MURRAY WATT, LABOR SENATOR FOR QUEENSLAND: It’s great to be in Cawarral today with our Shadow Minister for Regional Communications, Stephen Jones; our State Member for Keppel, Brittany Lauga, and Hannah, who is a local mum who has had some problems with the NBN. I’ll hand over to Hannah, firstly, who will speak and then we will have a bit of a chat.

HANNAH: Hi, thanks for having me.

JOURNALIST: Tell us about your situation.

HANNAH: Where we live – rural – we understand there may be some connection issues.

The biggest issue we have with connection is the expense it costs to hotspot off the mobile phones. We are finding we are spending two to three hundred dollars a month for less than 20 gigabytes. And that’s basically social media and emails. Maybe a skype call if I can fit one in.

It really affects my ability to return to work on a flexible arrangement. My employer is a great flexible work arrangement business but the ability to work from home is not available to me because of the cost to hotspot and the lack of connectivity. It really negatively affects me.

I can’t see us maintaining the expense of three hundred dollars a month in mobile phone bills. It’s not a feasible exercise that we want to continue. There are also small businesses out here that operate, there is the school – I imagine the lack of connectivity impacts people’s ability to study and run small businesses. We reached out to some community members and I’ve been told that  some people will be waiting until  2020 for a connection. We were advised that we would be given a connection in August 2017 but that’s now been pushed back to August, 2019 which is a bit far.

JOURNALIST: Who advised you of that?

HANNAH: That was when we jumped online to check our connection. So the NBN website did state August 2017; and the reason I jumped online to check that is that we first contacted a satellite provider and they advised us that we wouldn’t be eligible because the NBN would be connected in August, 2017. I, then checked in July, and the pushed back date was August, 2019. I, then, contacted a satellite provider and asked if we could go ahead with a satellite service and they replied that they wouldn’t be able to offer  us a service until NBN Co connected the fixed-wireless. Basically, we just had to sit and wait for two years.

JOURNALIST: Do you know why the delay?

HANNAH: No but I think a two year delay warrants an explanation. It’s quite a large push back.

So I’m returning to work next year and it would be great to be able to work from home if the children were sick. It would be great to be able to maintain my work and keep up with the kids. 

WATT: It’s pretty frustrating that Hannah can see these towers from her home but the NBN is not up and running. 

HANNAH: Yes, it’s like a tease. It’s there, the infrastructure has been built but hasn’t been switched on. It’s frustrating to be able to see the towers but not have them switched on and to not know why.

WATT: I’ll pass over to Stephen.

STEPHEN JONES MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS: Well it’s great to be here. And thank you to Murray, Hannah and Brittany.

We’re in a place that relies on communications. The further you are from the major cities, the more important it is that you have access to broadband services. Every government service, education, healthcare; even dealing with your bank now,  the norm is that you do it online. We know that data needs are increasing exponentially. Between 2015 and 2016, the data usage went up by 50 per cent and it will probably go up again by 50 per cent this year. So the need is great.

In July this year, Minister Nash and Michelle Landry stood here for a photo op promising the people in this region that they would be getting the NBN. Well the cruel hoax was that we now know, from the NBN itself, that it won’t be until at least 2019. If you want to know what the cost of that is, then just listen to Hannah’s story. They are paying three hundred dollars per month because they have no other communication service available to them. So the fact that this has been kicked out another two years, the cost of this delay to this family alone is in excess of $6000.

This is an area where we should be encouraging people to be running home-based businesses, starting new businesses and creating jobs and yet they are spending money in ways in which they don’t need to be and which is a real tax on the family household.

Our call today is to the local Member, to stand up for the region, for the jobs of the region. To do something about getting the problems of the NBN fixed. It is the number one issue in which people are jumping up and down about in regional communities across Australia. We have spent $50 billion on the NBN only to find that we are getting a worse service than the one it replaced. That’s not good enough and then we found out yesterday that Australia is lagging behind Kenya in terms of internet speeds. Come on, we’ve got to be able to hold our head up high and say, whether we are in regional Australia or the cities, that we do as well as anywhere in the world. We are a long way from that at the moment.

WATT: Thanks again to Stephen Jones for coming to Central Queensland today. And to be joined by Brittany Lauga, the State Member for Keppel. We’ve heard from Hannah, a local mum who is experiencing terrible delays in getting NBN to her home which would enable her to work from home when she returns to work. We’ve just seen delay after delay from the Turnbull Government with the rollout of the NBN. Originally, Malcolm Turnbull told us that the NBN would be rolled out to the entire country by the end of 2016. That timeframe has passed, obviously.

Hannah was told by the service provider, a couple of months ago, that it would be August, 2017. Of course she is still waiting and now the NBN’s own website tells her that her and other residents and businesses in Cawarral, and plenty of other places in Central Queensland, will have to wait until 2019. We are talking about three years after Malcolm Turnbull said that the NBN would be rolled out across the entire country. And we’ve heard from Hannah about what that means to her family in financial terms but also it will make her life that much harder we she returns to work. And no doubt many other people are in the same boat. 

Unfortunately, this is another example of Michelle Landry failing her local community. We saw it earlier this year with the Shoalwater Bay expansion where she either misled the public or was completely left out of the loop about compulsory acquisitions of land. She’s failed her community by not standing up for permanent, fulltime work as we see the cancer of labour hire and insecure work spread across the region. She’s failed to get a single dollar spent or a single job out of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund. And now she’s failed to stand up for her community about the rollout of the NBN. To come out here with a Federal Minister, as she did in July, and stand in front of this very NBN tower and try to pretend that the local community would get the NBN; and then they find out that it is a further two years away is a cruel hoax. She should stop misleading her community and go in and fight for them. I’ll hand over now to Brittany Lauga. 

BRITTANY LAUGA MP, STATE MEMBER FOR KEPPEL: Good morning, it’s wonderful to have our Shadow Minister for Regional Communications here with Senator Murray Watt talking about a very important issue. It’s probably the number one issue which people talk to my office about, which is poor access to the NBN. We know that just 10km down the road people can get access to super-fast NBN at a fraction of the price. So Hannah, for example, is getting 20 gigabyte for $300 per month; in comparison, down the road people are getting, for a fraction of that, they are getting unlimited or in excess of 200Gb per month. And that’s creating inequality in our community.

The difference in the service just 10km down the road, in comparison to the service Hannah is getting, creates a difference in how people live and their lifestyle. And we heard from Hannah about what that means for her lifestyle and her work choices and her ability to get back into the workforce as a working mum. This is the number one issue which people are talking to me about in my electorate office.

For example, what was happening at the Parkhurst Town Centre. Early this year, Senator Watt and I, took that issue on on-behalf of those businesses who were not able to get access to the NBN. In some cases – the doctors for example – who did not have access to a working phone line which can be deadly. We heard nothing from Michelle Landry about that. Those businesses at Parkhurst were left in the dark. In her role as a local Member, she should really be fighting for those businesses. Instead, we heard nothing. It was only after Senator Watt and I took that issue up that we got a resolution.

Not only is the Federal LNP’s NBN policy failing this region, so too is the lack of representation from the Federal LNP Member. 

JOURNALIST: What do we need to do?

LAUGA: The LNP need to fix the problem they created.

JONES: There are three things we need to do to fix the problem. Number one, they have got to swallow their pride and say that using last century’s copper technology to deliver this century’s broadband is a failed experiment. 

Number two, we have to stop the NBN ping-pong where people are being bounced between the phone company and the NBN with no one talking responsibly. People shouldn’t have to care who’s responsibility it is. The Government should step in and create the rules which ensure that the NBN takes responsibility for its problems and the phone companies take responsibility for their problems.

On top of that, we need to beef up the powers of the TIO so that we have a tough cop on the beat and upgrade the consumer protections. We have a universal service obligation, we’ve got a customer service guarantee – they are regulations which were designed last century for last century’s technology. We are halfway through the rollout and you would think that the Government would have updated these critical pieces of legislation so that the consumers, like Hannah and businesses here in Rockhampton, weren’t encountering the problems they are.