The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

20 December 2011

NO.041

Address to mark the completion of The Toowoomba to Darwin fibre optic long-haul cable

Darwin
20 December 2011

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Today marks a very important milestone in the history of regional telecommunications in Australia. It's a day where we see superfast broadband delivered to important regional centres from here right down to Toowoomba. It's a day which takes this region to the next level - securing Darwin's future as a modern and sophisticated gateway to Asia.

The Gillard Government took the decision to invest $250 million into this important project – the Regional Backbone Blackspots Program – because we believe that superfast broadband brings with it important social and economic advantages.

Earlier this morning I had the privilege of "lighting up" the final stage of this project. It wasn't just "lighting up" a cable, it was lighting up all of the opportunities that will flow from this infrastructure. Transforming the way we do business. Opening up a new world in education.

Delivering better health outcomes in ways we can only imagine. And while there's no doubt this technology is cutting edge and complex in some ways, the objective is simple – deliver affordable, high speed broadband to all Australians, no matter where they live.

Our partner, Nextgen Networks, has now successfully rolled out 6,000 kilometres of fibre optic backbone cable across the country – a remarkable achievement. This project stretches over 3800 kilometres from Toowoomba, in my home state of Queensland, all the way up here to Darwin, providing clear benefits for more than 160,000 people.

It is the largest single fibre optic link ever commissioned in Australia. It's been done on budget, and with minimal delay – a great effort given the devastating floods and cyclones earlier this year.

The successful delivery of this program reflects Federal Labor's commitment to broadband infrastructure as a critical part of the economy and our regions.It also reaffirms Labor's commitment to ensure regional Australia gets similar services to its city cousins.

In total, this fibre backbone infrastructure will give retail service providers the opportunity to offer better broadband services for around 400,000 people, in 100 regional locations, along five routes.

It also means more retail competition – which will help reduce prices – and provide more choice for regional consumers.And it means faster and cheaper broadband for households and small businesses.

Here in Darwin, for example, there are 9,600 small businesses which stand to benefit from this new infrastructure. Over in Geraldton, Western Australia, there are small businesses and families who are already seeing broadband speeds up to 10 times faster than before, with double the download quota, at the same monthly price.

NBN in Darwin

In Darwin, the rollout of the NBN is already well underway, and is expected to commence in Casuarina by March 2012. By the time this stage of the rollout is complete, more than 20,000 premises will be served by high-speed, fibre-to-the premises technology.

For a place like Darwin , the opportunities the NBN brings are really exciting. Darwin has always been our gateway to Asia. Closer to Singapore than to Canberra, Darwin was the first Australian city to get globally connected. I'm not talking about the worldwide web, but about its predecessor, the Overland Telegraph Line, switched on in 1872, stretching from here to Adelaide. It linked Australia with the rest of the world and set us up for the twentieth century.

In the Asian century, Darwin will be even more important to an Australia that's connected and competitive, that's reaping the benefits in jobs, business opportunities and economic diversity. The NBN will put business on an even, if not superior, pegging to competitors in places like China, Japan or Indonesia. It will swing open the doors to new global markets and drive entrepreneurialism which otherwise wouldn't exist.

Communities around Darwin will also be among the first in less densely populated rural and regional areas to receive NBN services via high-speed fixed wireless technologies.This will enable people in these areas to overcome the digital divide they currently experience and ensure all Australians have fair and equal access to affordable high-speed broadband. As with all the other links, there has been considerable interest from service providers in this one.

Michael Malone, the CEO of iiNet, for example, has already said his company is "salivating" to get into Darwin and begin accessing the backhaul. His company is just one of many that have indicated their intention to provide services in Darwin.

Challenges

I know that getting to this point today wasn't easy, and nature and geography have not always been the RBBP's greatest allies. Last summer up here was the wettest on record, with up to four times the normal rainfall. In some areas, ground conditions became so appalling that work was forced to stop for weeks on end. At one point, a huge bulldozer used for clearing the construction path was bogged for a frustrating 10 days before another machine could get in there and drag it out of the mud.

The installation record for the entire project was 38.8 kilometres in one day; but in some areas the ground rock was so hard that progress was restricted to 30 metres of drilling in one ten-hour day.

During the construction, Nextgen consulted with 113 groups of traditional landowners, and worked tirelessly with them around the 693 cultural heritage sites encountered through the project.

Impacts

We always knew the RBBP would stimulate local economies and provide jobs and business opportunities. With the network now open for business, we can count some of them.

  • Multiple civil engineering crews were deployed to build these links; Three million dollars worth of meals and accommodation for workers in regional Australia. Hotels, restaurants, and laundromats all benefitted as the crews passed through.
  • Around 200 million dollars worth of business (out of the 250 million dollar budget) for Australian companies in network design, fibre fabrication and engineering subcontractors.
  • The manufacturing of the fibre optic cable represented about 80 per cent of Australia's fibre optic production capacity for 6 months;
  • A dozen Northern Territory subcontractors, providing specialist skills like directional drilling, cable hauling, electrician services, crane and lifting services, splicing and commissioning, civil works contracting and traffic management.

Conclusion

The real and lasting benefit of this project is the access it will give to all the regional areas now connected by the RBBP. I would like to thank the Northern Territory government for its support of the RBBP and the wider NBN initiatives: a recognition of the many benefits it will bring to residents and businesses.

I would like to thank Nextgen for the extraordinary job it has done in often very difficult circumstances. And the fact that Nextgen's efforts are reflected in its recent nomination in the prestigious Australian Construction Achievement Award is quite an honour. Congratulations.

I now officially declare the Darwin-Toowoomba link open for business.

Thank you