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Labor to rob rural Australia’s telecommunications future

17 October 2007

A FEDERAL Labor Government will abolish a pivotal scheme that ensures rural Australians continue to the get affordable access to the latest telecommunications – the $2 billion Communications Fund.

“Labor’s stated policy is to cut rural Australia’s telecommunications lifeline by scrapping the Communications Fund and denying those people and communities the future-proofing they are currently guaranteed,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie said.

“The very purpose of the Communications Fund – which the NFF fought for, and saw delivered, in 2005 – is to guarantee rural Australians get up-to-date, timely and affordable telecommunication services into the future.

“The $2 billion Fund is invested, with the annual interest accrued providing a perpetual source of finance to rollout telecommunications upgrades in the bush. Those proceeds must be spent on all rural telecommunications deficiencies, not just broadband.

“Labor will raid this dedicated and targeted investment in rural Australia to fund its plan that falls short in meeting the needs of the bush.

“Today, Labor’s Spokesman on Communications and Information Technology Senator Stephen Conroy said Labor will ‘include a fibre-to-the node network that will deliver minimum speeds of 12 Mbps to 98% of Australians and improved services to the remaining 2% using the best available new satellite, wireless and microwave technology’”.

“The point is, then what? The existing Communications Fund guarantees future upgrades in perpetuity, well beyond the just satellite, wireless and microwave technology Labor is proposing. Under Labor’s plan, rural Australians will be denied future technology upgrades.

“People who live in the more remote areas of Australia know only too well just how much they depend on modern telecommunication and information technology services for their everyday lives – be it for family, business, farm systems, or community services.

“The Communications Fund also ensures that these essential telecommunications services will continue to be affordable in the bush.

“Abolishing the perpetual Communications Fund will rob rural Australians of their communications future. Labor’s policy is metro-centric. Without the Communications Fund, telecommunications companies often have little, if any, incentive to invest in those areas where profit returns are not attractive.

“Further, once the $2 billion has been spent elsewhere, it’s gone for good. Labor’s policy fails to make any provision for how it will meet the future telecommunications needs for farmers and rural Australia.

“It is only appropriate that rural Australians be fully aware of what is proposed and what is at stake so they can make informed decisions. That is what the NFF’s advertising campaign will ensure.”

[ENDS]

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250

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