23 September 2020




SUBJECT: Government’s fibre backflip.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Today’s announcement about the NBN is the most extraordinary, wasteful, humiliating backflip in public policy in a generation. For over seven years, the Liberals have been telling us that Labor’s vision of the NBN, our delivery of a fibre-based model to Australians to meet their needs as consumers, businesses as students, was not achievable.

Today we have an announcement from this Government that they are now going to invest billions more to fibre up their second-rate NBN. This absolutely cuts down any credibility this Government may have left on this issue. This absolutely exposes this Minister – this embattled Minister Paul Fletcher – as completely lacking in any knowledge of technology, economics or what Australian consumers need. This Government promised that its second-rate NBN would be delivered by 2016, that it would cost $29 billion and that it would be higher quality than what Labor would deliver.
They have been proven wrong on every single count. A $25 billion blow out and counting. Not delivered on time. 50,000km of new copper purchased – enough to wrap around Planet Earth! And yet, we still have businesses, consumers and students, whom we have seen trying to be home-schooled throughout this pandemic, not having access to reliable broadband technologies. We still have over 100,000 premises that cannot access minimum speeds.
So, seven years later, after all the lauding by Malcolm Turnbull that he would deliver his NBN faster, sooner and make it more affordable, there is no credibility – not a shred left – for this Government or this embattled Minister Paul Fletcher when it comes to the NBN.

JOURNALIST: It is quite extraordinary and they’re saying that this won’t add to the cost of the NBN because the NBN itself will be financing this itself with a loan. Is that fair?

ROWLAND: Well, we will wait and see what the NBN Corporate Plan actually says. It hasn’t been released yet. And we know that in the past, this Government has promised to put caps on how much the NBN would actually spend and cost taxpayers and that has blown out. So, they have no credibility when it comes to the issue of cost of their second-rate NBN.

JOURNALIST: Do you think that it should be up to households to apply to have the new NBN? Why not roll it out across the board?

ROWLAND: Well, the funny thing is that was Labor’s original policy proposal and that was what would have been delivered under Labor. For seven years, the Liberals have been saying that this is the wrong approach and now they have a model in which people will be applying to have these faster speeds. It remains to be seen on the detail how much this bespoke fibreing up actually costs, because we know – especially when you compare this to other countries that have done fibre rollouts – fibre gets cheaper when you get to scale. So, we will wait and see how many businesses, how many premises, how many consumers will actually benefit from this Government’s latest announcement.

JOURNALIST: When people think of slow internet speeds on the NBN, they might think of far-flung places in regional Australia but we’ve been in The Ponds, they haven’t got it, Parramatta CBD hasn’t got it, North-West Sydney up near Dural, they haven’t got any NBN. Does it make any sense to you why there are still such huge blackspots in Australia’s most populous city?

ROWLAND: Well, the answer to that is that the Liberals have always been about short-term political opportunism. It has never been what is good for residents here in Western Sydney. It has never been about what small businesses need. It has always been about short-term, political opportunism. So, it makes absolutely no sense that we should have this great triangle of Western Sydney with many parts of it – exactly as you say – being left as a broadband backwater. And just –

JOURNALIST: The Parramatta CBD, it’s the second biggest CBD in Sydney.

ROWLAND: and it will continue to get bigger. Yet, it is not even slated for a rollout anytime soon. But think about this: when the Liberals came to office in 2013, Australia was ranked 30thin the world for broadband. Now, we are 62nd! We continue to slip back, we continue to see our small businesses suffer, we continue to see consumers suffer. And that is all that has been delivered by this Government.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it’s fair for them to say that they’re going to roll this out quicker than Labor would have even though you did propose this 10 years ago and it might have been finished by now?

ROWLAND: Let’s just look at the logic of the Government’s argument on that point. They promised that the NBN would be delivered by 2016 using Malcolm Turnbull’s multi-technology mix. We had, as I said, over 50,000km of new copper purchased. We had the rollout actually put on hold for some months because the HFC didn’t work properly. Malcolm Turnbull said that this would be the great gamechanger. So, there is no trust and no credibility from the Australian people when it comes to timeframes, cost or quality in any aspect of what the Liberals want to talk about when it comes to the NBN.

JOURNALIST: Is it worth now, we’ve got what we’ve got, political fights have been had, we’ve got 5G coming now. Is it worth just saying: righto, this is good enough?

ROWLAND: Well, I think there’s two points there. The first is that 5G will end up being a competitor to those parts of the NBN that are substandard. People are going to choose quality, they are going to choose what works, so clearly the NBN is exposed by having so much of it as an inferior copper network. But the second thing is that Labor last year took to the election a prudent policy to say that we will examine where we are and we know that the endgame is that we need to fibre up Australia. There is no question about that. The fact is that it has taken seven years – seven years of lies and we’ve gotten to this point. People are fatigued, they just want this thing to work, and they have no trust that this Government will be able to do that after this announcement today.

JOURNALIST: Can they get it done by 2023?
ROWLAND: Again, we’ll be waiting to see. But let’s remember: under Labor’s proposal, it was $45 billion and a delivery date by the end of next year. So, their timeframe has blown out from what Labor’s was. Not only their cost, but also their timeframe.

JOURNALIST: But at least you landed in the same place. It took a while, but you are now in the same place, aren’t you?

ROWLAND: Well, let’s be clear: this has wasted billions upon billions of taxpayer dollars. We’re in the middle of Blacktown, in a recession, and there are many people doing it tough. In my view, it is completely unacceptable for Governments to continue to make short-term, politically-based decisions that actually don’t benefit Australians and don’t seek to grow our economy. We need to be a leader in our region and we’ve had seven years of wasted opportunity. One thing we will never get back is time. Seven years of wasted time under these people who said they were the experts: Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Paul Fletcher and Scott Morrison who was Treasurer. All that wasted time that we will simply never get back.

JOURNALIST: One of the reasons that they’ve decided to roll this out is because so many people are working from home and they need better internet. Are you disappointed that it has taken a pandemic for the Government to look at this now?

ROWLAND: Well, I’m disappointed, but I know who are more disappointed: those small businesses, particularly in regional areas, and those people who have been forced to do remote working who haven’t been able to access reliable broadband. But, it’s not only them: it’s also students. For the first time, we have got a picture of the tens of thousands of young people who simply do not have the internet at home. They have been severely disadvantaged, and this has been a real equity issue that this Government has never understood because for them it’s always about the short-term politicking, it’s never been about people. It’s never been about their needs. And let’s remember: these same people are about to go through yet another migration to another technology, so we wait to see how much delay, how much disruption, and how many complaints we’re going to be getting for years to come. Thank you.