Joanne Ryan MP
Federal Member for Lalor
Joanne Ryan MP

NBN Cause of a Digital Divide

I have lost count of the number of times I have stood in this place and raised the issue of the National Broadband Network. In Lalor, in our high-growth community, there have been no new areas added to the NBN rollout since the 2013 election. This is creating a digital divide in the suburbs—the streets with fixed internet access and the streets without; the businesses with fixed internet access and the businesses without. Note that I am not saying 'NBN access'; I am saying 'internet access' because, as new suburbs are built, there is no copper rolled out. People are told, 'The NBN is coming', so there is a heavy reliance on costly wireless provision. We have businesses not being able to compete. We have home based businesses—designers, drafts people and advertisers—that save files and head to the local library to send. We have students unable to access the internet for study purposes. In a community where so many are migrants to this great nation, we have families that want to stay in touch with overseas members of their family but cannot do this from their homes. Some are staying after hours at work to make contact. 'The NBN is coming,' they are told—but when? Remember, there have been no new areas added to the rollout maps since 2013.

The NBN will be a powerful tool—businesses know that; families know that; our hospital and education providers know that. Google recently outlined the impact of reliable internet provision for small business. In an electorate with over 9,000 small businesses, I know that the people of Lalor know that. Small business in Lalor accounts for one-third of our economic output. Businesses are being held back by the poor provision of the internet. My recent broadband survey was an opportunity for locals to share their experiences and frustrations. To quote a few:

I live in … Tarneit. We've been here for 16 months. We've not been able to get any internet connected to our home AT ALL! No ADSL, no cable … nothing, because we're told there are no ports available, and Telstra will not be releasing anymore while NBN is being rolled out.

Another:

Our internet connection is very slow impacting on our daily lives and on our children currently doing VCE it is really unacceptable considering our world and society is now heavily based on technology.

 

 

And another:

I live 4 kilometres from the Werribee exchange and run a home-based business. The internet speeds are pathetic, making it difficult for me to maintain online backups of my work and send work to clients over the internet

I have raised this issue on several occasions and I know colleagues have too.

In my diary yesterday was an event with 'Must attend' noted next to it. It was the NBN showcase. I was keen to attend, to understand the issues and, hopefully, to hear about progress and solutions. In this place, most of us are solutions-based. We are here to represent our communities and to ensure that they are getting what they need from this government. I wanted to know more, so I could better inform the Lalor residents, our health and education providers and the local businesses, about the rollout, about time lines, and about the technology mix.

I expected—perhaps naively—that this would be a bipartisan event. Most events of this nature held in Parliament House are. The new PM and current Minister for Communications was to be there. I was so incredibly disappointed, then, that Prime Minister Turnbull decided to turn this into an opportunity to resort to very partisan comments. An opportunity to celebrate the power of the NBN was missed. I am not sure how they do things in Point Piper, but in Werribee the kids are told to behave when the guests come into the house. We also know in Werribee that when it is clear that you are not welcome, you leave. And last night, many did. Many left the event because, instead of being a celebration of technology and finding solutions, it turned into a petty point-scoring event.

I expect those opposite know the NBN currently being delivered is a poor and expensive cousin to the original model. There is a level of embarrassment that, after two years, all that has happened is a digital divide and a community still on hold.


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