Mr CLARE (Blaxland) (15:15): In his first press conference as Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull said that he wanted to take the same approach to governing Australia as he did to the NBN. That statement alone should fill the people of Australia with dread. There is a myth in this place perpetuated by Liberal MPs and National Party MPs that somehow the Prime Minister has fixed the NBN. That is a myth and we exposed some of that in question time today. This afternoon, I want to take you through a catalogue of more of the mistakes that the Prime Minister has made on the NBN, the litany of promises that he has broken. The first and the biggest of those is cost.
As we learned in question time today, the NBN is now double what the Prime Minister said it would be. He promised before the last election that he could build a second-rate version of the NBN for $29½ billion. That has now jumped to $56 billion. We got the corporate plan a couple of weeks ago and it says it is not $29½ billion, that it has jumped to $56 billion. In other words, it has almost doubled what the Prime Minister promised. Now, people usually do not get promoted for things like that. You do not get promoted for blowing your budget by 100 per cent. But that is what has happened here, that is what has happened with this Prime Minister.
The other big thing that he promised and that he has now broken is that he could build the NBN, a second-rate version of the NBN, by the end of next year. He promised that everyone in Australia would have access to 25 megabits per second by the end of 2016. That has blown out as well, and we heard the Prime Minister almost admit that in question time today. Instead of three years to give everybody access to the NBN, it will now be seven years. In other words, the time to build it has more than doubled. So the cost has doubled and the time to build the NBN has more than doubled. There are lots of other mistakes and broken promises.
The Prime Minister promised that the rate of return he would deliver on the NBN would be 5.3 per cent. That is now down to as little as 2.7 per cent. He also promised that Australians with the worst broadband across the country would get the NBN first. Last week, the government released their three-year rollout plan for the NBN and that shows the 7½ million homes and businesses they say will get the NBN in the next three years. But what it also reveals is this: there are almost half a million homes, 450,000 homes, that have been identified by this government as having the worst broadband in the country that are still not on the list, that will not get it first, that will get it last. They will not get the NBN by 2018; it will be more like 2019 or 2020. It is just broken promise after broken promise—breaking promises like plates at a Greek wedding.
The extraordinary irony in all of this is that Tony Abbott, the former Prime Minister, broke all these promises, doubled the deficit and got the sack. Malcolm Turnbull, the new Prime Minister, has also broken a raft of promises, doubled the cost of the NBN, doubled the time that it will take to build it, halved the rate of return on it and more than halved the speed that people will get, and he got promoted.
In question time today ,the Prime Minister talked about what is happening in other parts of the world. But what he did not mention is this: AT&T and Verizon, the two big telcos in the United States, are rolling out more fibre. Verizon, the second biggest telco in the United States, is shutting down their whole copper network and replacing it with fibre. In our region, South Korea, Japan and Singapore all have fibre networks. Even across the ditch in New Zealand, they are not rolling out fibre to the node anymore; there are rolling out fibre to the premises.
Two years ago, we were ranked 30th in the world for broadband speed. We are now ranked 47th in the world for broadband speed. We are behind most of Asia, behind most of Europe, behind the United States and behind Canada. We are even behind Romania, Russia, Slovakia and Poland. They are all ahead of us. The world is changing and so are we, though we are changing back, from fibre to copper.
I mentioned the three-year rollout plan that was released on Friday. Watch this, Mr Speaker, because this is another broken promise in the making. To understand why I think this is a broken promise, you only have to look at what it looks like on a graph. If you look at this graph for the rollout plan I am holding, you can see that for the next 12 months it is smooth and low, right up until the next election! Then, suddenly, it ramps up at this incredible speed, a ramp that Evel Knievel could not jump!
Mr HUSIC: What about Dale Buggins?
Mr CLARE: Or Dale Buggins, for that matter. To understand exactly how big this ramp is, the government are saying that they can deliver the NBN to more than half of Australia in just two years. More than half of Australia, apparently, is going to get the NBN in just two years if you vote for Malcolm Turnbull. It is not realistic. It is not achievable. It is not just me who is saying that; even the new minister, Mitch Fifield, has described it as ‘ambitious’. But, more importantly, Ziggy Switkowski, the chairman of NBN co, has described it as ‘heroic’. The Australian Financial Review from Monday, 19 October, says:
National Broadband Network chairman Ziggy Switkowski has warned that it will take a ‘heroic’ effort for the project to be made available to more than 11 million homes before 2020 …
So you have the minister who says it is ‘ambitious’, you have the chairman who says it is ‘heroic’ and leaked documents from nbn co this week show that an internal memo went round to staff last week saying they are already behind schedule. They have not even hit the ramp-up yet!
Remember that all of this depends on the state of the copper. As the corporate plan revealed on page 51only a couple of weeks ago, they still do not know what the quality of the copper is. Page 51 says:
The quality of this network is not fully known.
They have bought back the old copper network that John Howard sold last century and they still do not know how bad it is. They call this due diligence!
Worse than that, contractors I have spoken to, asking how bad the copper network is, have told me that nbn’s working assumption is that 10 per cent of the copper pairs in the fibre-to-the-node areas will need to be fixed. But in places like Newcastle and the Central Coast, closer to 90 per cent of the copper pairs have needed work. In some places, the copper was so bad that they had to replace old copper with new copper. One contractor told me that in Newcastle and on the Central Coast 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the copper lines are having lengths replaced.
This is just the tip of the iceberg because, as we found out in estimates last night, nbn has ordered more copper . It has ordered 1.8 million metres of copper. To put it another way, it has ordered 1,800 kilometres of copper. That is enough copper to connect Australia to New Zealand! The Prime Minister says that John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, is his role model. But what is John Key doing? He is not rolling out fibre to the node. He is not rolling out more copper. He is rolling out fibre to the premises. What are we doing? We are going back to the node.
Hollywood could not have written a script like this. We have been told that today, 21 October 2015, is Back to the Future day—the day Michael J Fox’s character, Marty McFly, landed in the future. What did Hollywood imagine he would find? It imagined flying cars and flying skateboards. What do we have instead? We have a government that is buying almost 2,000 kilometres of copper.
It is a myth that this Prime Minister has fixed the NBN. He did not become Prime Minister because of what he has done on the NBN; he became Prime Minister in spite of it. He has doubled what he said it would cost. He has doubled the time it will take and halved the internal rate of return on this project as well. Now we find out that he has bought almost 2,000 kilometres of copper. It is just appalling. The idea that he has fixed the NBN is just a myth. (Time expired)