time after time, unfortunately, too many Palestinian Arabs have shown that they despise Jewish political self-determination more than they love their own national independence. That has proved to be a tragic recipe for 90 years of tears, blood and destruction. Speaking at the UN overnight President Barack Obama expressed America's opposition to the unilateral bid for Palestinian statehood. He said:
Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the United Nations. If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.
He is right. Unfortunately, there has been no similar moral clarity from our government on this vital diplomatic issue. When asked about Australia's voting intentions in the UN the foreign minister has hedged and hemmed. The government's stance on the question has unfortunately been a profile in political vacillation and cowardice. We would do well to recall that the ruling jihadist Hamas regime in Gaza is dedicated not only to Israel's destruction but to the murder of Jews across the planet. With such genocidal fanaticism, peace is impossible. Israel will not and cannot agree to the creation of borders to placate the moral cowardice of a world grown tired of the conflict—and nor should it. As Greg Sheridan wrote in today's Australian:
Absent real peace, the 1967 borders put Palestinian rockets within a few short kilometres of Tel Aviv airport. The security dangers are immense, and obvious. All the demands are made of Israel and none, in effect, of the Palestinians.
The key to a durable Middle East peace is good-faith negotiations between the parties. Australia should vote no on this dangerous, ill-advised unilateral Palestinian initiative.
I rise today to pay tribute to Christine Harcourt, a constituent of mine who recently passed away, and to acknowledge her long-term contribution to the Sydney community. Christine was a member of the Surry Hills branch of the Labor Party for over 36 years and served as its president, its vice-president and its secretary at different times. But the contribution of those 36 years of party activism is not measured by the positions Christine held, although she held them with distinction. Her influence was never exerted by control or coercion but by the example she set of thoughtful debate, good humour and respect for others.
Christine took these qualities with her to local government, where she served as a South Sydney councillor for 13 years, including six as deputy mayor. Always the champion of the less powerful, Chris defended staff, ensured pensioner rebates were enhanced, expanded access to affordable services and pushed for subsidised accommodation for community groups. Chris was the representative of those who depended most on these services, and she took on that responsibility with passion and with dedication. One example, which will be remembered well beyond inner-Sydney, is her work on sex industry policy. As a widely published researcher for the Sydney Sexual Health Centre, Chris brought her intellect and professional expertise to an area of public health policy often relegated to the margins by local government. The groundbreaking sex industry policy which Chris spearheaded through council received the Royal Australian Planning Institute's annual award for urban planning achievement and became a model nationally and internationally. Former South Sydney mayor Tony Pooley shared this memory of Chris's advocacy with me:
I remember a particularly boisterous local government conference. Chris was explaining the value of regulating sex-on-premises venues rather than pretending they did not exist or demanding that they only be approved on the fringes of the Sturt stony desert. You can imagine the heckling and catcalls from some of the more conservative councillors as Chris delivered a considered, researched, eminently sensible defence of the scheme. It frustrated one particularly obnoxious councillor so much that he demanded to know why such a proposal, which might work well in the depraved areas of South Sydney, was even being contemplated for the moral and God-fearing residents of the Upper North Shore. Chris paused and explained, quite simply, that surely the Christian generosity of his local residents would also extend to ensuring the health and wellbeing of all such sinners even if, as he suggested, none existed in his own ward. It brought the house down.
Memories of Chris like this reinforce the remarkable mix of qualities which earned her the respect of her staff and colleagues on council and her local community of Surry Hills. She was a powerful advocate but never belligerent, a fierce intellect but never condescending and a loyal friend and party member but never afraid to challenge orthodoxies. Chris will be sorely missed by the many people whose lives she touched and improved, and local Sydney history is richer for her place in it. Our thoughts are with Max, Isobel, Ellie and Jenny and her Labor Party friends and family.
I rise today to speak on a very important matter, a matter that will affect people's lives into the future. If we do not address it properly that will show that we have not learnt the lessons from what happened a year ago. I refer to our preparedness to deal with potential flooding. Nearly a year ago was the start of a particular wet period in the state of Victoria which led to two sets of serious flooding, the impacts of which are still disrupting people's lives and making it extremely difficult for them. The government was very quick to put a levy in place to deal with the extra costs around damage to infrastructure and such caused by the floods. But what I want to know is this: what has been put in place to make sure that in the future we have proper warning of flooding events? What has the federal government done almost one year on to improve flood warning and monitoring? Is the Bureau of Meteorology adequately resourced to put the equipment in place to provide timely and meaningful warnings to local communities?
In my electorate, the Glenelg-Hopkins CMA—and it is a large CMA—has one official flood warning and monitoring station on the Glenelg River. Given that we had severe flooding along Mount Emu Creek and the Hopkins River, what steps have been taken to put proper flood warning and monitoring stations in place on that river and that creek? Are they automated? Is it possible for people to call in those gauges and read them? Is it possible, as it should be, for people to sit at their computers and look at what is happening with the water levels in those rivers?
It is nearly a year on. The government was quick to put a levy in place. I hope that they have been just as quick to put the technology in place to help communities in my electorate and across Australia deal with subsequent flooding events. I hope that they have the ability to warn communities so that communities therefore have the ability to prepare for future floods.
I rise to speak about the recent opening of the discovery centre at Mordialloc College and the recent mobile offices that I have conducted in my electorate. Last Friday, I joined the Mordialloc College community to celebrate the official opening of the $2 million discovery centre, which was funded under the federal government's Building the Education Revolution program. The discovery centre was funded through the science and learning centre component of the BER program.
The centre's four wings are appropriately named to commemorate four notable Australian scientists: Elizabeth Blackburn, Fred Hollows, Howard Florey and Alan Walsh. The new science centre will provide over 800 students at Mordialloc College with a dedicated science facility that will transform the teaching of science at the college. The centre will deliver a high-quality open learning environment that is conducive to a more flexible approach to teaching.
The BER projects have delivered terrific benefits to our community, as I have previously outlined to the House. The diligence of the principals of the schools that have received funding from the BER program has been of a high level. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with all of the principals and the staff of the schools throughout my electorate over the past two years, from the initial notifications of funding through to the openings of their facilities. I want to congratulate Michelle Roberts, the principal of the college, and Lorraine Harris, the former principal, who was at Mordialloc College from 1991 to 2010, for all the hard work that they have put in on this project. They worked very closely with the builders and the project managers to ensure the successful completion of the project.
In addition to the funding provided for the discovery centre, the federal government has also provided Mordialloc College with $200,000 for refurbishment works and 150 computers through the Computers in Schools program.
In the past couple of weeks I have conducted my regular mobile offices in Mentone, Mordialloc, Chelsea, Aspendale Gardens, Parkdale, Chelsea Heights and Cheltenham. Mobile offices provide a great opportunity to meet with constituents who are otherwise unable to meet with me during the week due to work or family commitments. It was great to see some familiar faces and to talk about current federal issues, including the carbon price, the national disability insurance scheme and various local matters that are affecting residents of Isaacs. Despite all the hysterical antics of the opposition in recent times regarding the carbon price—exemplified by the wild misrepresentations of the member for Indi on her trips to my electorate and, more recently, to the Leichhardt office of the member for Grayndler—people were generally interested in getting the facts on how the carbon price will impact on them and why it is so important to take action on climate change now, and in particular the increases in pensions and the tax cuts that the carbon price regime is going to bring. People were interested to know more about the federal government's household assistance, the assistance that is going to be provided to families and pensioners, and of course the investments that the federal government will be making in renewable energy.
Currently in the parliament we have a unique group of leaders from Queensland. I say 'unique' because I am not aware of any other group of local representatives from anywhere else in Australia lobbying the federal government and members on both sides of this House as effectively as this group. I speak of none other than the Council of Mayors, South-East Queensland. In no particular order, they are: Peter Taylor, the Toowoomba Regional Council mayor; Bob Abbot from the North Coast; John Brent from the Scenic Rim; Graham Quirk from Brisbane, who chairs the group; Daphne McDonald, the deputy Gold Coast mayor, sitting in for Ron Clarke; Melva Hobson from Redland; Graham Moon, the deputy mayor of Lockyer Valley, sitting in for Steve Jones; Graeme Lehmann from Somerset Shire; Victor Attwood, the deputy mayor of Ipswich, sitting in for Paul Pisasale; and Russell Lutton, the deputy mayor of Logan, who was sitting in for the human dynamo Pam Parker, who has joined the group this morning.
The group's executive is no stranger to this place and is diligently led by former federal senator for the Democrats, John Cherry. The seat of Wright encompasses four of these areas, taking in all of the Lockyer Valley, all of the Scenic Rim, the western parts of Logan and parts of the Gold Coast hinterland and surrounding areas. I say to each of the mayors with whom I have regular contact: thank you for your dedication and commitment to your shires and cities, and for your regular audiences offering advice on funding priorities for your areas, along with your ongoing advocacy for the regions. May I say to each of you: your enthusiasm is infectious.
I am proud to say that each of my mayors is extremely motivated and parochial about their respective precincts, which they represent so passionately. I find them a refreshing source of local knowledge, with a comprehensive understanding of the priorities in each of their respective communities. However, this group also operates in a somewhat unusual way whereby they govern by regional consensus, at times supporting projects outside their areas for the betterment of the greater South-East Queensland. The council of mayors focuses on national, state, regional and local infrastructure priorities. At a national level, the council of mayors infrastructure advocacy program includes formal representation to the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, key federal ministers and shadow ministers, all of the Queensland senators and South-East Queensland based federal members, as well as Infrastructure Australia.
The council of mayors has prioritised seven of its infrastructure priorities throughout South-East Queensland, aptly naming them the 'magnificent seven'. These projects range from fixing the Warrego Highway and extending the Eastern Busway right down to delivering on the Toowoomba Range crossing. The Toowoomba bypass, which this side of the House has committed $750 million to, is still waiting to be funded. I commend the council of mayors in representing the people of South-East Queensland and wish them every success for the advocacy work that they do in South-East Queensland. (Time expired)
Last Friday night I attended the Northern New South Wales Football presentations, which recognise the achievements of those who have been involved in the competition in that area. Northern New South Wales Football comprises 244 affiliated member clubs, 8,200 grassroots volunteers, 3,830 teams, 53,000 registered players, approximately 40,000 males and 10,000 females, and approximately 40,000 juniors and 1,000 adults. The NBN Premier League competition and grand finals winners were Broadmeadow Magic, who defeated Cardiff South 4-3 on penalties after the score was two-all at the end of normal time and four-all after extra time. The NewFM first division premiers and grand final winners were Charlestown City Blues. The Herald Women's League saw Broadmeadow Magic finish as premiers, but the grand finals winners were Valentine Phoenix, who were runners-up in 2010.
In 2012, the NBN competition will be expanded to include the Newcastle Jets' youth league team as well as the newly promoted Charlestown City Blues. The northern New South Wales federation has formed an alliance with the Newcastle Jets. They will work together on school visits to recognise small-side football teams, volunteers and volunteer days. The relationship with the Newcastle Jets is aimed at promoting football in northern New South Wales. The Jets will administer the youth league and the women's league. That will provide further opportunities for football in the area.
Northern New South Wales Football is Australia's third largest football federation, with over 53,000 registered players. It is a full member of the Australian Football Federation and recognised by local, state and federal government agencies. It was formed in 1884. Northern New South Wales has a proud history of representation at national level. Since its inception, football across northern New South Wales has grown in strength. In 2009, New South Wales Football celebrated 125 years of football. To date it has produced 98 Socceroos and 27 Matildas. In the northern New South Wales jurisdiction there are 40 local government areas and it comprises seven zones. I congratulate Northern New South Wales Football League on its enormous contribution. I thank the chairman of the New South Wales northern federation for providing me with information on the services that the federation gives to the local community.
Debate resumed on the motion:
That the House take note of the report.
This is the first report of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, which is charged to produce a report every six months. Earlier in the year, the committee sought the agreement of the government to ensure that a report on the progress of the NBN build by NBN Co. was given to the committee in sufficient time to enable it to produce its report. No such report was given to the committee by the government or the NBN Co. in time to be considered for this, the first report. Nonetheless, the report was completed in accordance with the statutory requirements setting up the committee.
The government was asked when it would provide its first report to the committee. On 7 July, the two responsible ministers, Senator Conroy and Senator Wong, gave a commitment to the committee chair, Mr Oakeshott, that a report on the progress of the build and the rollout would be provided to the committee by mid-September. Mr Oakeshott responded with thanks and convened a meeting for 20 September to enable consideration of the report. The hearing was duly held on 20 September but no report was provided. We were told by Mr Quigley, the Chief Executive Officer of NBN Co. that a report of some kind had been given by NBN Co. to the government in August but the government had declined to provide it to the committee, and no assurances as to a particular date for providing that report to the joint committee have been given.
The government is treating this committee with complete and utter contempt. The NBN Co. is, for all practical purposes, unaccountable. The government chose to establish this massive, new government telecommunications monopoly, the largest infrastructure project in our nation's history, without doing any cost-benefit analysis, without ever asking the question: is this the cheapest, the fastest or the most efficient way of delivering fast broadband to all Australians? This scheme was apparently—and it has never been denied—concocted on the back of a napkin between Mr Rudd, the then Prime Minister, and Senator Conroy on a flight between Sydney and Brisbane. No proper analysis has been done, and the coalition's attempts to have this project considered by the Public Works Committee in the normal way were frustrated by the government and their partners, the Greens and the Independents.
The only mechanism for parliamentary accountability for this vast project is the joint committee, yet we have nothing beyond a few generalities from the NBN Co. There is no report and no detail. This is a venture that belongs to the Australian people entirely but the government is treating the representatives of the Australian people with contempt. The ministers gave an undertaking—their words, not mine—to produce a report for the committee by mid-September and then failed to do so. How can the committee do its work if the NBN Co. is not able to tell us what is going on and if we are not able to get access to any reliable information on their activities? These and other concerns of this kind have been raised by the coalition in this report. The report is, on any view, an inadequate document. It has to be an inadequate document because we have not been given the material to enable us to do a report. We are being held in contempt by the government and the NBN Co.
One of the remarkable features of the government's arrogance in respect of this matter—and, I may say, the NBN Co.'s equal arrogance—is a refusal to recognise that the approach they are taking is utterly unique in the world. There is no other country in the world where a government is spending so much money on broadband services and no other country in the world where a government is building a new telecommunications monopoly. And this is the feature of this project that is absolutely staggering: there is no other country in the world where a government is using legislative and financial power to eliminate competition with the fibre-to-the home network it is building. The hybrid fibre coax network, which passes 30 per cent of Australian households, is, by reason of agreements between the NBN Co, Telstra and Optus, to be decommissioned so that it cannot be used to deliver broadband services. The only justification for doing so—as we note in this report—is the financial position of the NBN Co. At page 68, in the coalition dissenting report, we note:
... Treasurer Wayne Swan and Communications Minister Conroy have explicitly conceded that—
the agreement to put the HFC network out of operation—
... was designed to boost NBN Co‘s revenue and take up:
"The Optus agreement to migrate its HFC customers to the NBN and to decommission its HFC network will provide greater certainty about NBN Company's revenue."
That is what it is all about. We need to be aware in this place that there is a very big debate going on around the world in telecommunications about the wisdom of fibre-to-the-home rollouts and around the world telcos are starting to rethink the need for fibre to the home and are questioning whether there is in fact the justification for doing so when there are cheaper and faster methods of delivering broadband upgrades, whether through fibre to the node—bringing the fibre further into the field so that the copper loop is sufficiently short to enable very-high-speed bandwidth to be delivered—by upgrading HFC networks or indeed by the use of 4G wireless networks, which are being rolled out now and which offer the promise of very-high-speed bandwidth.
I refer now to a very recently published report by one of the leading technology consulting firms in the world, Analysys Mason. They pose the question:
Is FTTH really the end game?
Even proponents of a steady, incremental approach to fixed-line access evolution tend to offer the caveat that 'FTTH is still the endgame', often on no firmer ground than it is obviously faster, therefore better, and therefore it is where networks will end up at some time in the future.
They go on to say, 'This deserves to be questioned.' They note that:
Willingness to pay extra for more speed or capacity appears to have dwindled to more or less nil. In a competitive market this means that additional access infrastructure capex has to be justified more often as defensive spend, and ROI increasingly depends on net ARPU—
that is, average revenue per user—
above what it would dwindle to rather than incremental ARPU. Investing in a zero-sum-game market is less attractive than investing in one with real growth.
What they are saying here is that increasingly the justification for doing fibre to the home is to defend yourself, if you are a telco, against competition from other methods of broadband access. The problem with that is that the fastest competition in terms of deployment is LTE wireless and they note that speeds are being marketed of up to 100 megabits per second. That puts wireless in a position, recognising its limitations—and we all understand that it is a shared medium—in a very competitive position. The proposition in favour of fixed line services of fibre to the home is that there is an insatiable demand for speed but around the world telcos, as this report notes, are not seeing that. They note here that:
And the universal experience seems to be that customers will not pay a material premium for very high speeds. When you look at the penetration of, say, 100-megabits-per-second services in this region, in Japan and Korea in particular, almost invariably the 100-megabit-per-second product is being taken up because it is either the entry-level product or because it is priced at effectively the same price as the entry-level lower speed. Where you do have tiered pricing—and this is true in Korea in particular—where you have, say, a 50-megabit-per-second service and a 100-megabit-per-second service which is $4 or $5 a month more expensive, the 100-megabit-per-second service is able to achieve only about a 15 per cent market share. Of course, what that is telling us is that the applications that make these very high speeds useful or desirable are not there. You can, of course, take the approach of saying we should just build out the capacity in the hope that in 20 years time the applications will arrive, but that is obviously a reckless approach to spending public money and also one that pays no attention to the time value of money.
So in this report Analysys Mason say:
The disproportionate spend on FTTH … is highly problematic, and may come to be seen as inappropriate use of capital in the emerging competitive environment.
I will conclude with another observation from this report:
The recent emergence in some markets of LTE mobile broadband will serve to encourage fixed operators to press ahead quickly.
The need to press ahead quickly, of course, speaks to the need to deploy fibre to the node, which can be rolled out very quickly compared to fibre to the home because there is so much less civil works involved. This is why HFC upgrades such as DOCSIS 3.0 cost, say, $70 per household passed, a tiny fraction of the cost of rolling out fibre to the home—and it can be done quickly. Analysys Mason go on to say:
LTE mobile broadband could function as an effective substitute to ADSL2+, and fixed operators need to differentiate. However, LTE will take less time to roll out than FTTH and therefore fixed operators need to act fast.
So here we are in Australia, courtesy of this government, proceeding down the road to this huge fibre-to-the-home rollout, whereas in the rest of the world it is increasingly under question. It just underlines the need for a rigorous cost-benefit analysis and appropriate respect and accountability to this committee.
I find it very interesting—and I believe the member for Chifley would agree with me—that the member for Wentworth claims the committee is being treated with contempt when he has nothing but contempt for this project. Nothing in the comments that he just made would indicate anything else. In fact, the sun would not be coming up—it would not be a proper day—if we did not have the member for Wentworth bagging it. So it is good to see that we are on business as usual. He talks about the committee not being provided with enough information, he thinks, to give a proper report—as if, irrespective of any other information, he would need another reason not to support this project. His complete obsession with micromanagement of a project which, when they were in government, they could not even deliver after 12 years and twenty-something goes is beyond the pale.
I will address in passing some of the other comments by the member for Wentworth. I want to address a few, because I have heard them about 20 times already this month. There is a reason why this project is unique and why Australia is continuing down this path. And I do not need any other endorsement—although endorsements have come from far and wide from analysts around the world—than that of the ITU, the UN's telecommunications section, who came out a few months ago and said, 'There is a reason why Australia needs this project and there is a reason why this project needs to be structured in a unique way.' That is because of Australia's topography and its markets, because of our legacy in having the CAN and a vertically integrated operator for so long and because of the failure to deliver equitable access to high-speed broadband services to date. That endorsement was given by the ITU secretary-general himself. In fact, in comments he made when he came to Australia he said that he foresees that, in the next couple of years, Australia will make it up the rankings, gradually, from being one of the least effective countries in terms of broadband penetration to being the leader in the world, and the only way he thinks this can be done is by having the project that we have in place. So I take that endorsement on board.
The member for Wentworth talked about monopoly structures and behaviours again, as if we have not heard that before. The fact is that this is the most pro-competition option possible. By separating the access network from the services layer, we are able to disinfect the effects of vertical integration that have permeated the system to date and have led to a situation where we have not had competition either in infrastructure or in services based competition and where we have not had equality of access for regional and remote areas in particular—and, as the member for Chifley and I well know, in outer metropolitan areas of Sydney. So this is the only way in which we are going to be able to deliver that access.
I also take issue with the member for Wentworth continually bringing up the debate on fibre versus wireless. The debate is over. It has been done. I bet, if he kept reading from that analysis report, it would conclude by saying, 'Fibre and wireless based services in a high-speed broadband world are complementary.' They are complementary, not substitutes for one another. He also talked about fibre-to-the-node versus fibre-to-the-home analysis. Firstly, none of this is new. In my former life before this place, when I was working in the mid-2000s in Malaysia, developing their high-speed broadband, we canvassed all these issues. This is absolutely nothing new. But what is important and what we actually concluded in our analysis for the Malaysian regulator, in rolling out the system—and, I know, as has also been analysed by other countries in our region who have done their rollouts, like Singapore and South Korea—is that you need to structure the most appropriate system of broadband access for the country in question. There is no question that the solution that is adopted in Singapore, South Korea, Japan and elsewhere, given their scale and topography, is going to be different from that in Australia.
I was startled to find that the member for Wentworth has finally come to the realisation that spectrum is a shared resource and has technological limitations. Fibre is in fact the only technology-neutral platform that is available, because once we have the infrastructure in place (a) nothing is faster than the speed of light and (b) whatever you would like to do using that infrastructure, be it through wireless or other solutions—and that is why we have mobile operators welcoming the NBN; they will be able to fibre up their base stations even better, thanks to the NBN—we have the ability to put the electronics on either end and do whatever we like with that bandwidth.
There are all these arguments. It would not be a normal day without the member for Wentworth, firstly, bagging the NBN and, secondly, being behind on the technology.
Mr Husic interjecting—
As the member for Chifley reminds me, Mr Turnbull ran a very good dial-up company, so of course he knows more than the rest of us!
I support the recommendations in the joint committee's report—I think the member for Wentworth touched on the actual report for about two minutes—and I want to single out a couple before I turn to the dissenting report. One of those recommendations is that 'government agencies take measures to ensure they are ready for the rollout' of the NBN and to ensure appropriate government service delivery. This is a really important point, and for me it goes to something local as well. I have a new estate, The Ponds, in my electorate, which, because of the foresight in putting the fibre mandate on the ledger sometime ago, has been developed with relatively good fibre rollout, unlike other areas such as Kellyville Ridge, and Woodcroft in the member for Chifley's electorate. In the last census, apparently The Ponds was one of the highest users of the e-census option in Australia. It demonstrates the power and importance of governments being able to tap into the lives of everyday citizens and make jobs easy. It is not just about online payment; it is about the whole interaction that we have with government. How many people would have been at home when the census collector came around? I know they came around twice to my place and, of course, I was not home either time. We completed it online. I think this is a very important point and a very strong recommendation that needs to be taken on board.
Secondly, I note the recommendation regarding the resources taken to complete the binding agreements and increase the POIs from 14 to 121. This is really important because it demonstrates the rigour of the ACCC, as the regulator. How many times in this debate have we heard people say it is going to be anticompetitive because the ACCC has no teeth? This POI decision demonstrates the very forward looking and commercial understanding that the ACCC has applied to this. That is a very important recommendation.
There is a recommendation that NBN Co. publish time frames for regional and remote areas, which is very important. I note this was raised in the regional consultations that have been made to date. I will touch on one alluded to by the member for Wentworth. There is a recommendation that the minister publish a detailed statement outlining the productivity, jobs and competitive benefits of the rollout of the NBN. I do not think that will take minister very long to do at all because—and it is important to put this in context—we have a debate going on in parallel where the opposition wants to bring back some of the worst elements of Work Choices, including individual contracts, on the basis that they get told by people in their electorates that we need to increase productivity.
Google has done a very detailed study into the value of the internet to the Australian economy and says that already the digital economy, of which the NBN will be one of the key drivers if not the key driver at least in infrastructure, contributes $50 billion to our economy or 3.6 per cent of GDP. If you want to talk about increases in GDP in this country and productivity improvements, you do not do that by stripping away workers' entitlements. You do it smart by investing in ICT because we know that this is where the highest productivity improvements and the most long-term benefits come from.
I also take issue with some of the comments that the member for Wentworth made and some of the items that the opposition have put in their dissenting report. On page 60, the opposition maintains its position that a national fibre to the home network is incapable of being financially viable or delivering affordable services. This is their running argument with the implementation study. It is like the Japanese soldier lost in the jungle after the war—they are still running around criticising the implementation study when it has been and gone. On page 60 the member for Wentworth, as the author of this dissenting report, says:
… price is the biggest barrier to internet uptake in Australia.
I do like how he continually refers to broadband as 'the internet' rather than anything else. Recently at an industry forum, one eminent industry leader commented to me that it is amazing how the member for Wentworth still thinks the NBN is just about 'the internet'.
As the ACCC's infrastructure report has consistently displayed, the issue is not just income. The issue is the lack of facilities-based competition to date and that has been the core of the access block. Without competition at the facilities level, combined with the legacy of Telstra's vertical integration as the owner of the CAN, service based competition has been severely impeded in this country. Do not take it from me. You only need to look at the ACCC's decision to maintain the declaration of the Domestic Transmission Capacity Service and its rationale in maintaining the declaration, so maintaining regulation of the DTCS. Facilities based competition remains at the remit of regulatory oversight for a very good reason—intercapital city infrastructure, as one example, is at the heart of competition to deliver affordable and competitive services. We have the old cost-benefit chestnut, which was discussed by the member for Wentworth, which is noted on page 61 and onwards. I find the cost-benefit argument that the member for Wentworth keeps coming back to really interesting, particularly because I did not pick him as a conspiracy theorist. On 7 September at the ACCAN conference in Sydney the member for Wentworth said, amongst other things, that there were no applications forthcoming that could take advantage of the huge bandwidth being made available. I will have something to say about that in a minute. He then went on to talk about the NBN being 'a conspiracy.' It was reported that the member for Wentworth said:
Let me tell you who the conspirators are. They are the vendors, who want to sell lots of kit for the NBN. They'll tell you privately they think it's bonkers, but they want to sell the kit. There are the over-the-top people like Google and Yahoo and media companies.
There is so much more that I could say on that point but I will just report back on the cost-benefit analysis that has already been done. I have brought this to the attention of the member for Wentworth on several occasions but he obviously chooses not to read them. The Access Economics papers prepared for the department, which are publicly available and very recent, estimate:
… the steady state benefits to Australia from wide-scale implementation of telehealth—
using high-speed broadband that only the NBN can deliver—
may be in the vicinity of $2 billion and $4 billion per annum.
That is every single year. This thing pays for itself.
The member for Cowper would be interested in this. Another teleworking paper that Access Economics has done talks about the importance of infrastructure savings, saying:
… these flow from both teleworkers not using road transport during peak periods, reducing the need for road maintenance and upgrades … and from population decentralisation as teleworkers can live outside of major city centres. As the expenditure on road infrastructure in Australia in 2007-08—
in 2007-08 alone—
by governments totalled about $13.2 billion … this gain is potentially large.
Time and again, we hear the member for Wentworth coming in here and saying, 'We don't know why we need the NBN; we haven't had a cost-benefit analysis done on it.' It is the same old story.
I would like to bring something else into context in the last minute that I have, and that is a social inclusiveness. I know that during the last couple of months a lot of us have been going around our electorates talking to disability carers and people with disabilities. We have only to look at the 2007 OECD publication about the digital inclusion perspective, which analysed particularly how high-speed broadband networks of the type that the NBN is, to see that they have the potential to markedly improve the lives and life chances of all people with disabilities. That is yet another reason why I have been such a vocal advocate for the NBN. I note that the potential for social inclusiveness for people with disabilities can never be measured solely by economic analysis. I know that, as the National Broadband Network continues to be rolled out, we will continue to see those benefits flow through to Australian citizens. I commend the report to the House.
I welcome the opportunity to debate and note this report. The purpose of the report is to provide advice to parliament on the largest infrastructure project in the nation's history. This committee has the responsibility of providing reporting in a timely manner. This committee has the responsibility to keep the parliament and the Australian people properly informed of the status of the project. The committee has the responsibility to highlight deficiencies identified in the rollout of the project. Regrettably, this report rambles on, page after page, and says absolutely nothing. It gives the reader no insight into the progress of the project. It is a document that does nothing other than repeat and bring together material already in the public domain. This is a project that is behind time and over budget and that is not achieving the take-up rates projected in its own business plan. It is a significant failing that in the first report the committee has not addressed the issues of time, cost and take-up rates—the very foundation stones of the success or failure of the National Broadband Network project. The report does not even inform the parliament of the expenditure to date on the project and where those funds have been spent. At the earliest meetings of the committee certain key performance indicators were requested. It is now 22 September and NBN Co. and the government have failed to deliver on their undertaking to provide KPIs to the committee's meeting of 20 September.
I quote the words from the report:
At the committee's 16 May 2011 public hearing, NBN Co stated that it was reviewing 'a number of KPIs with the NBN Co Board.'
I quote from the report again:
Later at the committee's 5 July 2011 public hearing, the NBN Co indicated that it had been working closely with the Government to develop KPIs. The NBN Co stated that once this process was complete, that the Government would consult with the committee …
It is now 22 September and we are still to receive the promised information. That is timely, responsive reporting of the ilk that Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud of. It is the largest infrastructure project in history, and the government and NBN Co. can spend six months deciding what the KPIs might be. It is little wonder that this is a project running behind time. It is reasonable to assume that the reason the key performance indicators have not been provided is that this is a project that is failing.
On 1 April this year we had the construction tender process collapse and be abandoned. Tenders were massively over budget. We had 14 tenderers, all notable industry players, who came up with a set of numbers vastly different from the project budget. And what can we conclude here? Was there collusion between the 14 tenderers? There was no ACCC investigation and apparently no evidence of that. Was the budget inadequate? The government claims the budget is totally adequate, but I am yet to be convinced We have a tender process which was abandoned and a government claiming that the project is still within budget, yet we have not a word on this in this waffling report.
And then along comes Silcar and everything is fixed; magically, a deal is done within budget. I thought Christmas only came once a year, but there we had a tender process collapsing and, miraculously, out of the blue on the white horse came Silcar. We have a joint venture between Siemens and Thiess which can allegedly deliver the project within budget. I say 'allegedly' because we just do not know and there is nothing in this report that makes us any more confident. We do not know anything about this contract that has been let to Silcar. In the true spirit of the NBN, there is a veil of secrecy and concealment. We do not know the risks that NBN Co. have taken on to achieve this somewhat miraculous change in the value of the construction tender. We do not know who is taking the risk in changes in the cost of labour. We do not know who is taking the risks on the increases in the cost of materials and equipment. We do not know who is taking the risk with regard to extension of time, industrial disputes, bad weather or site conditions. We just do not know, and this report is silent on this very important issue.
Wouldn't you think that, if you have the largest infrastructure project in this nation's history and you have a major collapse in the construction tender process, it would warrant a few lines of consideration? Wouldn't you think that a committee that has the responsibility of reporting on the status to the parliament would at least raise it and deliberate on that? But no: the report is silent on that issue. The fact is the headline price arrived at with Silcar may be nothing more than a carefully contrived illusion designed to get an incompetent government out of a mess of its own making. The reality is the real cost of this contract may be far greater when all of the risks are finally monetised—a very important point. And did the report properly consider this important issue? Alas, as I said, it did not. Let me look at take-up rates—a vitally important issue and a key foundation stone for the revenue projections in the business plan. It is interesting to note that it would be reasonable to expect that a project with the qualities espoused by the government—the NBN that the country cannot be without—and with all the publicity there would be a stampede to get connected, that people would be knocking Senator Conroy over in the rush to get connected to the NBN. When the Apple iPhone was released, people queued in the snow to buy one. They were so keen to get this new technology, they queued in the snow to buy one. Yet Senator Conroy is struggling to find a queue of people who want get connected to the NBN. He cannot even find a queue.
Yes. When Armidale was connected, the first mainland site to be connected, it is interesting to note that there were fewer customers for the NBN than there were passengers on the Prime Minister's jet that flew to the launch. We all remember the magnificent seven—seven customers for the mainland launch of this new technology. Wouldn't you think that the current take-up levels—the slow rates in Tasmania and in the mainland sites—would be sounding alarm bells to the government and NBN Co. management?
In giving evidence to the committee on 5 July, our good friend Mr Quigley was able to inform us that 14,256 premises had been passed by NBN Co. to 30 June 2011—not 14,257, not 14,255 but exactly 14,256 premises passed; not connected but passed. This compares to the 13,000 projected to be passed under the corporate plan by that date. It is pleasing to note that there is something in this project that has been reported as being ahead of expectations. In response to those 14,256 properties passed, my colleague the member for Bradfield, asked Mr Quigley, 'How many retail customers does the NBN have?' The answer was that he did not know. He knew 14,256 houses had passed by 30 June, but he did not know how many customers he had.
We have a CEO of the largest infrastructure project in the country who does not how many customers he has. I must say that is the level of competence you come to expect from this government and the NBN Co. I guess he had what you could term a 'Costa Rica moment'. You know Costa Rica—that small Central American country with 4.6 million people and the $40 billion of GDP that he forgot he was responsible for in his time at Alcatel. He had a Costa Rica moment. I anticipated that he could have such a Costa Rica moment, so prior to the committee I got my adviser to ring NBN and ask a very probing question. So he rang and asked, 'Could you tell me how many customers you have?' The answer came back, 'I don't know.' So not to be put off by this minor setback, he then said, 'Could you put me on to someone who can tell me how many customers you have?' The person at the other end of the phone not only did not know how many customers they had but also had no idea who in NBN Co. head office was responsible for knowing how many customers they had. So the CEO and NBN Co. head office do not know how many customers they have. That is the management control. We have no advice in this report.
Member for Chifley, do you not think that the report should have made some comment on how many customers the NBN has, given the significance—
The report did not even countenance the fact that the take-up rate was abysmal; that the CEO did not know how many customers he had and that it displayed a lack of competence which is almost incomprehensible. It is of great concern. We have a report that remains mute on the very issues of concern about which this parliament should be informed. We have a report that is about as relevant to this parliament as a travelogue of Sardinia. Really, Mr Deputy Speaker: if it is an item of importance, it is not referred to in the report; if it is an item of gratuitous waffle, it is there on page after page.
It serves little purpose to repeat the information and documentation that is available in the public domain. That is not the role of the committee. The role of this committee is to report in a timely way on those matters that are of importance to the parliament—and the matters that are of importance are the timing of the project, the cost of the project, the impact of the take-up rates on the revenue projections of the project—so that the parliament and the people of Australia can know how this project is progressing. We do not want hundreds of pages of gratuitous waffle.
This is a report that fails every test in relation to providing meaningful information on the largest infrastructure project in this country's history. We have the government and the CEO of NBN Co. attempting to deceive the Australian people with regard to the status of this project. We have a report that assists them in that deception and concealment. This report fails the test sadly. The parliament deserves timely and relevant information. Despite the best efforts of the coalition members in producing the minority report, this report in fact falls far short of what is required for a project of this size.
I appreciate the opportunity to follow the member for Cowper in speaking to this report. It is no surprise at all that the opposition members would get up and criticise this report. It is no surprise at all that the opposition would put in a dissenting report. I think the member for Greenway put it very succinctly today when she followed the member for Wentworth: the fact is that the opposition are fundamentally opposed to this policy reform.
It is unfortunate that a committee of this nature, with the important role that it has before it, could not operate in a bipartisan way. But the reality is that you have members on this committee whose sole intention it is to ensure this reform does not go ahead; to spend all of their time questioning witnesses as to whether there is not another course that we can follow—that is, going outside the terms of reference, not looking at whether NBN Co. and the government are fulfilling the commitment the government made to the Australian people, which the Australian people fully embraced, but instead trying to say, 'That's not what we need.' We heard it from the member for Wentworth today. I did not catch all of his speech, but I am not surprised that the few seconds I caught talked about fibre to the node once again.
The fact is that we are not as a committee investigating whether there are other options to fibre to the premise. Our responsibility as a committee is to look at what the government committed to deliver in announcing the rollout of the NBN and the establishment of NBN Co. and make sure that we are fulfilling the commitment we made to the Australian people. In fact, according to the resolution of appointment, the committee's responsibility is to report every six months to this parliament, commencing 31 August 2011, until the NBN is complete and operational. The resolution also says:
… the Committee—
provide progress reports to both Houses of Parliament and to shareholder Ministers on:
(a) the rollout of the NBN … in relation to the Government’s objective for NBN Co. Limited (NBN Co.) to:
(i) connect 93 per cent of Australian homes, schools and businesses with fibre-to-the premises technology providing broadband speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, with a minimum fibre coverage obligation of 90 per cent of Australian premises; and
(ii) service all remaining premises by a combination of next-generation fixed wireless and satellite technologies providing peak speeds of at least 12 megabits per second;
(b) the achievement of take-up targets (including premises passed and covered and services activated) as set out in NBN Co.’s Corporate Plan released on 20 December 2010 as revised from time to time;
(c) network rollout performance including service levels and faults;
(d) the effectiveness of NBN Co. in meeting its obligations as set out in its Stakeholder Charter;
(e) NBN Co.’s strategy for engaging with consumers and handling complaints;
… … …
(g) Any other matter pertaining to the NBN rollout that the Committee considers relevant …
This is the resolution of appointment for this committee, not what those on the other side want it to be. They are running off on tangents all the time just to prove that they have another idea. Their idea is not as good. It will not deliver the speeds that the NBN Co. will but it is cheaper. That is their entire policy: 'It's not as good but, hey, it's cheaper.' That is their selling point. Well, I can tell the member for Cowper, who uses the analogy of people lining up outside the doors of Apple wanting an iPhone or an iPad but of people not lining up at Stephen Conroy's door—
Can I advise the member for Cowper that people are wanting the NBN, people are banging on our doors saying, 'It cannot happen soon enough.' It is a shame that the member for Cowper was not at the inspections in Broken Hill, because he would have heard the evidence from the council and from many other witnesses saying, 'We can't have it soon enough.' That is what everyone is saying. They are saying: 'We know it's great; we can't have it soon enough.'
The NBN is so popular that the member for Brisbane is complaining that her electorate is not getting it in the second stage. In fact the member for Brisbane has come out complaining that her previous constituents in Petrie are getting it. She is complaining about the people who would have for 11 years complained to the then member for Petrie about the poor access to fast broadband.
Honourable members interjecting—
I hear it every day. I heard it as a candidate in 2006 when the member for Brisbane was the member for Petrie. I heard it in 2007, in 2008, in 2009, in 2010 and in 2011. They continue to tell me about the black spots and the huge problems with broadband access, but we have the member for Brisbane—who has stood up in this place, who has made statements outside this place and said how unhappy she is that her constituents are not getting it soon enough—saying how unhappy she is that her past constituents are getting it. I find it amazing that a member who represented the people of Petrie for over 11 years is now complaining that they are finally getting what they deserve, which is fast broadband. I am proud to be the member for Petrie who will be delivering that for them and proud to be part of a federal Labor government that is committed to delivering the National Broadband Network.
I want to support the statements already made by member for Greenway, who certainly has a lot of experience in this area. I want to acknowledge the government members on this committee, who come to this committee with a genuine commitment to see this reform rolled out. Importantly, we aim to do our job as a committee properly to make sure that it is rolled out in the best interests of the Australian people, and that NBN Co. and the department do their jobs properly. That is the role of the committee, and we are making sure that we are doing that by fulfilling our roles on the committee, as is the chair of the committee. And I thank the chair, the member for Lyne, for his work on this committee. He is genuinely committed to seeing the NBN rolled out because he understands the benefits of this. They are not just benefits to householders. Again, we are not talking about someone being able to download fast emails or a movie; we are talking about the benefits to health. Only a week ago, we had a display about eHealth, and it was absolutely incredible. If you look at what is already being done in the area of health and talk to the experts about it—and we had some evidence in Broken Hill from the Flying Doctors and other regional health services—you realise how important it is. It is not just important but imperative that they get that fast broadband so they can start delivering better health services in our regions. There are people who have to travel thousands of kilometres to see specialists and have to be away from their homes and families for a lengthy period of time who could get assistance in their home town—in their homes, even—with the facilities that come with fast broadband technology.
The NBN will enhance education. The fact is that there are endless opportunities when it comes to education. In our schools, our students who are doing languages are getting online now and communicating in real time with students across the other side of the world. The ability for our education and higher education to expand with faster broadband and newer technology is incredible. We had the opportunity to talk to Nextgen, who had just switched on their new trial of what they say are the fastest speeds in the world—it was a world first—in this tiny room in the middle of Broken Hill with just one little box on the floor. It was hard to imagine what it could achieve, but we went into town and we saw the small box on the footpath and were amazed at the fact that that will be able to connect every single premises in Broken Hill to fast broadband. I know that the businesses and the council in Broken Hill, and the member for that area, cannot wait to get fast broadband there. Members from regional areas understand that. If they do not understand that, their constituents should be asking why they are not out there fighting for this, sooner than later, because it is the regional towns that will benefit most from this.
In Broken Hill, they are building a huge film studio. They have been able to obtain one of the old power stations. It is being refurbished and it is going to be used as a major film studio. One of the huge drawcards for that is that, when they have fast broadband, they are going to be able to send the films straight back to the US—not the old canisters anymore; they can send the films straight back through the internet. This is huge for Broken Hill, it is huge for the outer regions and it is huge for the country as far as our economy is concerned. But the opposition just do not get it. They do not understand what this is all about.
There is no doubt that there are issues of concern, and they came out of the submissions and the evidence of witnesses to the committee. The thing that jumps out at me the most is the need to improve communication and information, especially out into those regional and rural areas. There is still a lack of information about the benefits of the NBN, how it will be rolled out and what stages there are. I know that that information will be coming in the future, in terms of future plans and time frames, but we need to go out and talk to people about the benefits and how it will work, about who is going to get fibre to the premises and who is going to get wireless.
We have been talking about which towns and outer regions will get wireless and which will get satellite, but we have to actually go into those towns and areas and talk to the people about it to make sure that they have the correct information. During the committee inquiry, we heard evidence from a person who is involved in the School of the Air that the School of the Air had concerns that their service would decrease as a consequence of the interim satellite. However, from evidence put before the committee just this week, we have been able to clarify with NBN Co. that the School of the Air's understanding was incorrect. In fact, they are not even on that satellite system; that is going to be changed over, so there will be no impact on them at all. But it is about getting the correct information out there.
I had the opportunity to go out to Brunswick. It was really unfortunate that there was not one member of the opposition who came out to do those inspections with us. We talked to representatives from Telstra and NBN Co. who were working together. There was a small Telstra substation there, and we went into this building and saw the rows of copper leads going everywhere. They said that this massive row of tangled wires basically covered about 16,000 households. Then they took us over to two cupboards that had little boxes in them. They said they would cover 29,000 homes. They showed us out on the street how the individual premises were connected. It was explained to us by both the NBN Co. and the Telstra representatives that copper can be damaged—it can be damaged simply by floods, by excessive water. The only way to damage fibre is to actually cut it. They said that, even if the fibre to the premises is cut, within half an hour they can have it up and running again. There are huge benefits coming from this NBN project.
The committee has made the decision to change its reporting cycle so that we will be reporting again at the end of this parliamentary session—there will be two reports handed down this year. This will be important because we will be getting the report from NBN Co. that sets out the key areas that the terms of reference address, and we will be able to report to this parliament about the key milestones that we have been talking about.
This is an exciting and extremely important reform for this country. I am pleased to be deputy chair of this committee. I thank the committee members who are genuinely committed to seeing this policy reform roll out in the best interests of this nation. It is my pleasure to commend the report.
I remind members that, while I am the first to enjoy an exchange, if they seriously want to make a statement during a contribution they do have the right to intervene. So, if they want to interrupt, they should do it formally and with courtesy.
Mr Deputy Speaker, I will bear your comments in mind when I am occupying the chair. It is a very good principle. I notice that the member for Petrie, the deputy chair of the Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network, is leaving the chamber. That is a disappointment because she raised issues that I have to confront in a rural and remote electorate extending from just west of Brisbane all the way to the Northern Territory border. She spoke about the benefits of the NBN for e-health, the Royal Flying Doctor Service and distance education. I will be with those rural and remote communities this time next week looking at these very issues, including the issue of the rollout of digital television—which is an absolute disgrace. This government has ignored the wishes and concerns of those communities in remote parts of Australia—the small communities that are being offered a satellite-only service when they have had analog rebroadcast for years and years. It is the rebroadcast that they want, not satellite dishes on private homes. There is a very real issue here that we cannot get the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to listen to. I hope he will listen to these concerns at the local government conference which will be held on the Gold Coast in two weeks time. I know there is a real worry in those remote communities that this government is not listening to their concerns, whether they be concerns about the digital television rollout or the fibre optic high-speed internet rollout.
I am not opposed to high-speed internet. I have been driving this agenda on our side of the House almost since I came here. I know the benefits of communication—it is a vital link with trade, education opportunities and health. What we are opposed to is the model and the lack of transparency being proposed under the NBN. We heard the member for Cowper talk very eloquently about this. We want answers. After all, there is a commitment to spend something like $50 billion in this major infrastructure project. Surely there should be transparency and the community and the people—the taxpayers of Australia, the shareholders of NBN Co.—should be entitled to know about some of the rollout proposals and about the take-up that is occurring as the program is rolled out. We acknowledge it is a massive investment, but it should at least be subject to a cost-benefit analysis and transparency so that the taxpayers of Australia can understand and judge for themselves whether this is a good business model or a flawed business model. Any business would be doing due diligence or a feasibility study in relation to a proposition so big—or not even as big as this. Any business, small or large, before they make that investment would be doing due diligence as to whether there is an economic model that stacks up.
The member for Petrie, the deputy chair of this committee, spoke in glowing terms about this rollout into rural and regional Australia. Can I just say that I represent a rural electorate. I hope that the members from the regions of Melbourne and Sydney, with their city-centric thinking, might just listen for a moment. I would invite them to come out and talk to these communities in remote parts of Australia and live the life for a little while. They might then have an understanding of what people like me are talking about, because we understand the challenges and we also understand the importance of high-speed internet for those people, particularly in remote parts of Australia. Unlike this model from the government, we said that under our plan we would be building the network from the inside of Australia to the outside. But what this government is doing is rolling it out in some key marginal seats, including the seats of the Independents who gave this government government. It is very cosy. It is a bit like the Regional Development grants that have recently been rolled out. What a disgrace that was.
Anyway, I go back to the point that next week I will be out with these communities in far western Queensland, including one large pastoral property where the children have access to their education source through the School of Distance Education. I will be going to towns where the Royal Flying Doctor Service will be conducting clinics, which they do out of Charleville. Every day they are available, 24 hours a day.
Only last month I was out in Birdsville in the far west of my electorate with the Leader of the Opposition. There we sat down at the Birdsville Clinic with the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the clinic nurses. They explained to us that, whilst they have a fortnightly clinic at Birdsville, they are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and they are only two hours away by aircraft if they get the call from the clinic in Birdsville. But it is not just Birdsville; it could be other communities out in the far west of my electorate and other parts of Australia: Bedourie, Windorah, Jundah, Eromanga, Thargomindah and all of those remote communities, including some of the remote pastoral stations where the Royal Flying Doctor Service are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, whenever they get the call.
They explained to us the benefits of e-health. I will preface my remarks by saying that Birdsville and that far western part of my electorate are connected by radio links to the mainframe, if I could put it that way. The mainframe is the optic fibre network that extends across this nation; the Telstra legacy optic fibre interconnects between communities. These communities out there are connected by a radio signal—a microwave link. The clinic nurse said that, if they get a situation where they have a person who presents at the clinic and they take an X-ray of the situation that they are concerned about, they will transmit it to the Royal Flying Doctor Service or a medical practice far to the east, in a capital city or a big regional town. But the problem is that they are transmitting that signal through a single-channel radio microwave link over about 800 kilometres—600 kilometres in some cases—to the nearest optic fibre cable, and then it is transmitted either to the Royal Flying Doctor Service base in Charleville or to a regional centre further east with a major medical practice. The signal that they send now is not high resolution because it is going through a radio signal. If they had optic-fibre cable connections in that far western part of my electorate they would be able to transfer a high-resolution image to the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Charleville, and they might refer it on to Brisbane for another opinion. But they are unable to send a high-resolution image now because, as I said, they are not connected to the optic-fibre cable main trunk route at all. They are connected by microwave link.
They said that if there is any doubt they call the Royal Flying Doctor Service, as you would imagine they would, so the doctor will be there and they will pick up that patient and they will evacuate them to Charleville to do an X-ray and then transmit it, if necessary, via optic-fibre cable to a capital city or regional centre if they are seeking a second opinion. It would be a high-resolution image. Every retrieval out of Birdsville costs $8,000. It may be that it is just a retrieval to take an X-ray to get a high-resolution image for a second opinion on a situation that they are dealing with. If that evacuation were not necessary—because they had that optic-fibre cable connection—they could deal with it on the spot and make a decision and it could well save having an $8,000 retrieval just to have an X-ray done and return the patient to Birdsville if all is clear. That is an example of the cost of providing a medical service in some remote communities and the problem here is they are not connected by optic-fibre cable to the main optic-fibre network across this nation.
The communities out in the far west of my electorate that come to my mind immediately—the Diamantina, Barcoo and Quilpie shires—have said that they would put money towards an optic-fibre cable to connect their towns to the main optic fibre line. They are prepared to put up $3 million or $4 million of their ratepayers' money towards that and what they require from this government, in a partnership arrangement which our policy would have allowed and does allow, is about $15 million to $20 million and then they would be connected to the main optic fibre line. That is a real partnership and that is the sort of investment that could happen under our policy, but we do not see it coming forward under this government's policy.
You might ask, Mr Deputy Speaker, how many evacuations would a town like Birdsville have? The week before I was there and they had three evacuations at $8,000 per evacuation. The day that I was there, leading up to the Birdsville Outback racing festival and the Birdsville races, there were over 6,000 people in town. The population of Birdsville and the Diamantina shire is about 300 people but about 30,000 tourists go through there every year. So we are not dealing with a population of 300; we can often be dealing with 4,000 or 5,000 people at any one time. I said to the Royal Flying Doctor Service clinic staff there, 'Do you get many people travelling through who need medical attention?' and was told, 'Every day.' It might be seniors and older people in their Winnebagos doing their big trip around Australia and needing prescription drugs, or maybe just a health check. What would be of great benefit to those communities is to have the back-up of an optic-fibre cable connection into the main line to support the decisions of the practitioner nurses and the clinic nurses that are there throughout the day and are available throughout the night.
The other concern I want to raise relates to those small communities of less than 500. As I understand it, they are now connected by clear-voice signal, a telephone, via copper wire. I understand it is the intention, should the shareholders of Telstra approve the arrangement, that the copper wire will be owned by NBN Co. NBN Co.'s role in those small communities is not to roll out optic-fibre cable, as we heard from the deputy chair today, but to provide a voice service to those communities by satellite. What a backward step! You have a viable copper wire system in some of those small communities and that is going to be trashed and replaced by satellite for a clear-voice signal. I have used a clear-voice signal via satellite and I can assure you there is always a latency in the voice and you almost have to say 'over and out'. Maybe satellite technology will improve over time, but I urge the government not to scrap the copper wire in those communities.
I also want to say something on the optic fibre cable rollout to the premises. I heard the deputy chair of the committee say that copper wire can be destroyed. Well, a lot of that copper wire has been out there for more than a hundred years and it still has life in it. I noticed that the member for Chifley said: 'Optic fibre cable won't be affected by floods; the only disconnect would be if it were cut.' If you have a power failure in your area and you are connected by optic fibre cable, you will be off the air unless you have power and are able to power up the signal that is coming via the optic fibre cable, because optic fibre—glass, in other words—does not carry current; copper does. That is why, when people are connected to the optic fibre cable only, they will need a battery backup for when the power goes down. They will need to have batteries and make sure that they remain fully charged. So this notion that optic fibre cable cannot be destroyed and will not go down is wrong. You get blackouts. And what happens in big floods when the power is cut? We have seen massive floods recently. If you lose your power under an optic-fibre-only connection to your home, you will not have a connection—unless you have a battery backup—because you are going to trash the copper wire.
The coalition has a very real plan not only to address these issues in remote Australia and build partnerships with third parties, such as the one I have described in western Queensland with the Diamantina and Barcoo shires, to roll out optic fibre cable—
I cannot answer that directly in relation to Christchurch. But I have been to Openreach in London, which is British Telecom's division responsible for the rollout of broadband, if I can put it that way, in the UK, and they showed me that you clearly need a battery backup to power your system if you are connected only to optic fibre cable. So you need a separate power source on the premises to make sure that you remain connected, regardless of what might happen out in the community.
I have heard it all in this place—the National Party talking against the NBN; the National Party talking about the connection of their regions to modern high-speed telecommunications and broadband infrastructure, and the National Party talking against it! I might as well be sitting here listening to them bagging out farmers! I simply cannot believe that a National Party member who has a chance to connect his or her community to the modern world would say, 'This is a bad thing,' and spend most of their time bagging it out. It is beyond the pale.
I just want to ask a simple question: what type of committee was similarly brought together at any time under the Howard government?
None, as the member for Melbourne Ports rightly indicates. Why? Because in the 19 times that they had the opportunity to fix this up, they were unable to do it and unable to provide any oversight whatsoever. We have here, in the nation's parliament, a joint committee of both senators and members—many of whom, I am proud to say, are serving the country well on this committee: my colleague the member for Greenway, who is here; the deputy chair, the member for Petrie; and, even though I have deep differences at a policy level with him, the member for Bradfield brings a lot to bear. But, having said that, that is where I have to depart because, even though they know well what is required to be done, they work their hardest to frustrate the need to do something that escaped them 19 times. The deputy chair, the member for Petrie, reflected very positively on the work of the member for Lyne, the chair of the committee, who tried to ensure both sides of the debate were accommodated through the work of the committee. But at some point something has to give when, effectively, we have Luddites on the other side. We have been open and accountable and have been met with nothing but frustration from a phalanx of technological Luddites on the other side who lack the vision and the ability to contribute to this debate. Remember that these are the people who keep arguing that we needed a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN. From the 19 times that they tried to get this right, clearly, they knew there was a need. They knew there was a benefit that would come from upgrading our network to ensure that everyone could get access to broadband. They tried it 19 times and now they are calling for a demonstration of benefit when they knew full well that it was there and needed to be done.
They called for a cost-benefit analysis, but they did not do that on their $10 billion water plan that the member for Wentworth advocated. They never did it on the Adelaide to Darwin railway, the plans that were put forward at the tail end of the Howard government. At no time did they provide a cost-benefit analysis, but they keep arguing about cost-benefit analysis in this place simply because it will frustrate the process of doing something that they failed to do.
People in the know have outlined the absolutely startling benefits of what this network will do. The member for Greenway pointed to the Deloitte Access Economics report—and I was very grateful that she did. That report talks about $27 billion of productivity benefit generated for business and government because it has improved the way they work by getting access to the internet. What was the opposition's response? Via the member for Wentworth, the opposition's response was to bag out Google and to criticise Deloittes for putting forward this economic work. It is simply astounding. Any time any person seeks to put forward a different view to those opposite, they will not respect those views and they go out of their way to challenge them.
They also challenge the need for fibre to the premises and say, for example, there has been no backing for it. I actually recall significant backing for it from the ACCC. The ACCC said that having fibre to the premises was our chance to finally rid ourselves of the competition devils that had held us back in the sector—a sector dominated by one major player that continued to crowd out any ability for new players to come in, for new innovation and for someone else to take up the communication challenges facing the country. And the opposition say, 'Why did we move from our initial plan to the end plan of where we are at? Why did we move from the $5 billion plan to $43 billion plan? They know full well, and the member for Bradfield knows full well, that the reason for that was that the major dominant player in this country submitted six pages for a $5 billion tender for the major upgrade our telecommunications network. Those six pages clearly demonstrated that the major player in this country under the former leadership of Sol Trujillo and Don McGauchie at Telstra were not serious about this and would do whatever they could to frustrate it. We had an ossified industry dominated by one player. We wanted to smash through a calcified telco sector. What did we get? We got the opposition criticising us for something that had, frankly, bedevilled them. They knew the frustrations. You only need to spend five minutes with former senator Helen Coonan to know how much frustration she had as the former minister trying to get Telstra to play ball. Telstra were refusing to invest because the ACCC would not give them a green light to rip off consumers, again under the former leadership of Sol Trujillo, and it was something that the former government was not prepared to countenance either. We know they had problems. We wanted to smash through those problems. You would think they would want to join with us. They do not. They spend their time bagging it out. We had to step up.
They continue to frustrate every step of the way on this committee and are still managing to run the same old tired arguments that we know will not work. The member for Greenway knows it. I understand the member for Bradfield—as I have reflected on earlier, I have regard for his industry expertise and regulatory expertise—has been told he has to run a line which he knows, in his heart of hearts, is not the right one to run. We have a debate: fibre versus copper, with its limitations in capacity; copper, with its limitations because of its fault rate. As reflected on by the member for Petrie, the minute you get moisture in it, faults go through the roof. We know we have a chance. We can either keep rolling out copper with its limitations or we can say: 'Righto. We know this is an old technology. We're going to go to the one that actually works and that's optic fibre.'
The other thing is, too, they know what is better in a head-to-head contest. They know that fibre is the way to go but what is their option? They talk about HFC. Nothing better demonstrates that the shadow minister for communications simply has no idea when he keeps advocating HFC, when he talks about Sydney and Melbourne and 30 per cent of homes having HFC. Everyone knows that HFC chokes up. Once you have Foxtel, subscription TV, running through your home and you are trying to rely upon that plus another signal for internet access, you are going to become choked up.
At the same time they argue for wireless. Everyone knows that when more people are on wireless at one particular time wireless cannot deliver, that it slows right down. So they say to us 'HFC', they say to us 'wireless' and then they say, 'We don't even need to go down this path. Why don't we just do a black spots program,' and then condemn the rest of the country to inconsistent speeds. We are talking about a uniform network with massive download speeds and fantastic uploads. That is the big thing: the fact that there are greater upload speeds in this network. We say, 'Regardless of where you live, we want, in 93 per cent of cases, to have you connected to the network of the future,' and they say, 'No, we want you to have a patchwork network that won't deliver.' I recall editorials from the Illawarra Mercury asking Mr Turnbull, the shadow minister, why he was condemning the regions to a second-rate option. I said earlier in a head-to-head contest people know—wireless versus optic. I might reflect rightly on the words of the member for Greenway who said, 'It isn't a case of competition; it is about being complementary, that wireless and fibre have a place together in this network.' Head to head fibre versus wireless—we know who wins. Why? The answer was delivered to us by the member for Sturt when he chaired a committee which clearly said, 'Hands down, fibre wins.' They know it. The member for Bradfield, with his expertise, knows it. The people in the know, the people I joined on this committee, the member for Greenway—they know it but the opposition still argue that we have to be down this path.
Frankly, I think we are expecting too much of the opposition. The member for Cowper says, 'The NBN cannot tell us numbers.' I think we are expecting too much from a bloke who should know that the NBN is a wholesale network and it does not necessarily keep the retail numbers because the RSPs do. The RSPs have to go through a process of activation of individual clients. It is not the wholesaler's job to keep the retail numbers; it is the RSP's job. It is the RSP's process to go through the activation mechanism. It is their job to do it. But the member for Cowper is not interested in that, just as he was not interested when the member for Kingston told us that in the past week, when they activated the network in Willunga, 90 per cent of the people there opted in. When I went to Victor Harbour with another committee I have the honour of sitting on, we learnt that they cannot wait for the NBN to come to their neck of the woods. They say they want to hold onto their best and brightest in regional South Australia instead of seeing them denied the opportunities for jobs and education, leaving there and going to Adelaide. You should be looking to hold onto the best and brightest in your part of the world instead of seeing them travelling from the regions into capital cities.
The thing that gets me the most in this debate is this elitist argument that comes out of the opposition when they sneer and look down their noses, saying, 'We all know what you want to use the internet for: you want to use it to download IP TV, and we shouldn't be spending money on that.' They seek to degrade the purpose of the NBN. As the member for Greenway rightly said, they only see it as the internet; they cannot see it as a broader application of this network. They sneer down from positions where their constituents have access to a great network. In constituencies that I am representing—for example, Woodcroft—the network is jammed and people have to leave that suburb for somewhere else to get a connection. Wireless does not even work. We are trying to do something for the people of Western Sydney and the people of regional Australia, and they, from their positions with constituents who do not have these problems, say to us, 'The best you should get is a second-rate option,' and 'Stop always hoping for the Bentley when the best you can get is a Commodore.' That is the line they use.
Their words are an insight into their thinking. It is that the best you should hope for is the second-best option. 'You do not deserve a network that we already enjoying.' That is what they are saying to me. That is what they are saying to the member for Fowler. That is what they are saying to the member for Greenway. It is what they are saying to members opposite who have to toe an insane party line. When they talk about this report in this place, remember this: they cannot be trusted. People in the general community know they cannot be trusted on this issue, because their sole job is to destroy this network and to deny opportunity to the people of Western Sydney. They talk with a forked tongue and a dead policy head.
I am very pleased to follow the member for Chifley in this debate concerning the recent report provided by the Joint Select Committee on the National Broadband Network. I have a number of comments to make about the report, but before I do that I feel I should address a number of the comments made by the member for Chifley, who informed the House that I had been told to run a line on the National Broadband Network and in my heart it is not what I believe. This is a fairly rich claim in the week when Labor have introduced legislation to introduce offshore processing after years of telling us it was not what they believed in.
The question of what is in my heart, I feel, I am best placed to inform the House about. What is in my heart is very much the same as what is in the heart of the member for Wentworth and of the coalition generally when it comes to the question of broadband. We are firmly in favour of upgrading Australia's broadband infrastructure. We are in favour of doing that in a rational and cost-effective way in which the private sector takes the maximum degree of load and where government spending concentrates on areas of market failure. By contrast, the member for Chifley has sought to portray this issue as some kind of class struggle and argue that in the coalition we are asserting that areas represented by him and others in this place which have inadequate services should remain and suffer those inadequate services while we, it would seem in his view of the world, swan around in Rolls Royces, eating caviar and enjoying the high-speed broadband which festoons our seats.
I venture to suggest that that picture is a simplistic one, but I do make the substantive point: there are areas of this country that have deeply inadequate broadband. That is not in question at all. There are many areas, including outer suburban areas, where Telstra has put in pair gains systems for what were good operational reasons at the time and people in those areas simply cannot get DSL today. There are plenty of areas where people do not get adequate broadband—that is not in question for a second—but it is one reason why we have argued that it makes sense to closely analyse the strategy underlying the National Broadband Network, announced in such haste in April 2009, under which a gold-plated, Rolls Royce fibre-to-the-premises network would be built to 10 million premises.
That raises the question, amongst many others: is it the most sensible and cost-effective strategy to address the areas of need and to get Australia's overall broadband infrastructure to a level which provides the social and economic benefits that we seek but which is also as cost effective as possible? These are serious questions. That is why the coalition have consistently called for a cost-benefit analysis, because it is a respected and well-understood methodology for dealing with the questions of how much money ought to be spent on particular projects, what the design of those projects should be and, in turn, what the benefits are that are obtained as a result and therefore does it make sense to proceed with the project and allocate scarce government funds to it, in a world where, as we all know, there are many more claims on the government purse than can all be met?
The coalition have repeatedly pointed out that the process which led up to the announcement in April 2009 gravely failed to meet the standards set by this government for itself. It failed to meet the standards set by Infrastructure Australia and it failed to comply with the principle articulated by the Rudd-Gillard government that major infrastructure projects should be preceded by a cost-benefit analysis. One consequence of the strategy that has been adopted is that, in many areas where there is inadequate broadband today, Australians in those areas could well be waiting up to nine or 10 years before they get a new service because of the strategy which has been adopted, which is to build a brand-new network from scratch.
In the balance of the time available to me here today I want to turn to the substantive question of the report produced by the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network, Rollout of the National Broadband Network: first report. Let me start by reminding the House that the purpose of the joint committee is to engage in parliamentary oversight of the work being undertaken by the National Broadband Network Co. executing on the policy mandated by this government.
We on this side of the House do not think the policy is a good one. But there is a second and quite distinct perspective that we bring to this issue, which is a concern to ensure that to the extent the policy is being pursued we want to understand how it is being pursued, the operations of NBN Co., the strategy it is following and its performance against the objectives which have been set for it. More importantly, that is what the parliament wants the committee to be doing. That is why the parliament has established this joint committee so that NBN Co. can be subject to proper scrutiny, bearing in mind, as we are repeatedly told, that this is the largest infrastructure project in Australia's history and that, notwithstanding the various assertions and promises that were made at various stages of the long and convoluted broadband policy debate, all of the money that is being spent on this massively expensive project is coming from taxpayers. Not one cent is coming from the private sector, despite the fact that Labor took a policy to the 2007 election, which involved a joint venture between government and the private sector, with private sector paying at least 50 per cent and despite the fact that when the April 2009 announcement was made to move to a fibre-to-the-premises policy we were told that there would be private sector investment from the start. None of that has happened and the substantive reason is that the advice the government received from McKinsey and KPMG when they produced the implementation report, at a cost of $25 million, could be paraphrased as follows. The private sector would not touch this with a barge pole. This is a very bad investment. That is not of itself, I would readily agree, the same question as whether it would pass a cost-benefit analysis. It is certainly true that when you do a cost-benefit analysis you take account of benefits which may not be captured by the company that builds the network. But it certainly raises the very obvious question: if the private sector thinks this is such a disastrously bad investment, why on earth are we not at least going through the exercise of weighing up, of quantifying, those benefits and assessing them compared to the costs?
Let me therefore come back to the question of whether the committee is working effectively as an oversight mechanism of this enormously expensive project. I have to report, with regret, that the committee is not working very effectively. We have had an unsatisfactory and an uncooperative attitude from the National Broadband Network company and from the government. We saw that at the committee's hearing on Tuesday night. The committee had asked, through its chairman, that regular key performance indicators be provided. A jointly signed letter was sent to the chairman by the Minister for Finance and Deregulation and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy noting that these key performance indicators would not be available until mid-September.
The committee therefore advised the government that a meeting would be scheduled for 20 September to allow time for the key performance indicators to be provided to the committee and to allow the committee to ask questions of NBN Co.'s management against the backdrop of these key performance indicators. When we assembled for the committee meeting on Tuesday night, we were told that the key performance indicators were not available. We further learned that they had been provided to the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy on 19 August—more than one month before the date of the committee's hearing—but the department, presumably following a direction from the minister or his office, had declined to provide them to the committee. There is no other word for it; this is a farcical state of affairs when it comes to a committee which is supposed to be overseeing the operation of the National Broadband Network company.
I make a point based upon my own experience on the senior leadership team of a major telecommunications company. In my years on the senior leadership team of Optus, every week there was a weekly trading meeting attended by the chief executive, the heads of major business units and the heads of key corporate functions, including me. Each business unit provided a written report on key metrics—actual, forecast and budget; metrics, such as sales performance by week and cumulatively; new connections and new cancellations; churn; average revenue per user; acquisition costs; and customer service metrics such as call answer rates and abandonment rates. This data also went to the board on a monthly basis. These are the basics of running a telecommunications company.
I have no doubt that Mr Quigley has such data when it comes to the National Broadband Network company, or at least an analogous version of the data, having regard to the fact that NBN is a wholesale and not a retail operator. It would be a very straightforward exercise to provide a report on key performance indicators to the committee and it is deeply disappointing that the government has failed to facilitate the provision of that information. It is unclear where the responsibility lies between the government and NBN Co., but it is just an extraordinary proposition that, with several months notice, this information was not provided.
Let me note, secondly, a failure in this report to engage with any of the competition issues which arise when it comes to the National Broadband Network. The member for Chifley spoke about the fact that Telstra was subject to price regulation by the ACCC to prevent it from using its market power to gouge customers. The NBN Co. is similarly to be subject to such regulation. It is required to lodge a special access undertaking with the ACCC to obtain approval for the wholesale prices it is going to charge. In the documents lodged by the NBN Co. with the ACCC it has proposed that, for services other than the entry-level service, it will be allowed to increase its prices by CPI plus five per cent each year for a period of more than 20 years. When you do the maths and work out the compound rate of growth that represents, if you plug in an inflation rate of two per cent or three per cent, you get to an enormous multiple. An enormous price increase is permitted. This is a very important issue.
One of the challenges with this market structure is that we are establishing a new monopoly. The government is taking active steps to shut down services on other networks, such as the Telstra network and the Optus network, and indeed the government has legislated to prevent other companies building new networks and being permitted to operate high-speed services over those networks. This is, frankly, an extraordinary way in which to deal with the issue of telecommunications competition. Two very well respected international economists—Joshua Gans and Jerry Hausman, the latter a professor at MIT, Massachusetts Institute of Technology—have made a submission to the ACCC in relation to these matters and have very strongly criticised the policy model which is being pursued by this government as dangerous to competition. It is troubling indeed that the report which has been provided is silent on this point.
The third point I wish to raise very briefly is that there is a very confusing discussion about private equity in paragraph 2.101 of the report. I think this means equity to be obtained from the private sector. The committee is in no position to make any progress in investigating this, because the National Broadband Network Companies Act, section 45, explicitly says that only the Commonwealth may hold shares in NBN Co. and all of the paid-up share capital must be held by the Commonwealth. There is no scope for private equity and it is somewhat mystifying why the committee thinks that this matter is worth pursuing. This is a report which is a testament to a poor policy, an anticompetitive policy and a policy which is not exposed to the degree of scrutiny the government says it is committed to. (Time expired)
I would like to add my congratulations to Sam Stosur on her win in the US Open. The grand slam title is well deserved and comes as no surprise as Aussie tennis fans have followed Sam's career closely and have watched this star steadily rising. While this title is a further boost to Sam Stosur's career, it is also another boost to sport across this nation. It is a reminder to young girls, in particular, that reaching the heights of this international sport and many other international sports is possible. I am sure this month will see thousands of youngsters picking up a tennis racquet, probably for the first time, or just renewing their interest in the sport and helping to develop a more active and healthy future for Australia.
It is unfortunate that my electorate of Dawson cannot lay claim to Sam Stosur as a constituent, but I would like to raise a distinctively North Queensland piece of Stosur history. It is a story that was repeated in the Townsville Bulletin the day after Sam's historic US Open win. Ten years ago, Sam Stosur played in the Australian Unity Home Hill International, which is in my electorate. She was playing well and was on a 25-match winning streak, including the pro-tour North Queensland series in Cairns. However, the 17-year-old Stosur lost her quarter final match in Home Hill. Home Hill fan Kate Casswell last week reported that she could not remember if Stosur had won or lost the quarter final but remembered the future star standing out with her ability to serve and volley. Of the match, Ms Casswell said, 'The reason I remember her game was because her game was scheduled to be played at 7 pm but there was a cane fire and smoke was wafting across the court so they had to delay the start.'
Only in the country; only in the Burdekin! The match was in October 2001 and, at this time of year, the Burdekin sugar industry is firing cane fields in preparation for the crush. It is an impressive sight, in an iconic part of North Queensland—although I am not sure if Sam would have such fond recollections, given that she may have lost there. But it was certainly a memorable night for Home Hill, and I am sure young tennis players across the Burdekin, North Queensland and the rest of Australia will be inspired to follow their dreams in the same way that Sam Stosur has followed hers. So my congratulations to Sam Stosur, her family and the team around her that helped bring this honour to our nation.
I would also like to add to those of other speakers my sincere congratulations to Sam Stosur on her victory at the US Open. It has been an amazing achievement for Australia and an amazing achievement for Sam. Sam is now the first Australian female singles Grand Slam champion in 31 years after Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
Sam was born in Brisbane, so I will claim that ownership of her. She trained at the Queensland Academy of Sport and the Australian Institute of Sport. At the age of 12, Sam Stosur was discovered by Robert Beak at a Brisbane tennis court and ever since she has been a great tennis icon.
Samantha joins the ranks of tennis greats such as Margaret Smith Court, who is regarded by some as the greatest female tennis player of all time, and former World No. 1 Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who was one of the world's leading players in the 1970s and 1980s, when she won 14 Grand Slam titles: seven in the singles—four Australian Open, two Wimbledon and one French Open—six in the women's doubles, and one in the mixed doubles. And before Margaret and Evonne, Australia heralded the success of Nancye Wynne Bolton in 1951 when she won her sixth singles title at the Australian Open championship. To quote Pat Rafter, Stosur is a great role model for the next generation of players, because of her persistence and work ethic. 'She's a great girl and she's worked really hard,' he said. So we congratulate Sam on her wonderful achievement.
Women's tennis in Australia is extremely healthy, with Sam Stosur leading the way and providing a positive role model for our next generation. Nicole Pratt has been appointed AIS head women's coach and is working with both the younger athletes and some of Australia's top female players. So the sport is in very good hands. I want to take this opportunity to wish Australia's next generation of female players, the ones who are training with the AIS, all the very best for the future. The current squad includes a couple of Queenslanders—there are always a few Queenslanders there to help lead the way—Isabella Holland and Ashleigh Barty. There are also a couple of Victorians: Sally Peers and Belinda Woolcock. These young women would no doubt be interested to know that women's tennis tournaments in Australia date back more than 100 years, and interstate tennis was established by 1908, when the Queensland Ladies' Interstate Tennis Team counted as its team members May Thurlow, Maud Larad, Eva Thurlow and Florence Horton.
In my electorate of Brisbane, the Fancutt Tennis Centre and Coaching Academy is celebrating 50 years of existence this year. In this time the tennis centre has been owned and run by the Fancutt family, all five of whom are former Wimbledon players. Daphne Fancutt, then known as Seeney—she is the aunt of the Queensland opposition leader, Jeff Seeney—was the 1956 Wimbledon ladies doubles finalist and the 1956 Australian Open singles semifinalist. Former World No. 1 players, people like Steffi Graf, Rod Laver, Bjorn Borg and Ivan Lendl are among the top players who, along with so many locals and visitors, have enjoyed a hit at the Fancutt Tennis Centre in Lutwyche in my electorate. There have been many young students who have started playing tennis there and who have gone on to play at Wimbledon—something that we should be very proud of. The first two great tennis players to do that were Wendy Turnbull and Geoff Masters. With all of this tennis history, I am absolutely thrilled to be here today to again congratulate Sam Stosur on her achievement in winning the US Open. Sam, we are so very proud of you. All of Australia cheered. We wish you and your teammates all the very best for the future. Well done.
I rise to celebrate the remarkable and historic victory by Samantha Stosur in the US Open. Stosur's win in straight sets was the first Grand Slam victory by an Australian woman in 31 years. While this achievement is remarkable of itself, the manner in which Stosur won the final was truly extraordinary. She was powerful, accurate, poised and remained in control of her game even though her opponent's outbursts at the umpire made for very interesting viewing on the TV. She played the match of her life against a multiple Grand Slam winner and former world No. 1 and came out on top. But if we look past the triumph of her victory we find that Stosur's journey to glory at Flushing Meadows was not easy.
Stosur has played tennis since she was a young girl. She trained at the Queensland Academy of Sport as a teenager and later at the Australian Institute of Sport. She began her professional career in 1999 and saw limited success for a number of years. In 2005, she reached the final of the WTA event on the Gold Coast. Stosur won the mixed doubles title with Scott Draper at the Australian Open in that year. She then teamed up with American Lisa Raymond to win seven doubles titles in 2005, finishing the year ranked No. 2 in the world in women's doubles. By 2006, Stosur and Raymond were ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles, at one stage winning 18 matches in a row.
In 2007, Stosur's form dropped when she was diagnosed with Lyme disease, a tick-borne illness which can cause severe fatigue. The disease forced her to take an extended break from the game as she fought to recover. To her credit, Stosur fought back from her illness and began her rise through the world rankings. In 2009, she reached the semifinals at the French Open and, in Japan, won her first WTA singles event. In 2010, Stosur beat three former No. 1 players on the road to the final of the French Open, which she unfortunately lost. After a difficult start to the 2011 season she has finally broken through to win the most coveted of tennis prizes: a Grand Slam event.
Her victory this week is a triumph of persistence and determination. Unlike so many of the great players in world tennis, she did not burst onto the scene as a precocious teenager. Her success has come through hard work and sacrifice. Her fans marvel at her powerful groundstrokes, delicate volleys and pinpoint serves; however, we do not get to see the countless hours of practice and training. We are not privy to the moments of self-doubt. We do not experience the sweat, tears and loneliness of practice on deserted outside courts. For her, every victory was difficult. She had to fight through the longest-ever women's match at the US Open and the longest tiebreaker in women's tennis history.
Off the court Stosur has been recognised for her efforts to promote tennis and connect with the media and sponsors. Last year she received the WTA Diamond Aces Award in recognition of her efforts on and off the court. Tennis Australia has high hopes that Stosur's success will translate into increased participation in junior tennis. I recently had the privilege of experiencing the Hot Shots and Cardio Tennis programs when Tennis Australia visited Parliament House.
Tennis is an enjoyable and rewarding sport, and I trust the success of Samantha Stosur will translate to increased participation in that wonderful sport. Australia values its sporting heroes, and Samantha Stosur has been elevated to the very highest echelon of modern Australian legends. She can be very proud of her achievements, and I sincerely hope this victory is not the last Grand Slam win for Samantha Stosur.
It is also appropriate to mention Stosur's coach, David Taylor. Stosur praised Taylor for continuing to believe in her through her difficult start to the 2011 season. Coaches are often the first to be criticised when things are going wrong and the last to be congratulated when things are going well, so it is to his credit that David has stuck by Sam through the good times and the bad.
On behalf of the residents of my electorate I extend my warmest congratulations to Sam Stosur and wish her every success into the future.
I will take this opportunity to pay tribute to the wonderful effort of Samantha Stosur in her victory at the US Open tennis tournament on 12 September 2011. Everyone who watched the game—in Australia, anyway—was thrilled with her achievement in becoming the first Australian woman to win the US Open since Margaret Court's day. Sporting success at the highest level is the result of skill, physical fitness and mental toughness. What we see at the victorious end of the championship final is the culmination of an elite athlete putting together all these factors. We the spectators do not see the endless hours of repetitive training and cross-training in skills, fitness and strength. We do not see the early mornings, the long hours or the injuries that come on the long path to success. We do not share the times of physical exhaustion, agony and self-doubt when we watch the final hours of the tournament and the lifting of the trophy. But what we and all Australians should acknowledge is that Samantha Stosur's great victory was created over many years of self-sacrifice and dedication. It was not luck, her turn or as a result of any greater reason than sheer determination, great skill, together with physical and mental toughness.
In watching the final I appreciated the superb shape that Sam Stosur was in. Clearly, she is a lady whose training regime includes weight training and that has assisted her in being in top condition. I sometimes wonder whether she is as tall as she looks but, when I saw Serena Williams standing next to her, she still looked smaller than Williams. I recall on that Monday morning watching the game on the television in the gym here in Parliament House and the first set had just ended. Clearly, Stosur was in command. However, as the first couple of games of the second set passed, we saw the crowd become almost ferocious in its support of Williams, a bit like the ferocity Williams displayed towards the umpire in the match. Williams fought back and broke Stosur and, for just two games, it looked as though Williams was on her way back. However, as testament to Stosur's mental fitness, she fired two aces and reverted to the dominant display that saw her win the first set. She then went on to win the remaining games of the match.
It was particularly at the start of the second set that the crowd strongly backed Williams and the applause for a Williams point was almost deafening. The tiered seating at such venues ensures that the enthusiasm and the noise of the crowd are focused on the players. Stosur was reported as saying: 'You know, it was probably the loudest I ever felt a crowd in my whole life. You're right in the middle of it. For sure it was difficult to stay focused and then obviously the crowd got heavily involved.'
In watching the match it was clear that the crowd lifted early in the second set and it was without any doubt that they wanted Williams to win. The timing of the match, being September 11, may well have been a factor but, in any case, it would have been extremely difficult for Stosur to continue playing at her best. It is therefore right that I make mention of these conditions as a factor when considering exactly what sort of an achievement this win was: a premier event, a very partisan crowd and against a very tough and in-form opponent.
As I said before, these accomplishments are achieved over long periods and when all aspects of one's training are brought together well. As has been reported, after suffering a disappointing third-round loss in South Carolina in April, Stosur worked with the Australian Institute of Sport psychologist Ruth Anderson. Apparently, it was quite a challenging time for Stosur but, again, it comes down to an elite athlete acknowledging the limitations in themselves, determining to be the best person they can be and, in this case, working to lift her mental toughness and position herself psychologically to strengthen her self-belief. Again, this is not something we are along to observe when we watch the final but it is, nevertheless, a vital aspect of an elite sportsperson as they strive to bring all factors together at the right time in order to achieve a victory.
Clearly, the struggle that Samantha Stosur has had and that which has held her back is her psychological resilience. A champion athlete, she has had her great skills and physical strength, and her overall performance, held back by this shortcoming on the psychological side. That shortcoming has clearly been fixed, as she overcame the most difficult of psychological challenges, being up against a very famous and very tough opponent in a very hostile venue.
I suspect that Samantha Stosur is ready, willing and now very able to take her place at the very top of competitive women's tennis and that we will regularly see her in semifinals and finals of the major tennis tournaments and, I hope, regularly winning them. I also suspect that the days of sleeping in dodgy hotels and scrimping and saving will become distant memories for Samantha Stosur.
I take this opportunity to congratulate her on her stunning victory in the US Open. May there be many more. I also hope that the children of Australia look to her as an example of how great success is achieved through hard work and dedication to your dreams, rather than a misplaced belief in luck.
With a decisive forehand backed by a determination which has defined her tennis career, Australia's latest tennis ace Samantha Stosur reached the top with her magnificent grand slam glory. Her United States Open win this month at Flushing Meadows, New York elevates her to a place amongst the best this nation has produced. What a pantheon of greats—a hall of fame on the women's side, which includes such notables as Margaret Court, from Albury, and Griffith-born Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Barellan's golden girl from the Riverina. What wonderful role models Margaret and Evonne are, particularly for youth, particularly for girls and especially for those from regional Australia. Sam Stosur now joins those former champions as someone to look up to, particularly for youth, particularly for girls. Kids need heroes and heroines. They need superstars they can have as pin-up posters in their bedrooms, superstars they can pretend to be as they play their backyard versions of Flushing Meadows, Wimbledon, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Sydney Olympic Park, Lang Park or whatever the case might be—their own field of dreams.
Sam Stosur has now gone all the way from being a 10-year-old with golden locks to gracing the world stage and being the best. That word 'gracing' is significant. Not only did Sam prove her skills with racquet in hand, defeating American Serena Williams in the final in straight sets 6-2, 6-3, but she did so with good manners, dignity and poise. What a role model. In her winning address to the arena, Sam said, 'This was a dream of mine to be here one day.' Enough said. For every athlete, scientist or even politician the dream is the same and the dream is different. The goal is a grand slam, a medical breakthrough, a pleasing result for a constituent—all of which signal we are doing our best; we are doing the right thing. Sam Stosur's triumph reminds us all of the dreams and visions we have for our jobs, our roles and our lives.
The Tour de France win of Cadel Evans saw an instant rise in bike sales, and I am sure Sam's win will inspire thousands of children, especially with the onset of warmer weather, to pick up a tennis racquet and have a go. That is what life is all about: having a go; trying hard; doing our best.
Coincidentally, little more than an hour after Sam's success I caught up with Evonne Goolagong Cawley who was in Parliament House as a patron of the Learn Earn Legend! Work Experience in Government program. She was understandably elated with Sam's terrific win and the image it will set for Australian tennis. She was also overjoyed when I told her Barellan had just recently won the Northern Riverina Football League premiership with the very last kick of the match against Lake Cargelligo in the grand final at West Wyalong. You can take the girl out of Barellan but you cannot take her heart away from her home town, the place where the townsfolk have a giant racquet and ball in the main street in her honour.
Sport plays such a significant role in bringing communities across Australia together. People such as Evonne, Margaret and now Sam have that rare ability to unite a nation. May Sam continue to do so for many more tournaments to come.
What a year for Australian sport—winning the Bledisloe Cup, Sally Pearson running a world-championship-winning 100-metre hurdles, Cadel Evans winning the Tour de France and now Samantha Stosur becoming the Women's US Tennis Open Champion; indeed, the first Australian since Margaret Smith Court in 1963. Interestingly, both Sally Pearson and Sam Stosur went to the same school.
Australia is known for its sporting prowess, and I think there are very few people who can remember growing up without the memory of backyard cricket, kicking a ball around or swimming at the beach. But, while we all grow up with these great sporting memories, the feats of our sporting champions like Samantha Stosur take years of sacrifice and dedication and a driving ambition to reach the pinnacle of their particular sport.
Samantha Stosur has this in droves—natural talent combined with a will to win. She is an inspiration not only to our young tennis players but to all who strive to achieve their best in their chosen field. This is particularly the case with Sam, as not too long ago she was sidelined for a year of her career, suffering from the debilitating Lyme disease. This illness happened at a time when Sam was just hitting her stride as a single player and, as we all know, a year out from the intense training and tour circuit with which all your competitors are engaged puts you a long way behind the pack. This illness definitely seems to have left its mark on Sam, who lists one of her greatest fears in life as 'deer tick-carrying Lyme disease'. But, more than that, Sam is quoted as stating that it was this time away from the game—not by choice—that taught her to evaluate what she really wanted from the game and truly appreciate the opportunities she had to achieve her ambition to become a tennis champion. She has, without doubt, engaged this attitude, and we as Australians can now celebrate our first women's grand slam winner in 31 years.
One of the great things about Sam Stosur and her win is that it shows what can be achieved with perseverance and a willingness to take help from others and re-evaluate your life. Sam tells stories of how devoted and supportive her entire family was to her love of tennis. It was her brother who originally convinced their parents to put Sam into tennis lessons at the age of 13. After joining the Queensland Academy of Sport and later the Australian Institute of Sport Sam travelled the gruelling satellite tours on a shoestring budget, even sleeping at a Japanese train station on a makeshift bed of bags strapped together, with pillows from the plane. In typical Aussie style though, Sam notes this as one of her favourite memories. Therein lies one of the reasons for Sam's tremendous following around Australia. She has a great humility and extreme generosity. She loves to compete and cares far more about the sport and playing than she does about the fanfare and success.
While we are celebrating Sam Stosur's US Open win, it has long been known that, on the court, Sam has sometimes being overcome by self-doubt and, while always giving it her all, has sometimes fallen at the last hurdle unable to break through her own psyche. I think that this is, in part, what makes Sam's win so inspiring. She had the courage to ask for help to overcome the mental challenges of the game and acknowledged that physical fitness is not the only factor for success. This is an important message for all Australians, be they aspiring sporting champions or not, that mental wellbeing is just as important in life as physical wellbeing, and that is it okay to ask for outside help to get a different perspective on your problems and concerns. It helped Sam Stosur win the US Open and that is a pretty big endorsement.
I know that Sam would also want us to acknowledge the invaluable contribution of her support team, all of whom are Tennis Australia employees. Sam's success is also a great achievement for that organisation, which has been with Sam from the beginning and has encouraged her to take full advantage of the resources that were made available to her through the programs. Winning a grand slam is not something you achieve on your own and not many people win these titles. After all, it has been 31 years since Evonne Goolagong Cawley's Wimbledon win of 1980.
The good news for Australia is that people do not need to travel overseas to see Sam in action. Tennis Australia is delighted that Sam is a confirmed starter for the Brisbane International in January 2012. This is very good news for her growing number of younger fans. Tennis Australia has advised me that, in the past few weeks, there has been a huge increase in the number of young girls taking up tennis, so now her influence has transcended from the tennis court to every household in Australia. Director Craig Tiley on behalf of the whole team at Tennis Australia described Sam as:
… a very special person who has had to endure significant hardship, but has always had a planned pathway to success. We are particularly proud of the way she has gone about her journey. We are certain that this is just the beginning for Sam, and that this is the first of many great accomplishments with many more to achieve.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to join with many others congratulating Samantha Stosur on her inspiring US Open tennis grand slam win. She is truly a young Australian woman of whom we are all very proud. She is a great ambassador for tennis, a great ambassador for women and a great ambassador for Australia.
I think that was a wonderful speech by the member for Ryan and I share in all the sentiments that she expressed. In fact, I stand here today on behalf of my constituents in Higgins to also congratulate Sam Stosur for her wonderful achievement in winning the 2011 US Open. She has, in doing that, sealed her place in the pantheon of Australian sporting legends. She has done her country proud. She joins such luminaries as Margaret Court, the last woman to win the US Open in 1973, as well as Evonne Goolagong Cawley, who won her second Wimbledon in 1980, which of course was the last time an Australian woman won a grand slam tournament. It has been a long time between drinks, but what a win it was. To defeat Serena Williams, a 13-time major championship winner, was an achievement. It was an achievement that all of us congratulate her for. It is a particularly significant achievement when you also consider that this is Sam Stosur's very first win. She is 27 years of age, which is an age when many sporting commentators say that people are past their prime. I am delighted that she has been able to prove those people wrong, and has been able to prove it with such aplomb. Sam Stosur has gone through a number of battles, as has been mentioned, throughout her tennis career. The most significant, of course, was her battle with Lyme disease, which took her off the circuit and forced her to evaluate her tennis career. However, she demonstrated to all Australians just how you go about being a winner: through perseverance, through dedication, through hard work and, of course, through skill. She was able to achieve that, and we saw that just recently.
But she had many achievements before this grand slam win. In fact, she has been on the circuit for quite some time, starting at the very tender age of 13 at the World Youth Cup in Jakarta, her first international tournament. At 14 she became very serious about tennis, joining the Queensland Academy of Sport under Geoff Masters, and in 2001, at the age of 16, she joined the Australian Institute of Sport's tennis program. She is a doubles champion, winning the US Open doubles final in 2005, and was a runner-up in the Australian Open doubles in 2006. She won the French Open doubles in 2006 and was ranked No. 1 doubles player in the world with partner Lisa Raymond in that year. Unfortunately, she was not able to defeat Francesca Schiavone, the winner of the French Open, in 2010, but she came very close and we congratulate her for persevering and becoming such a wonderful champion, as demonstrated with her terrific win at the US Open.
She is a very inspirational player. She is somebody who is a great role model for all Australians, but in particular young women. I know that for many years to come she will take that role very seriously not only in the way that she continues to achieve on the court but also in the contribution she makes off the court. So we congratulate Sam Stosur; her mother, Dianne; her father, Tony; and her brothers, Dominic and Daniel. We congratulate all of those people who have helped her to achieve in her career, because nobody achieves these things alone; and we congratulate, most importantly, Sam Stosur.
I would also like to speak about Sam Stosur, somebody who I had the pleasure of working with in 2005 as the Fed Cup captain. I quickly got to know Sam very well. We went to India to compete in the Fed Cup and then on to the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. I had some great insight into Sam and her young development, because one of my great friends and colleagues at the time, Geoff Masters, had been her coach. He had told me of the time lapse in when he would arrive for his practice sessions with her after school, as she had a timetable that allowed her to arrive early. Unlike an average 14- or 15-year-old girl, Sam would practice her serve. It was interesting to see that later in her career—her very young career at that point—her serve became her great weapon. I maintained at the time that it was a reasonably modest claim that Sam had the greatest second serve in the history of women's tennis.
I have made other claims about Sam, and at times I was ridiculed for my overzealous support of my young player. This came on the eve of Wimbledon, after a season that had had mixed results for Sam. While she had started the year by getting to the finals in Brisbane and in Sydney and had had chances to win, at that final hurdle she became a little unsure of herself, not believing or understanding the full extent of her talent. This, maybe, was revisited in Birmingham, which is just a week prior to Wimbledon, when she played the defending champion, Maria Sharapova, in a relatively noisy match. Maria had won Wimbledon the previous year at just 18 years of age and was thought to be a hot favourite again. Sam played a most magnificent match. She lost closely—6-4 in the third set. She served and volleyed beautifully. She displayed her athletic ability and her ability to volley. Her ability to play a greater depth of tennis was growing; it was no longer just a 'serve and go for a winner' approach. She was maturing.
After this match, in talking to the press, as you do, I ventured the opinion that if a young 18-year-old Sharapova could win Wimbledon so could Sam. This was written about and in fact Patrick Smith, who at the time wrote that it was a silly thing for me to have said, has now actually written an apology and acknowledged that I had shown some foresight. There were even those within Tennis Australia who thought that I was silly at the time. I hope they think this no more, although I have not received a letter of apology from them.
Sam has gone on to be a finalist at the French and now she has had this triumph—these results come from the accumulation of many losses. There is a saying in tennis that you only learn from your losses and that your greatness comes from how you deal with a loss. If you learn and then go back onto the practice court, work with your coach and practice the things that led to that loss, you are taking full responsibility for that loss and you are doing something about it; you are not admitting that you are a loser. This has certainly been the course that Sam Stosur has chosen to follow. It is not an easy course. There have been many great disappointments. Sometimes with great expectation, when you have losses, they are that much more difficult to handle.
During the year of 2005, we had a team saying—when times got really tough and these difficult moments of loss occurred, we would ask each other what time it was and the answer had to come back, 'The best time of my life.' After nearly beating Maria Sharapova at Birmingham, Sam was injured the next day and was unable to practise for the next nine days prior to Wimbledon. She practised briefly on the Saturday, she practised a little bit on the Sunday and she lost to a player in the first round of Wimbledon. This is why my predictions of her possibly winning the event were not seen to be good—they were about a girl who had only ever once played at Wimbledon and who had only once won a match.
Later on in the year, at the US Open, she lost in the first round again. Attesting to her character, she then picked up and played in the doubles event—and won it. That not only gave her that fabulous first grand slam win, it also made her the No. 1 female doubles player in the world. You can see that path from the disappointment of the first round loss, through what she has taken from the many losses and some successes, to arrive on the centre court on this historic date to play Serena Williams.
You have to understand the role that Serena and her sister have played in this sport. They have taken this sport from being very much an elite and white sport in the US. There had been two great black American players preceding them: Althea Gibson, who was the first black American to win Wimbledon in 1956, the year that Lew Hoad won, and the great Arthur Ashe—the stadium is named after Arthur Ashe. They were two players, in combination with Evonne Goolagong, who did much to broaden the appeal of the game.
The Williams sisters have done something in tennis that has not been done by anyone else in men's or women's tennis—they played each other in four consecutive grand slam events. This was during a time when women's tennis had gone from strength to strength, not the time when Billie Jean King and Margaret Court dominated the sport and there might have been only two or three other really great female competitors. These days there are 20 or 30—you do not know where the winners are going to come from in these grand slam events. These two girls, Serena and Venus, have dominated the sport during an era which has seen the likes of Steffi Graf—who may have been the greatest of all time, although Serena could also make that claim.
So for Sam to come to this historic stadium, on this historic date, to play this player who has so dominated women's tennis, and to have the calm and the maturity to play the match of her life is the sum total of her career. She has not won Wimbledon yet, but we keep our fingers crossed.
On the day that Sam lost in the first round of the US Open in 2005, after the long walk from an outside court to the locker room, I asked Sam, 'What time is it?' and she said, 'This is not the best day of my life!' I would like to reflect that the world has made a number of turns since that day—that day of learning—and I would say that the day that she beat Serena was the best day of her life.
So hearty congratulations to Sam. As much as she has done, there is a lot more to come. She has been the beneficiary of a lot of great help; David Taylor, who has taken her to this new stage, should also be congratulated. But there is no doubt that Sam's best tennis is yet to come and, as she has been so appreciative of the help she has received, there is no doubt that she will contribute to the further development of the sport in Australia.
It is a great pleasure to follow the member for Bennelong, because I had great delight in pointing out to him last week an article by Patrick Smith on the back page of the Australian, which was really all about those who laugh last laughing the loudest. A few years ago the member for Bennelong was held to ridicule, I think it is fair to say, for making the call about Sam Stosur that she would go on to win a grand slam. Showing great foresight, great vision and great knowledge of the game, Mr Alexander has proven himself correct, and a great identifier and spotter of tennis talent in this country. I congratulate him on that, because the media can be a vicious game, and he had put himself out there by making what I think was a very brave call in the media, which the public could see—very much as he is doing now as the member for Bennelong—and he has been proved right.
And I congratulate Sam Stosur for helping to prove he was right! She had done so incredibly well. She is the first female tennis player to win a grand slam for Australia since Evonne Goolagong Cawley in 1980. What a great tennis player she was. They both, of course, follow in the fine traditions of Margaret Court. I grew up with a father who was a very keen tennis player and loved to regale us with stories about the great players, and he thought that the best Australian female tennis player we had ever seen was Margaret Court. He used to tell me a lot about her famous victories, especially in grand slams. I was privileged enough to watch Evonne Goolagong, as she was then, win Wimbledon in 1980 on the television, and I have to say it was a courageous win and a fantastic win. The way she represented not only Australia but also our Indigenous communities was an absolute credit to her.
It is terrific now that Sam Stosur has followed in those illustrious footsteps. It has not been easy for her. Over her career, she has had to fight injury. She also had to fight through a stage in the nineties when tennis, especially female tennis, in Australia really declined, and she has very much led the charge to get women's tennis back up to the place it should be—that is, where we are competing for grand slam titles.
The way Sam won that US Open final was also terrific. It was not easy for her. She had tough matches right through. Then, when it came to the final, in coming up against a Williams sister—as my learned friend in these matters, the member for Bennelong, said—it was probably the greatest battle that she was ever going to fight in her life and she did it with style. Let us not forget the background to it as well, because in that match the whole of the crowd was rooting for a US victory. Sadly, there was a little bit of bad sportsmanship and a little bit of egging on to get the crowd really eager for that US victory. She had the mental strength—and I think there were some that had questioned whether Sam did have the mental strength—to put all that behind her, and she single-handedly and determinedly went about securing what was a magnificent victory.
Once again, I congratulate Sam Stosur on a magnificent performance. A would also like to congratulate the member for Bennelong for having the foresight to see her greatness those many years ago.
I rise today to speak about hospitals and health care in my electorate of Swan. The South Perth Hospital has once again been ranked highly in the national survey of hospital satisfaction run by Medibank. This year they have been awarded second place in Western Australia, and this comes on the back of their second place finish in 2010 and being awarded first place in the entire country in 2009. Year after year, this hospital achieves in patient satisfaction, and it is testament to the professionalism of the nurses, doctors and management.
The hospital was built just after the Second World War. At the time there was no Narrows Bridge, and those members familiar with the geography of Perth would be aware that this meant the suburb of South Perth was relatively isolated. The community felt a small hospital was needed and, following some local fundraising by a group known as the South Perth Community Centre Association, the government chipped in to allow it to be built. In 1959, a 15-bed maternity wing was added, which provided services until 2002. On a personal note, I saw my niece, Jessica Rowe, born in that hospital. Today the hospital is one of the only hospitals in the country to be completely privately funded. It is completely self-sufficient and not reliant on community financial backing to continue its operation. This is a considerable achievement in itself.
The South Perth Hospital has recently completed a $15 million redevelopment to increase capacity. I was fortunate enough to be able to tour the hospital last year with the shadow minister for health, Peter Dutton, and I am looking forward to going back and seeing the extra capacity brought about by this development. CEO Marcia Everett describes South Perth as a boutique hospital specialising in elective surgery. Ms Everett attributes the hospital's strong showing to the high standard of clinical care and a 'holistic personal touch'. The points raised by Ms Everett are important when considering the issue of local healthcare provision. The Bentley Hospital, which is also in my electorate of Swan, is another small-scale hospital built around elective surgery. Last year I campaigned on behalf of the community for elective surgery to be maintained at Bentley Hospital, and I am pleased to say this campaign was successful. I have also been campaigning for maternity services to be retained at Bentley Hospital. This is important, given the number of young families in the area. We have managed to gain a commitment from the state health minister that he would maintain the maternity services and have them reviewed in 2014 to see what the community need is.
I have campaigned for these services because of the importance of small-scale local hospitals to communities. It is true that we need the larger hospitals such as Sir Charles Gairdner or Royal Perth. It was the WA Liberal government which saved the Royal Perth Hospital, which the state Labor government had consigned to be closed prior to the last state election. But local people, especially seniors, did not want to have to travel so far to the new hospital being built in the southern suburbs, so we needed to keep the Royal Perth Hospital open and that is what the WA Liberal government has done.
Madam Deputy Speaker D'Ath, you may have been listening to my speech the other night, but I do not think you were in the chamber at the time. I spoke about the situation of Australians living with disease, specifically adhesive arachnoiditis, and called for an inquiry into their circumstances. I spoke about how the disease slowly shuts down the body. A trip to the hospital can become an ordeal in its own right for those people. Local hospitals are of value to the community, in particular people with those types of diseases.
It is important to have strong local hospitals and it is also important to have strong administrative districts for hospitals and health centres that meet the needs of the local community. I recently worked together with the Canning Division of General Practice to make sure that the proposed Medicare Locals boundaries are suitable for the Swan community. The initial boundaries released by the government were unacceptable to the Canning Division of General Practice, as they split their current area into two. Among other problems, the proposed area would have excluded Curtin University, which the division had put a significant amount of effort into establishing relationships with. I made representations on behalf of the Canning division for amendments to these boundaries and also spoke to the member for Brand, who also supported the move. I am pleased to say that we were successful and achieved what we believe was an important outcome for local health.
I would like to conclude by saying that it is important that we retain a mixture of providers of health care, including maintaining a healthy private sector. The Commonwealth government has long provided a private healthcare rebate for those Australians that decide to take out private health care. This has been based on research, like that of Econtech, Harper Associates and Hagan, stating that every dollar of funding provided for the private health insurance rebate saves $2 of costs that are then paid by private health insurers.
In early September, here in the parliament, I was presented with a petition by HBF CEO Rob Bransby from 3,372 constituents in my electorate of Swan.
In conclusion, I once again congratulate South Perth Hospital on their award. (Time expired)
I rise to celebrate the 20th anniversary of one of the most transformational economic and social reforms in Australia's history—namely, the superannuation guarantee—and to highlight the next steps this government is taking to improve superannuation for all Australians. Announced on federal budget night, 20 August 1991, by then Treasurer John Kerin, this reform was fundamental in shaping the superannuation system as we know it today, as well as a key policy for addressing the need for all Australians to have adequate retirement savings.
This government, like the Hawke and Keating Labor governments before us, believes in building our capacity for lifetime income security in order to ensure comfort and financial wellbeing after one's working life, not just during it. Not only has the superannuation guarantee made all workers shareholders in their own destiny; it has improved the economy for generations to come. The more private savings that people have to retire on, the less younger workers need to pay in tax to support those retirees. The more of our own money we have in retirement, the less we must rely on the age pension.
That is why the introduction of the superannuation guarantee was such a visionary and progressive piece of policy. Yet it is timely in present circumstances to remember that at the time of its introduction it came under attack by the then opposition, who made baseless predictions about the supposed damage—with no corresponding benefits—that universal superannuation would wreak on Australian workers and the economy. The former Liberal member for Bradfield, David Connolly, told the House during the superannuation guarantee debate:
It is simply that this legislation will cost jobs at the very time when Australia, like most other developed countries, regrettably, appears to be going into a phase of our economic development where periods of unemployment in excess of 12 months may well be the norm.
Doesn't it sound familiar? Senator Richard Alston also managed to get it so wrong. He said during the same debate, whilst espousing the virtues of Fightback:
That is the tragedy of this sordid little deal. It is not going to be in anyone's interests. It is simply going to have very disadvantageous consequences for the people it is designed to help.
What a visionary! And, finally, Senator John Watson continued the fear campaign, saying:
At the lowest level, the superannuation regime represents the loss of one job in 30 …
Those who once sat opposite told the Australian people that one in 30 workers would lose their jobs as a direct result of introducing superannuation for Australian workers, a policy designed to provide them with sufficient funds for a dignified retirement. How wrong they were. Today, we have a multitrillion dollar industry of funds under management, developed over the past 20 years, creating jobs and investment in sectors not even imagined at the time of its inception, both within and beyond financial services.
Not only was this policy so right 20 years ago but it is why this government is delivering on the next steps for superannuation reform. The package of Stronger Super reforms, announced yesterday by the Assistant Treasurer, continues the long tradition of Labor governments delivering for Australian workers. Under the Stronger Super reforms, Australians will benefit greatly from a new era of low-cost superannuation through the introduction of the MySuper proposal; new data and payment standards for superannuation transactions under the SuperStream proposal, which will make it easier for superannuation funds and their members to locate and consolidate multiple accounts; and improving standards of trustee governance and strengthening the requirements for trustee directors to act for the benefit of members.
It is not just this government that considers these initiatives to be important. There are many industry leaders who agree with us. In today's Australian Financial Review, for example, there are many such examples, including John Brogden, CEO of the Financial Services Council, who is quoted as saying:
It's an improved package, a balanced package and one that our members ... regard as very much worthy of support.
We have come a long way since the Cooper Review and its 177 recommendations for improving the Australian superannuation system. We have come a long way since the introduction of the superannuation guarantee system itself. We recognise the importance of a considered and market-leading retirement incomes policy, and we are delighted to continue our push to ensure every Australian has the opportunity to enjoy a dignified retirement. Lifting the rate of superannuation from nine to 12 per cent continues this government's commitment to working Australians. We do this for the over eight million Australians with superannuation accounts, their families, future generations, the funds and wealth management industry which continue to grow as we speak, Australian enterprise which benefits from our savings pool, and our citizens generally. They know that superannuation is an institutional Australian pillar, like Medicare, the minimum wage, the age pension and a national disability insurance scheme. This is why it is so ironic that those opposite cannot bring themselves to support the proposed increase from nine to 12 per cent. In fact, those opposite who were elected to this place prior to 2004 enjoy superannuation benefits which are defined benefits and notional contributions well in excess of the proposed 12 per cent for most Australians. They must realise that we have a superannuation system that is the envy of the world. They should not stand in the way of genuine reform, building on the history of this success, and this government's commitment to improve the superannuation system for future generations of Australians.
Today as well as on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week saw the Henty field days in my electorate of Farrer at the town of Henty. It is the first Henty field days I have not been able to attend, because of parliament sitting on those three days, but I am talking to the team of people there and finding out the issues that are being discussed. We have a 'no carbon tax' petition at the front of our site. I just spoke to the member of my staff who is managing the process who said, 'I can't believe the anger in the people that are coming up to sign this petition, and by the end of our three days here we will have hundreds of pages.' To be honest, I did not expect that response. I thought that people wandering by to chat about the season or the conditions or the mice and rabbits or the fact that we need another five to 10 millimetres of rain would probably see the carbon tax petition and say, 'Okay, sure, I'll sign it.' In fact, that is not the case. They are queuing up to sign it. This is the petition that says that the Australian people should have their say on whether we have a carbon tax.
I wanted to mention that because it genuinely is something that is happening at the Henty fields days this year, but I also want to talk about mice and rabbits. Earlier this week a constituent of mine from the far west of New South Wales, David Lord, came to Canberra to address the backbench coalition group on rural industries and he spoke about the real need for Australia to develop new biological control options for rabbits. Those of us who have looked at the history of pests in Australia possibly remember a book called They all ran wild, which details the scary results from rabbits across Australia. We asked David Lord, who brought a colleague with him—who I think is connected with the CSIRO but in any case is in some research capacity—why rabbits have slipped below the radar. The answer was that they are just not sexy or particularly interesting. The government has given $20 million to camel control, and I think it is too wet to actually carry that out, but $1.2 million to rabbit control. It is just not enough. Now is the time to begin the search for the next biological control for the rabbit. It really is getting too late.
The two really successful controls we have had are myxomatosis and calicivirus. But because the rabbit populations are building up so much in the far west following recent good rain, it is obvious that those controls are no longer working. We need science, we need applied research and we need a laboratory to make this happen. There is not the ability in the wide-open station country of the far west to go out and rip rabbit burrows, which is what a lot of us who have been farmers in the past have done, and physically fill in rabbit burrows. Putting Phostoxin tablets down and shovelling them over was a painstaking task, but often the only way you could get rid of rabbits.
I also want to mention mice because, while their numbers have eased off at the moment, if we get a little bit of rainfall and the weather warms up there is the potential for mice populations to absolutely explode. Unfortunately, we have seen the shutting down of baiting stations during the middle of a mice plague. I think this is symptomatic of our current agriculture minister's inability to get on the front foot with this stuff. I know there is an arms-length process that goes through the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority and I understand that process well because I was the parliamentary secretary responsible for the authority. They do a good job, but they are moving at glacial pace. They are looking at possibly extending permits and gathering information and talking to a national mouse management working group. I want to bring the frustration of farmers to the attention of this place. Farmers see this process that is happening but they just want to get hold of mouse bait and store it on farm ready for when mouse numbers increase. Unfortunately, what they are doing is mixing their own brews at home, using chemicals that probably are not allowed to be used in the way that they are using them. I am not condoning that of course, but when mouse bait is not available they may use unorthodox approaches. Anyone who has lived through a mouse plague in rural Australia knows there is nothing funny about it. I can tell you that it sends people crazy if they get in the house. It literally destroys and devastates crops. I urge the minister to step in and take action.
It was my honour recently to attend the National Association of Women in Construction ACT chapter's awards for excellence. The women who won these awards are tenacious, highly skilled and inspiring. They are women who have confronted what is, in a way, the last frontier—and it still is a man's domain. I would like to honour all of the women who received awards that night, in particular Michelle Tifan, who received the future leader award. Michelle works for ActewAGL in Canberra. She started her career as a scientist and moved into a trade at a later stage because she was more interested in pursuing that career. She is an incredibly inspirational woman. These are amazing trail-blazing women, some of whom have had tough fights and struggles to be recognised in the industry. And we need more of them.
I understand that women make up only 12 per cent of the construction industry. A 2009 report from the National Centre for Vocational Education Research said that the number of women in manual trades was probably less than two per cent. This number is too low but it is something that can be fixed. Women have done these trades before. During World War I and II women took over from men to ensure that life and work went on in this country, and we can do it again.
For our part, the government is investing heavily in training our nation. Training in trades and skills is an important component for the future productivity, employment and economic growth of this country. I have had a long interest in vocational education and trades since my days at the oldest workers college in the world, my former alma mater and the place where I was union president, the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. So I was very pleased when the Gillard government invested heavily in trades, training and education in the budget. The budget invested over $100 million to help mentor apprentices through their training. Currently, only 48 per cent of apprentices complete their training, and it is particularly difficult in the first year. This program is aimed at providing the right guidance and mentoring to young apprentices to make sure they understand and can benefit from the opportunities of learning a trade. The budget also included $281 million for a support package for additional tax-free payments to encourage apprentices in critical trades and a $1,700 bonus, which is expected to support 200,000 apprentices over four years.
The Gillard government invested $11 billion in vocational training between 2008 and 2010, and this has resulted in 448,000 new apprentices—a significant number and the highest ever recorded. These investments are coupled with the billion-dollar investment already made in the Trade Training Centres in Schools Program to ensure that as many Australian school students as possible have the opportunity to learn a skill or a trade. In my own electorate, I know how much these centres are appreciated. I have met the students and staff of St Mary MacKillop College in Tuggeranong who told me just how much their centre is helping to change lives and create opportunities. I had a tour of this new centre just recently. It has not opened yet as work is still being done on it. It has all sorts of woodwork and metal-craft opportunities and has a centre for hospitality. These new centres provide young Australians with a range of trade skills as well as life skills, and they are to be lauded. We have made a significant investment of $5.7 million in the centre at St Mary MacKillop College, and it benefits not just the hundreds of students at that college but also students throughout Canberra—students from St Clare's College, St Francis Xavier College and Merici College. They are all joint partners in the project. I mention these key programs not only because I am proud of the achievements of the Gillard government when it comes to skills and education but because I want to encourage all women and girls to take up the opportunity that this record level of investment is unlocking. I think it is important to note that this is a program that those opposite would slash and burn should they come to office, depriving thousands of Australians the opportunity of learning a trade, including the next generation of girls and women such as those who were honoured at the recent awards event I went to.
Providing a high quality education to all Australians and ensuring that all Australians can get the skills and training they need to get a job is part of the DNA of Labor. It is an integral part of our history and since this government has come to office this legacy has seen the creation of some 750,000 jobs. (Time expired)
I am a practical conservationist. The sorts of things I do include getting salvinia and water hyacinth removed from creeks that have clogged up. I have birds that fly between Australia and Russia on a seasonal basis monitored. I want to see the mouth of a river that is slowly silting up reopened properly by the closure of a secondary mouth. I do things like that. So I get offended when anyone who opposes the carbon tax is criticised, chastised and berated for supposedly being a climate change denier. We are howled down, ignored and ridiculed for holding different opinions from the architects of the carbon tax, who—might I say with great piety—say that they want the debate based on the facts. Well, they do not base their arguments on the facts.
A couple of recent events prove that they are more than prepared to use blatant scaremongering and wild exaggeration to sway Australians. Let me outline an example for you. One of my constituents in Hervey Bay recently received an unsolicited begging letter from Senator Christine Milne of the Greens. My constituent was most upset to receive this letter—they have never been Greens supporters—and they did not understand why they had been targeted by the party. I believe the letter was sent in error, as the text was clearly intended for distribution in South Australia. Along with spelling errors, its content was most disturbing.
In her letter Senator Milne made some outrageous statements clearly designed to frighten the recipients. On page 1 of the letter she says that people have been fleeing Somalia because of climate change. I would suggest that a failed government and rampant violence is the reason most people are fleeing Somalia. While I acknowledge that there has been drought and famine, the failure of government to properly distribute food to those people has been a major factor.
On page 2 of the five-page mail-out Senator Milne says:
We know time is running out—in just a decade, without effective adaptation, heat-related deaths in South Australia are projected to double.
I seriously doubt the veracity of that statement. It is certainly not supported by the department of climate change, the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO and others who say that, even in a worst case scenario, the temperature of a South Australian summer may go up by just 1.5 degrees by 2030.
I would also argue that the much higher electricity costs which will flow from the Labor and Greens carbon tax are exactly what will contribute to deaths, as a lot of older people will be too scared to turn on their air-conditioning plants because of the increased costs of electricity. That is when people are going to die, not because of what Senator Milne suggests with her rampant scaremongering. On every single page of this widely distributed letter there are pleas to donate money to the Greens so that they can build up a war chest of $100,000 by the end of the month. In a neat aside at the end of the letter, Senator Milne claims:
… some of Australia's richest people helped bring down a Prime Minister with a $22 million advertising campaign against the mining tax. Don't let them use these tactics to get their way again.
It was not the advertising campaign which brought down the Prime Minister. It was the factions within the Labor Party. The overnight removal of the Prime Minister came because he abandoned, amongst other things, his CPR Scheme after the dismal performance at the Copenhagen forum and because of things like ceiling insulation and other government disasters that shook confidence in his administration. So I find this sort of thing, frightening people in my electorate, offensive. I say to the Greens: leave my people alone; you got one of your lowest votes in Australia in my electorate. My people can make good judgments, and they do not need to be scared by outrageous claims, and this is especially offensive when it is directed at older people.(Time expired)
My electorate of Robertson, on the Central Coast of New South Wales, is one that relies heavily on the small business sector to provide local employment for people on the Central Coast. A recent survey of small businesses by the Central Coast Business Enterprise Centre showed very promising results, indicating that 63 per cent of those surveyed in the last year had grown their business, 36 per cent had stayed at about the same level of business and only one per cent had had a negative result. The centre's CEO, Wayne Gates, was positive about the fact that IT, media and telecom businesses were experiencing strong growth.
The success, optimism and capacity of our local business leaders was absolutely evident to me when I recently had the privilege of attending one evening the inaugural Mercedes-Benz Central Coast Business Excellence Awards for this year. These awards are an initiative of the Central Coast Business Review and recognise those Central Coast businesses that really do strive for excellence in their operations, and they seek to reward those businesses. Edgar Adams, the editor and publisher of the Central Coast Business Review magazine, is the driving force behind these awards. He has lived on the Central Coast for over 30 years and is well respected for his knowledge of issues relating to people in business across our particular region. Edgar has been a very strong advocate for an early rollout of the NBN, understanding, as he does, how that will empower local businesses in a global economy. He also understands that there is a strong business imperative for the Central Coast, and I want to recognise here in parliament his outstanding commitment to the Coast, to local business and to excellence.
The awards that evening acknowledged the Central Coast industry leaders and challenged us to rethink our sadly regular position as 'only one hour north of Sydney and only one hour south of Newcastle'. We are much more than the sandwich filling. We are a fantastic region in our own right, boosted by our central location with businesses aspiring to really perform equal to any in any other location—and, God willing, with the NBN we will be able to get out and show a few of the big cities what we can really do when we get access to the same sort of resources. The awards showcase the strength, innovation, skill and enterprise that exists in our region.
The big winner for this year's awards was a really fantastic local man, a product of Woy Woy who was very glad to acknowledge his humble origins—a gentleman by the name of Warren Hughes. He runs a company called ACS Integrated Service Provider. Mr Hughes started his company in 1991 while he was working as a bouncer at the Kincumber Hotel, a place which is very close to where I live and is often a site of picking up a little bit for the weekend. So he has gone from being a Kincumber pub bouncer to now being the owner of a company that has grown to be a national market leader, mainly in the field of cleaning service provision, with a $20 million annual turnover and employing some 800 staff across Australia. It is a very impressive achievement and I was very encouraged that such incredible entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well on the Central Coast. Warren was very keen to acknowledge the significant role that his wife, Donna, played in his success. She was there to celebrate with him on the evening, as were members of his staff who have been with him since the beginning of his business. He has a very low attrition rate because he runs a fantastic locally based model and he encourages his staff and calls them his family members. They were delighted in the success and they shared in that success with him.
There are a great number of award winners in a number of categories, and I would like to record their success here today. The Innovation Award went to Pixel Mache, Treehouse Creative and Organise Internet; the E-Business Award went to E-Bisprint Pty Ltd; the Service Excellence Award went to Baxter O'Hara Building; the Environmental Awareness Award went to Living Green Designer Homes; the Retailer of the Year was Roses 2 Go; the Employer of the Year was Open Shutters; the Marketer of the Year was Lake Haven Shopping Centre; the Home Based Business of the Year was Inspire Success; the Small/Medium Business of the Year was North Construction; the Large Business of the Year was ACS Integrated Service Provider; the Rising Star Award went to Sam Yeats from the Ultra Serve computer business—who actually advertised a job as he received his award that evening; the Manufacturer of the Year was FITT Resources; the award for Outstanding Contribution by a CEO went to Warren Hughes, who I have spoken about; and the Business of the Year was ACS Integrated Service Provider. With such incredible success amongst our local businesses, we have a fine future ahead in terms of employment of local people, and I expect that that great innovation that they showed there will continue into the future.
Main Committee adjourned at 13:01
asked the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, in writing, on 17 August 2011:
For each premises owned or occupied by his department, indicate (a) the address, (b) the (i) division(s) of the department operating, and (ii) number of staff working, within it, (c) its size, and (d) whether it is leased or owned, and if (i) leased, indicate the rent per square metre, and (ii) owned, indicate the depreciation of the building.
The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
All departmental office space is leased. Relevant information on the location and leasing arrangements is contained in the Department’s 2009-10 annual report.
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(b) On 1 July 2011, the Department employed 23 Senior Executive Service officers.
asked the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, in writing, on 25 August 2011:
The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
(b) On 1 July 2011, the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities recorded 68 substantive Senior Executive (SES) officers.
Will he provide detailed project delivery timetables for the following Government election commitments in the electorate of Dawson:
(a) Bowen foreshore water park;
(b) Mackay basketball stadium;
(c) Mackay junior football grounds upgrade;
(d) Mackay ring road study;
(e) Airlie Beach main street upgrade; and
(f) Peak Downs Highway upgrade.
I am advised that the answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:
My Department is responsible for the delivery of four of these projects:
The Department is currently assessing project information from each of the proponents so that an assessment of value for money for each project can be made. Once the assessment is completed the Department will provide me with advice for my consideration. Until the assessment process is complete, the project approved for the release of funding and a funding agreement executed, delivery timeframes for each project cannot be accurately determined.