Thursday, 09 June 2016 01:42

Shadow regional comms minister flags return to Labor’s NBN ‘original vision’ Featured

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The Labor Party is looking at a return to its "original vision” and plan for the National Broadband Network (NBN), according to Shadow Regional Communications Minister Stephen Jones, who told a digital forum in Brisbane on Wednesday the party is “committed” to getting the NBN back on track.

Jones’ comments, at the halfway point of the election campaign, are seemingly at odds with Labor’s Shadow Minister for Communications Jason Clare who has said, during the campaign, that there was no possibility of the party’s return to a full fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) NBN.

But, Jones was quick to deflect any "official" announcement on Labor’s NBN policy to Clare, telling the forum in the Queensland state library that Labor would have plenty more to say about the NBN in coming weeks.

“I would like to announce it today but I’m going to leave that to our Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare.”

Jones’ forum address, focussing on digital and economic inequality in regional Australia — compared to services delivered to urban-dwelling Aussies  prompted comment from Internet Australia chief executive, Laurie Patton, who said there was “overwhelming dissatisfaction being expressed by both speakers and delegates, many of whom have pointed to the growing 'digital divide' between people in rural and regional Australia and their capital city cousins".

“An NBN speaker gave a detailed explanation of progress with the Skymuster satellite service, telling delegates that by 2020 it is expected that the satellite and fixed broadband services will be available to a million premises. By 2020 NBN expects to have 560,000 customers using satellite and wireless broadband.

"It's good to see the satellite service up and running. However, the vast bulk of rural and regional Internet users will be serviced by a fixed-line NBN. That's why the current use of the inferior copper-based FTTN product is causing concerns in the bush as it is in the cities," Patton concluded.

On Labor NBN policy Jones went on to tell his audience that “what I can tell you is that at this election we face a stark choice if we want to further entrench growing inequality  which will hit people living outside of our major cities particularly hard  we should go full steam ahead with Malcolm Turnbull’s second-rate and unfair NBN model”.

“But there is another option – ensuring that households and businesses in the bush are provided with the communications infrastructure they need to help them get ahead, at fair and affordable prices,” maintained Stephens.

“Our plans will be announced soon. But I will say this  Malcolm Turnbull has made a diabolical mess of the NBN.”

On the prime minister and the NBN, Jones claims that over the last three years the PM has “nearly doubled the cost of his second-rate network”. 

“He’s more than doubled the timeframe for getting it to all Australians, and in the meantime Australia has dropped from 30th in the world for Internet speeds to 60th.

“Fixing this mess will take some doing. We need to be upfront about that. There are contracts that are currently in place and they have been signed in good faith. It will not be our policy to breach those contracts. We are committed to governing responsibly.

“We are committed to getting the NBN back on track, and to restoring our original vision for this critical infrastructure project.”

On his general theme of regional versus urban inequality, Jones talked about the “important relationship between economic inequality and digital access”.

“Australia is still a great country, but inequality is rising. The top 20% of wealth holders now have 70 times the wealth of those in the bottom 20%. Levels of income inequality are above the OECD average.

“There is a very real rural and urban rich-poor divide. Those in cities are better off compared with households in the bush.

“Sadly, rural Australia has some of the highest levels of poverty – 18 of the 20 poorest electoral districts in Australia are rural. Pockets of prosperity do exist in the bush but it is the case that in rural and regional Australia we have lower incomes, declining employment opportunities and reduced access to services.

“People living outside our cities suffer from higher rates of chronic disease and don’t live as long. They have inferior access to services, including doctors, specialists, mental health support and drug and alcohol treatment.

“The levers a reforming government would pull to address these concerns include investments in health, education and public infrastructure. Labor’s plan is to do just that.”

According to Jones, in the 21st century “access to broadband sits alongside education and health care as a key driver of opportunity”. “It is why Labor invested so much planning and energy in the National Broadband Network.”

“Today we are focused on digital inclusion. But what is digital inclusion? It isn’t just about making sure that every household has a computer hooked up to the Internet.

“We need to go much further than that. It is about ending the ‘digital divide’ in Australia.”


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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham - retired and is a "volunteer" writer for iTWire. He is a veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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