Standing up for Canberra

GRIEVANCE DEBATE: National Broadband Network

I rise today to speak on an issue that I have spoken on many, many times in this chamber and in the House, and an issue that I have been campaigning on for the last three months —the lack of decent internet connections throughout most of my electorate. Canberra is facing a real digital divide. Large areas in the north of Canberra are listed on the NBN rollout map. However, very few parts of my electorate, the south of Canberra, appear on that map. 

In fact, Coombs and Wright—which are greenfields sites —already have NBN up and running. A few streets in a few suburbs in my electorate in the south are on the NBN rollout. The rest of it is just one big blank. Under Labor, every home in the ACT would have had access to a world-class fibre-to-the-premises version of the NBN. However, today, the availability and quality of broadband in some Canberra suburbs, like Monash and Theodore, is the lowest in the country—and we are talking here about the national capital!

I am concerned that this lack of internet access is impeding the ability of Canberrans to maximise opportunities and to realise their full potential, particularly when it comes to small business, educational opportunities and active citizenry and engagement in civil society. These are people like Phuong, who lives in Calwell. Phuong recently contacted me because he was having an extremely difficult time getting a broadband connection to his home. He currently has no internet service despite spending countless hours on the phone and thousands of dollars on temporary solutions. I am quoting now from Phuong:

My three children need online access for their school. We work in an IT area and we need internet access for work and for home use. Our quality of life has greatly suffered because of lack of Internet connection. I want to express my dissatisfaction to the lack of service. I hope that those with authority are aware of this issue so that nobody else has to go through the whole horrible process as me.

Rod, also from my electorate, has written to me saying:

Yet more broken promises from this government. When is the Federal Government really going to govern for all of the people and not its special interest groups? Efficient internet access is no longer a luxury in the modern world, but a necessity. Why do parts of Australia have to go without a proper internet service? Why are some Australians not valued the same as others? Why does this country have to fall behind other countries in this vital area of communication?

Or there is Warwick, who says:

Since Labor introduced the NBN development, I, like most other people who use the Internet, have been looking forward to this service, as it provides a better service at lower user cost. Unfortunately, everything came to a standstill as the current Government dithered around deciding how to do things cheaper and faster. Now it seems we're further from this service than ever and if it does arrive it will be an inferior product that will require upgrading as the old copper connections deteriorate.

Or there is Rhiannon, who says:

I have a clearer Skype connection in Cambodia than here in my own home!!!

I am talking, Madam Deputy Speaker, about the nation's capital. I am talking about 20 kilometres from here.

There is Honour, who says: One more reason why this government is failing Australians.

To me, that sentence really sums up the situation in my electorate. Canberrans are sick and tired of being impeded by their lack of internet. Since I held a community forum with the shadow communications minister Jason Clare in June, I have been contacted by hundreds of Canberrans who are extremely frustrated with their lack of internet access. I have had hundreds of people who have signed my petition calling on the Liberal government to prioritise Canberra's NBN rollout. As I said, for most of my electorate it is just one big blank space. We are not even on the map. We have no idea when we are going to be getting NBN. When we were in government, the NBN was going to be rolled out this year and next year here in Canberra in my electorate. But we do not know when it is going to happen under this government. We have those couple of suburbs, Coombs and Wright, that already have it. Denman Prospect probably will, too, because it is a greenfields site, and there are a few parts of Phillip, O'Malley and Isaacs that have it. But the rest of the electorate is just one big blank space.

What is so frustrating is the fact that in the north of Canberra, Gungahlin has the NBN—and has had it for some time—thanks to the Labor government. As I said earlier, it means that we have this huge digital divide across Canberra. We have a huge discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots in the fact that the people of Gungahlin are now connected to the NBN and have the ability to work from home and to set up small businesses that have world-class internet connection. They can do their homework from home and engage in educational activities—as one would expect in the nation's capital in the 21st century. They can engage actively as citizens of our community, by watching what is going on in the news and by watching what is going on on Twitter and in social media, and by tapping in to the resources that are available now on so many websites.

They can actively engage in small business, in education and in citizenry opportunities. They can realise their potential because they have access to this nbn world-class internet. Unfortunately, as I said, in my electorate there is one, big blank space with nothing. Apart from Coombs, Wright and those streets in some parts of Woden and Weston, that is it. And we have no idea when we are going to get it.

What does this mean? You have heard from some of my constituents who have told me about what the frustration of the lack of the nbn means for their lives. There is the cost it means for Phuong. I did not go through the details there, but he listed the various attempts he has made over the years to try to get a decent internet connection. It has cost him thousands. He has listed the endless cost, the endless phone calls and the endless amount of time he has had to put in to try to get a decent internet connection, just so his kids can do their homework, so that he can pay his bills at home and so that they can engage in civil society.

The other day I had a mobile office at Calwell. Again, Calwell has a shocking accessibility and speed rate—one of the lowest in the whole country—as does most of that south-east part of Tuggeranong. I had a petition going on the nbn, to actually get us put on the rollout map—that would be nice. We have a new prime minister, the 'prime minister of infrastructure', the 'prime minister of communications' and the 'prime minister of technology'; it would be really nice if we could actually get the nation's capital connected.

I had this mobile office going down at Calwell on the weekend and met a gentleman from Calwell there. He told me about the fact that he is a lecturer at Charles Sturt University, which as we all know is in Bathurst. He also has his own small business, and he is finding it absolutely impossible to be able to connect and keep up to date with what is going on at the university.

At the nbn forum that I mentioned before, that I hosted with the shadow minister for communications, I heard from many people. One single mum told me that her son is falling behind because he cannot access the internet at home, so he cannot do his homework. It means that she has to spend countless hours in the library after she has been working all day just so her son can get access to the internet. I heard of one couple who have to stand on the roof of their garage to get a connection, and met another gentleman who would actually like to work from home—to run a small business from home. This is average, normal everyday stuff for other parts of Australia but in my electorate people cannot do it. This gentleman now has the cost of hiring an office space so that he can actually run a business. Ideally, he would like to run that business from home. If he were connected to the internet he would be able to run that business from home, but he has actually had to hire an office space just so that he can be connected to the internet and run his business.

The productivity costs that take place as the result from us not being able to be connected to the internet and the nbn are just phenomenal—not just in terms of lost productivity but also in terms of lost opportunity, and also in terms of the loss of realisation of the full potential of my constituents.

So, yes—I have a really big grievance. I want Canberra on the nbn rollout map, and I want it on it now. My constituents wanted it yesterday. So I will continue to lobby for these Canberrans because we must get placed on the nbn rollout map and we must be on it now.

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