Mrs PHILLIPS (Gilmore) (18:44): I rise today to speak about the importance of reliable communication services for rural and regional Australia. I thank the member for Mallee for the motion and for bringing attention to this important issue. I absolutely agree that reliable communication services are vital for electorates like mine in regional Australia; however, I would have to say that this is where my agreement on this motion ends. This government's record on communications policy across regional and rural Australia is outrageous. The policies of those opposite are creating a complete digital divide in our communities, the haves and have-nots of digital technology.
The type of technology provided to regional and rural communities like mine matters. The gap between the city and the regions continues to grow. But the government's so-called technology mix is not only creating a divide between the city and the regions; it is creating a divide within towns; it is creating a divide between suburbs; and its creating a divide between neighbours. There are many suburbs in my electorate that have three or more different technologies in individual suburbs. This is fast becoming the norm—a frightening thing. There are suburbs where some houses have fibre to the node; some have fibre to the curb; and some have Sky Muster satellite or fixed wireless. Culburra Beach is just one example of this. It is a great community in my electorate and, as the name might suggest, it is right on the beach. It is a beautiful area on the New South Wales South Coast, but this government's rollout of the NBN is creating a digital divide in this community. The NBN is being rolled out there at the moment, and much of Culburra Beach and Orient Point is receiving fibre to the node, thanks to Malcolm Turnbull and his second-rate NBN.
A few years ago the government all but acknowledged this failing and decided to introduce fibre to the curb, the superior technology to fibre to the node—nothing compared with Labor's original fibre-to-the-premises plan but an improvement nonetheless. Here is the tricky part: instead of completely scaling back the fibre-to-the-node plan and replacing it with fibre to the curb, the government inconceivably just decided to roll out both. So what is the consequence of this? In Culburra Beach the consequence is that one side of the street has a better technology than the other. One neighbour is locked into the ageing and deteriorating copper to the node and the other has fibre all the way up to the curb. This brings a whole new meaning to the term 'digital divide'. The divide is no longer just between city and region; it is between neighbour and neighbour.
There is absolutely no doubt that this will have a flow-on effect: it will impact house prices; it will impact businesses; and it will impact students and families. The government had a choice. They had the choice to abandon their second-rate fibre-to-the-node rollout. They had the choice to scale up fibre to the curb and make sure that as many houses as possible had access to the better technology. Instead, they have chosen to do both—a decision that the people of Culburra Beach and Orient Point cannot comprehend. It's a decision that they will now have to live with, and they will be the ones to deal with the consequences.
The technology mix NBN rollout of this government is a failure. In August an Infrastructure Australia audit stated:
The technology mix for the NBN has diversified, meaning different users will receive different types of connections. This change will deliver varied outcomes for users, and some may shoulder higher costs or receive lower-quality services.
Australia is ranked last out of 36 OECD countries on entry-level fixed broadband affordability. We are being left behind. These are problems that won't go away. These are problems that this government created and has left communities like that of Culburra Beach and Orient Point to deal with. Those opposite have had opportunity after opportunity to fix the mess. This motion wants to show that the government has helped to improve things for regional and rural Australia's communications, but we know that Sky Muster satellites are expensive, unreliable and causing more divide, not less.
This government has failed rural and regional Australia with its communications policy. Those opposite simply seem uninterested in fixing the problems they have created. It is time the government took real action to address these problems for people like those in Culburra Beach. Our community deserves to have the technology of the future. We deserve better than a government that is dividing neighbours with poor policy and poor choices.