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Sunday, 22 August 2010 16:39

Broadband a central issue to form Govt

By

With all eyes now shifting to independent MPs after an historic election that appears to have delivered a hung Parliament, the National Broadband Network and regional services is emerging as the key issue that will decide which party forms Government.


The next Federal Government will almost certainly be formed the cooperation of one or more of the independents, or the newly elected Greens Member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt. Both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott are understood to have already begun discussions with independent members to find areas of common ground.

Vote counting will continue today, but the final outcome in at least five seats could be some days away.

For the member for Kennedy in North Queensland Bob Katter, New England's Tony Windsor and the Member for Lyne on the NSW mid-North coast, a hung Parliament would put them in the potential role of king-makers.

All three have long experience in the Federal Parliament, and while all three on paper look like they would lean conservative in their regional and sea change seats, the reality is not so simple.

A fourth independent, Andrew Wilke, looks like he has won the Tasmanian seat of Denison, to be elected to Parliament for the first time. The former Office of National Assessments staffer was a harsh critic of John Howard and the Coalition.

Greens leader Bob Brown last night declared that broadband was the difference between the major parties for the knife edge election and might play an role in the formation of the next Government.

Speaking late last night in the National Tally Room in Canberra, Senator Brown said: "If the Coalition doesn't win Government, it will be because of the National Broadband Network."

"People want to live in the 21st century, for God's sake," Senator Brown said.

As the Greens have already committed to backing Labor's NBN - as well as its telecommunications regulatory reforms - there is already common ground on the major issue, Adam Bandt might be expected to back a Gillard Government.

New England's Tony Windsor is a big supporter of the National Broadband Network and has worked productively with Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and the NBN Company. Throughout the campaign Mr Windsor said the top two issues for New England were health, and broadband.

Sites in the University town of Armidale in the New England electorate were selected as both first release and second release sites, identified for early roll-out.

Ever since the NBN was announced, Windsor has been working with local councils, institutions and businesses within preparing the ground ahead of the fibre roll-out to make sure the electorate maximises the benefits of broadband.

Mr Windsor has spoken regularly in on the NBN in Parliament and has been a strong supporter of Senator Conroy's efforts to structurally separate Telstra. Equally, he has been harshly critical of the Nationals for not supporting the National Broadband Network.

"This is long overdue. In my view, it is correcting a problem that was created some time ago and then encouraged by subsequent governments, so we have had this rolling problem in the sense that the structural separation should have occurred at the start of the privatisation of Telstra process," Mr Windsor told the Parliament during the second reading debate on the reform bill.

'We are not going to get many opportunities at this very important piece of infrastructure. There have been a few attempts in the past, under the old arrangements, which have failed,' he said.


 

"We have seen a series of governments move towards concentrating people in more or less a feedlot mentality in our cities. The development of a national broadband network will break that nexus," Mr Windsor said. "Where you live will become less relevant to your capacity to do business or to be competitive, or to deliver health and education services to our young people, our families and our elderly."

Rob Oakeshott has, since the election, specifically identified broadband as a primary issue and something that he would certainly be talking to the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott in any discussion about forming government.

Bob Katter has been a controversial independent. And though less engaged in broadband issues, has long sought to stem the flow of people from regional areas into the major capital cities - particularly the exodus of people from the bush to the population centres of South East Queensland

Mr Katter is on the record saying better telecommunications is a way to not only improve the competitiveness of regional businesses, but also the delivery of community services like health and education. He is a former Nationals MP who quit the party disgruntled to run as an MP - and the antipathy runs deep.

It could take two weeks before we know who has formed Government. But it is becoming clear the broadband is likely to be a central talking point in any discussion between the major parties and these independents.

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