The Illawarra deserves 21st century NBN

When you live in regional Australia, you understand the critical importance of the three things that make a difference between a good life—a life of happiness; and the alternative—a life of misery. 


Those three things are decent jobs—secure jobs, well-paid jobs—a decent health care system and a decent education system. These have to be our No. 1 priority. That is why it is deeply concerning that this government seems indifferent to the plight of workers who daily see their jobs being lost, often overseas or by overseas workers coming to Australia.

As the parliamentary year starts, I want to remind this government and this Prime Minister that we will not rest until it puts Australian jobs first, and local workers at the front of the queue when it comes to those Australian jobs. Can we, this year, end the madness where Australian workers are woken up in the middle of the night, dragged off a ship, only to be replaced by a foreign crew being paid a fraction of the worker's pay that they were earning? Can we end the madness where government workers are having their jobs offshored and the federal government is seriously putting out expressions of interest on how they can copy other jurisdictions about offshoring Commonwealth government work? This is happening now. Even locally we are seeing the madness where you have highly-skilled workers who are, regrettably, losing their jobs in industries such as manufacturing being looked over. And you have got companies who are doing contracts for the National Broadband Network, shipping in workers to the Illawarra from other regions—from as far away as Queensland and Western Australia—to do the very work that could be done by skilled, local workers. Can we end this madness, Deputy Speaker Kelly?

We know that the Illawarra and the Southern Highlands are resilient regions. They are going through economic change. When you live in a region which is built around a port, you know that your future is intrinsically linked to the rest of the world. But looking to the future and the rest of the world does not mean you close your eyes to the jobs and the needs of your region today. We know that the traditional industries of manufacturing, agriculture and mining have given way to the service industries as the major employers, but they are still critical to the local economy. Government has a role in the transition.

I turn to the National Broadband Network, because fast, reliable broadband is crucial for business—and I know those over on the other side of the chamber, who are interjecting now, do not understand the importance of the National Broadband Network. They railed and campaigned against it, but in the Illawarra and the Southern Highlands, we know it is critical to small business and it is critical to households. I know this, because last year I surveyed my electorate and asked them to tell me about the problems that they were having with telecommunications and broadband. Many of them were telling me that after 3 pm in the afternoon, their broadband crashed and slowed to a crawl. They are telling me that they cannot start their small home based businesses, because they do not have access to an ADSL port.

If we are going to transition the economy of regional areas such as those which I represent and ensure that they have a foot in the new economies and the jobs of the future, then the NBN has to be critical to this. I am committed to doing everything that we can to ensure that my region enjoys the benefits of a future economy, but that does not mean—and this is a point that we need to ram home to this Prime Minister—that we give up on the jobs of the current workers. Last year before we went away for Christmas and before the parliament adjourned, we had massive debates about the role of the Commonwealth government in ensuring that we continued to have a steel industry in this country.

I welcome the industry minister to come to the Illawarra—a place he did not even know where it existed. He could not tell you where Port Kembla was on the map. I invited him to come to the Illawarra and visit the steelworks, talk to the workers who were losing their jobs—workers who were hoping to transition to new jobs in other industries. It has been months since this invitation was issued, and the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science has still not been able to find his way to the Illawarra. I invite him to come down to the Illawarra, listen to the workers whose livelihoods are being threatened, listen to the workers who are seeing their jobs offshored and seeing their jobs replaced by foreign workers on foreign crews so that he can put in place the policies that we need in my region.