Telecommunications Amendment (Infrastructure in New Developments) Bill 2020

I'm pleased to speak on the Telecommunications Amendment (Infrastructure in New Developments) Bill 2020. The purpose of this bill is to address the lack of enforcement tools and penalties when unincorporated developers fail to install fibre-ready duct and pipe infrastructure in new housing developments. I'll be pleased to speak to the shadow minister's second reading amendment further on. This bill seeks to amend part 20A of the Telecommunications Act 1997 to extend the current regulations for incorporated developers to all developers. These regulations were originally introduced in 2010. It's now 2021. There was some uncertainty at the time about how regulations could be applied to unincorporated developers, so they were left out. We're 11 years down the track and we still have the problem.

The infrastructure department now has updated legal advice that confirms this regulation is applicable to unincorporated developers. It's now time for us to ensure the standards for 21st century infrastructure are consistent and up to date. Without telecommunications pits and ducts, new houses cannot be connected to the National Broadband Network or other fibre telecommunications networks. While most developers do install pit-and-pipe infrastructure as standard practice, some smaller unincorporated developers do not and have not been compelled to do so. Under the 2010 regulations, incorporated developers must install this infrastructure or they will face significant fines. This bill seeks to extend these regulations and penalties to all developers. It has been seven years into the term of this government before action has been taken.

Under the current piecemeal regulation, the government estimates that around 3,000 new homes are left without this infrastructure every year, which is around 1½ per cent of new homes. Now, 3,000 new homes nationally in the scheme of things is not many in toto, but that is of small comfort to those 3,000 homeowners, many of them young people, who discover they don't have NBN infrastructure preinstalled in their new homes.

Just imagine the situation. You've got your new home, you're excited, you've shaken hands upon signing the mortgage, you've made the commitment. You've bought the new home. You move in with your partner, unpack the boxes and unpack the TV and the computers, plug everything in, ring up your ISP and say, 'I want the NBN connected,' and they say: 'Sorry, no way. It can't be done, you don't have the NBN connected in your new home, in your new suburb, in your new estate.' You say: 'What? This is a 21st-century home. How can I not have the NBN connected or preinstalled?' 'It hasn't been done.' 'Well, how do I do it?' 'It's going to cost you 2½ grand—$2,100—and we'll be there when we can.' So, weeks or months after moving into your new home, you finally get the NBN. There are no connections at home until they get around to it. It's just disgraceful. But this has been the situation under seven years of this government, and it is only getting around to fixing it now.

Furthermore, it costs the developer between $600 and $800 to install the necessary infrastructure during the construction phase. It's a cost that they can easily recover from the purchasers. If you're buying a new home in a new estate for between $350,000 and probably $550,000 or $600,000, depending on where you are, $600 or $800 on top of the mortgage isn't going to break the mortgage. It's amortised over the life of the mortgage. It's not difficult to do and it's cost-effective for the developer. They can get the trenchers in and use the excavation materials to get it all done in one go.

If the home's built, the gardens are landscaped and everything's in, the walls are plastered up, and then they come in to do the install of the infrastructure, it's costing that homeowner—as well as the inconvenience—more than $2,000 to have that work done. And they can't put that on the mortgage. They've got the mortgage there. The $2,000 has to come out of their wages, out of whatever savings they've got. I tell you what, Mr Deputy Speaker, young homeowners who have mortgages these days of $500,000 to $600,000 don't have a lot of money in savings, on the flat wages they've suffered under this government. So finding $2,000 for an NBN connection is no easy task. It's an unnecessary burden that could have been easily fixed and which should have been dealt with years ago, but, as is so often the case with this government, why deal with a problem when it can be put off into the never-never?

Access to the NBN is a critical part of modern life, especially after a year when we have seen the importance of being able to work and study from home and when, increasingly, a lot of employers, if not directing their staff to work from home, are certainly encouraging it because they have seen the cost benefits that arise. Connecting all new homes to NBN infrastructure as a standard element of the building process will ensure that the quality of housing is improved, over time, with the latest technology. We know it will cost more in the long run for both homeowners and governments if this infrastructure is not installed at the construction phase. The member who spoke before me, Dr Mulino, made the very good point that there's a metaphorical link between what's happening here with homeowners and what should have happened with the NBN on the national level originally. Do it once, do it right, do it the first time.

My office has dealt with many, many NBN complaints since I was first elected in 2016. Too many times I have had to go in to bat for my constituents because no-one would take responsibility for the lack of necessary infrastructure. A lot of the complaints I've had to deal with have been about the fixed wireless network—the lack of coverage and the poor response rates. But, as new estates are being built in my electorate, I am getting requests for intervention on matters such as this. Councils say they are powerless to act; developers shrug their shoulders and say they're acting within the law; and ministers give my office the run-around. Meanwhile, it's new homeowners who suffer, having to shell out north of $2,000 for what should have been a $600 or an $800 addition amortised into a 30-year mortgage.

So, to highlight just how important it is that all developers are required to install the pit-and-pipe infrastructure, I'd like to take a moment to tell you about one of my constituents, Alex. Alex first contacted me in August 2018. He'd purchased a new home in a development at Longford in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. In March 2018, shortly after moving in, Alex realised the developer had not connected the NBN to his new home, so he contacted my office to ask about the process to get the infrastructure installed.

Alex discovered that the entire subdivision, not just his own home, had been completed without the necessary infrastructure for NBN internet connection—a connection desert in the Northern Midlands, about 25 kilometres south of Launceston. And, in the middle of Launceston, thanks to Launtel, which is a Launceston based company, they get one gigabit—one gigabit! And you know why? Because, when Labor was in government, Launceston got fibre to the premises. So, in Launceston, one gigabit fibre to the premises is possible; 25 kilometres south, no internet at all, because for seven years this government failed to ensure that developers must provide internet connection to new housing estates. What's worse is the properties in this subdivision have been advertised as being NBN connected.

After several months of chasing up this issue, work finally began on the pit and pipes in September. As you can imagine, digging up the entire subdivision and laying the appropriate cabling was a messy, disruptive and lengthy process—not to mention entirely avoidable if the developer had installed the necessary infrastructure from the start. In mid-October, six months after Alex purchased the property, the work was finally completed and the NBN wiring was finally connected. I've got to say that, unfortunately, again, under this government, it's not fibre to the premises; it's fibre to the node. But it's better than nothing. That's six months of frustration, delays and costs that could have been avoided if the developer had just done the work in the first place.

This is the exact scenario this bill does seek to fix, albeit seven years late. We are happy to support it. To date, my office has assisted at least five homeowners who had purchased property in this subdivision, some of them waiting more than a year before being able to get an internet connection because the necessary infrastructure had not been preinstalled. Buying a new home should be a time of excitement, not frustration and disappointment.

Under the act in its current form, the Australian Communications and Media Authority, as the regulator, will warn incorporated developers about the penalties if they have been found to have failed to meet their obligation to install infrastructure. ACMA will allow them to remedy the issue by retrofitting the infrastructure; otherwise, they get to take the developer to court, where they face a fine of up to $50,000. It would be interesting to know how many fines have been issued and whether any incorporated developers have in fact failed to follow this direction.

This system ensures that the incentives for developers are in place while also allowing for a graduated system of enforcement, with the possibility of a mutually beneficial solution before penalties are applied. So this bill will extend this structure onto unincorporated developers, to cover all new developments and take the burden of NBN coverage completely off homeowners. Homeowners should not have to worry that their new home does not have NBN installation. It should just be a given.

This bill underwent an extensive consultation process in September 2020, resulting in the approval of important stakeholders such as NBN Co, Telstra, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, various consumer groups and the planning department of Western Australia. Additionally, the Housing Industry Association and the Urban Development Institute have said they could accept this bill, if considered necessary. That's nice of them!

This bill is necessary. Australia is a modern country and we need modern infrastructure to support our growth in the 21st century. The nature of work and study is changing. We need to make sure we're at the forefront of this innovation.

Our nation has already taken a massive hit from this government's complete bungling—bungling on a massive scale—of the National Broadband Network rollout. It's difficult to speak about the magnitude of the incompetence of this government when it comes to the National Broadband Network: $57 billion and four years late!

They are billions—thousands of millions—of dollars over budget, and, even when it's complete, it's going to be second-rate. They haven't got fibre to the premises for 93 per cent of Australian properties, which Labor would have had—for less money. It's a complete mishmash of technologies. They've bought enough copper to wrap around the globe—think about that—to lay underground to provide NBN services that are fit for the 20th century, not the 21st. This isn't just about watching faster Netflix or making sure you've got 4K HD TV reception. This is about business; business needs 21st century speeds. We're in a global competition and we're now behind the pack because of this government's rank incompetence on telecommunications. Our international competitors, across Asia and Europe and increasingly across the Americas, have got world-class fibre networks, and this government has riddled us with copper.

It's an absolute disgrace, and they just shrug their shoulders. They think: 'What we've got is good enough. We're proud of the fact that the rollout's nearly complete.' Despite thousands of homes not being connected, they're pretty happy with it. They think it's good enough. It's not good enough. Business says it's not good enough and, in fact, the government have conceded that it's not good enough because they're now spending billions of dollars trying to go back and retrofit fibre in places where they put copper last year. They laid copper just a few months ago, and that's got to be ripped up and replaced with fibre. That's how incompetent they are. Unfortunately, that cost, in many cases, will be borne by businesses and home owners. Australians at the retail end are paying the price for this government's rank incompetence on telecommunications and broadband. What we've now got in the ground would have been world-beating in the 1970s. If you're wearing a brown suit and flares, you would be pretty happy with copper in the ground. But it's no good for the 21st century.

The bill before us will ensure that NBN connection infrastructure will be incorporated into new housing as standard practice, and Labor does support that. But we will not give this government a free pass on the complete bungling that it's made of the NBN. It should hang its head in shame at the way it has consigned this country to decades of catch-up. We are way behind the eight ball when it comes to telecommunications, and this government has put us there. They should be held responsible for every business failure, for every business that doesn't get ahead because of their poor telecommunications record, and they should be ashamed of themselves.