COMMITTEES National Broadband Network Committee Report


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (18:31): This is the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network's second report and the government response. Again, the whole fiasco of the National Broadband Network is something that would be funny if it were not so serious. I have always said that, regardless of Senator Conroy's protestations about imaginary figures, this was at least a $55 billion scheme. The government response, while it is fine in its what I might call weasel words, cannot hide the fact that the cost of the NBN has already blown out to $44 billion. That does not take into account the $10 billion in budget interest payments on the borrowed money being used to fund the network. It also does not take into account the enormous amount of money paid to Telstra to convert its copper line over.

The fibre network is now forecast to reach only one in four of the households that were originally expected to be able to connect to it by mid-2013. The new corporate plan from the NBN Co. simply shows yet again the thing that we all knewthat it is proceeding not on budget and not on time. The rollout is much smaller than was originally forecast and the costs are increasing all the time.

Every Australian and certainly the coalition wants fast broadband in our country. Indeed, that is what the coalition promised at the last election and at the previous election too. Had we been elected in 2007, every Australian would today have access to fast broadband comprised of fibre to the node, wireless and satellite, depending on where they were. But it would have been up and running now at a price which at the time we estimated would be well under $5 billion. Even if you double thatsay, it was $10 billionit would still have been only a fraction of the cost of what the Labor Party has already spent on this fibre-to-the home proposal that is proceeding at a snail's pace, that people are not interested in and, quite frankly, that most Australians will never be able to afford.

You will recall that when Senator Conroy and Mr Rudd made this great announcement about this NBN it was going to make a profit in a few years and it was going to be sold off to private interests. As I have often said, I will not be alive when the NBN makes a profit. For that reason, it will be impossible to sell it off to private interests.

I will give some figures. In the original corporate plan, the revenue anticipated for the period from 2010 to 2013 was $205 million. The revised corporate planthat is, the current oneshows that revenue is expected to be $20 million. That is a bit of a comedown. It is 10 per cent of what Senator Conroy and the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, told us they would get in this period from 2010 to 2013.

In the original plan, premises passed by fibre by 2013 were predicted to be 1.268 million. The revised plan has scaled that back to 341,000, about a third of what was originally promised by Mr Rudd and Senator Conroy. The actual premises connected to fibre by 2013 was originally shouted from the rooftops to be 511,000. The revised plan is for 54,000 by 2013.

The original corporate planyou could not really call it a corporate plan; perhaps they should have called it a fairy storypredicted that there would be a take-up rate of 33 per cent. The new plan much more realistically suggests 14 per cent. The total number of customers in the original plan was predicted to be 566,000, whereas the revised oneagain, much more realisticallyshows a drop of some 84 per cent from that down to 92,000 customers.

This shows that the whole process of the NBN under Senator Conroy's administration has just been one con after another. I think Senator Conroy sometimes believes what he says, but I have to tell him: nobody else does. The whole network is grossly in arrears at the moment, but the government has said that the delays can be made up. The NBN's fibre network, as I mentioned before, is now forecast to reach only one in four of the households originally expected to be able to connect to it by mid-2013. The government said it could make that up. I ask the Senate and those who might be listening to consider this. Since the first user switched to the fibre network in mid-2010, the NBN has connected new customers at the rate of six per working day. Can I just repeat that: it has connected new customers at the rate of six per working day.

Senator Smith: Is that six as in after five but before seven

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, that is right, Senator Smithsix as in after five, before seven. Six per day. But Senator Conroy says we can make up the delay. So to meet the target set by the new corporate plan they have to connect 6,000 customers per working day. The record is six; to get us up to date they have to connect 6,000 per working day. As I said earlier, if this were not so serious it would be funny. The whole thing has become a joke. It is an unaffordable joke that most Australians will never be able to afford. The only way people will connect up to the NBN is if the government heavily subsidises the operation.

Of course, the government never has any money. The government only uses taxpayers' money, so taxpayers will have to subsidise themselves if anyone is going to connect up to this white elephant. I just hope for Australia's sake that there is a change of government within the next couple of months so that we could, even at this late stage, introduce a more rational approach to the creation of a national broadband network. It can be done. It can be done much more cheaply, much more quickly, much more efficiently and without imposing this never-ending financial burden on the Australian taxpayer. I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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