23 September 2020



SUBJECT: Government’s NBN backflip. 
LEON DELANEY, HOST: We did invite the Federal Communications Minister, Paul Fletcher, to join the program – apparently, he’s busy. But, we do have the Shadow Minister for Communications, Michelle Rowland, good afternoon.


DELANEY: Thanks for joining us today. My first thought when I saw this this morning was “this is the biggest backflip since the Olympics!”

ROWLAND: I think you’re right there. It is certainly one of the most – if not the most – humiliating, extraordinary, but also wasteful policy backflips in a generation. Unfortunately, it is Australian small businesses in particular, Australian consumers, but also young Australians, those young people who have been doing remote learning who have suffered as a result of this.

DELANEY: Now, I think it’s fairly easy to look at today’s announcement as a form of vindication for the Labor Party’s plan 10 years ago. I’m sure the Coalition won’t see it that way. In fact, they’ve already got themselves out of the starting blocks by saying “no, no, no, we brought out the rollout of the National Broadband Network more rapidly so that more people could be a part of it more quickly and as we always promised, we’re going to upgrade as we go along”. They are claiming that today’s announcement is exactly that – upgrading as the level of demand increases. Why is that wrong?

ROWLAND: No matter how you try to spin this, the reality is that you should always do something right the first time. When you’re dealing with such a large amount of public money and something that has such long-term implications for a nation’s productivity, and for jobs and the betterment of its society. It has always been said about the NBN: do it once, do it right, do it with fibre. Instead, the Liberals said they could do it cheaper, they said they would do it sooner and they said it would be more affordable. They’ve failed on every count. Even if you ask your listeners: if you’re going to do a renovation, who says “oh, I’ll do it really cheap and I’ll make sure it’s bad quality, and then I’ll go back and do it later”? The other analogy is a highway. It’s like building a two-lane highway and then having to go back and put two extra lanes in it. It simply does not make sense and they were told this at the time. This was a conscious decision by the Liberals to oppose a very sensible policy which around the world has been recognised as sensible by many other nations in our region and beyond have been powering ahead with highly digitised economies and all of a sudden this Government has an epiphany that fibre is a good thing? Well, forgive me Leon, but it is Australians who have had seven years and billions of dollars wasted. Seven years we won’t be able to get back. We’ve slipped from 30th in the world in the broadband rankings, to 62nd and that’s where we are today.

DELANEY: Now, I started off this discussion by referring to Back to the Future, but of course, we can’t rewrite history. What has happened has happened. Isn’t this a case of better late than never?

ROWLAND: Well, unfortunately, we can’t separate the fact that so many people have suffered as a result of this Government’s poor decision making. And when will this be delivered? Well, they’re talking about delivering this years into the future again. This project was meant to be finished by them – they promised – in 2016. They said it would cost $29 billion, it’s blown out by $25 billion. We always said the end game was going to be fibre and these Liberals ignored this, they mocked it. They had, as you said, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott tasked with destroying it and now we have this embattled Communications Minister Paul Fletcher trying to put his spin on it. Well, this was unfortunately never about long-term benefits for Australians for the Liberals. It was always about short-term political opportunism. When that happens, it might take a decade to realise it, but you get realised in the end nonetheless – that people who suffer as a result of this are hardworking Australians.

DELANEY: Now, we’re being told about six million homes will benefit from this plan to upgrade over the next couple of years. We’re being told a three-year timeframe at the moment, but of course that you’ve hinted that it might blow out. Only time will tell. But surely this is good news for the people who do want a better service even if it is a little late in coming?

ROWLAND: Well, we will interrogate the figures in the Corporate Plan, both in terms of the funding and in terms of the time. But I am quite certain and having been right around Australia to talk to people about their experiences with the NBN to date, people have been crying out for high quality broadband for years. For them, they might see this as finally the Government has realised the mistake they have made all along. But nothing will make up for that lost time. They can also be forgiven, Leon, look at the credibility of this hapless Communications Minister who was Malcolm Turnbull’s sidekick when Malcolm Turnbull was Communications Minister. You can completely understand why some of these people would think this guy has absolutely zero credibility and they have no confidence this Government would be able to deliver anything that it promises on the NBN because its broken every promise it’s made.

DELANEY: Of course, politics is an unpleasant game isn’t it? Now that you have the opportunity, you can take this announcement and you can milk it for all its worth, and you can say “see I told you so”. But is that going to make things better for Australians?

ROWLAND: It won’t, which is why I will be pointing out the facts, as is my job as the Shadow spokesperson on this. But Leon, let me tell you, the most feedback I’ve had, I’m coming to you live from the middle of Blacktown, I’ve had constituents coming up to me in the street, ringing me, emailing me today, telling me about their experiences to date. It is still one of the highest caseloads and pieces of work as a local Member of Parliament. So believe me, I take no joy in the fact that they have failed to get what they were promised. I certainly take no joy from the fact that under Labor, they would have had this delivered sooner and a much higher quality product. It’s young people, the tens of thousands of students, who have been doing remote learning who simply do not have the internet at home. That is completely unacceptable in 2020 in a first-world country like Australia. The number of people who have missed out is completely unacceptable. It needed to be rectified years and years ago. This announcement today shows that on every big policy decision, this Government gets it wrong and it can’t do the right thing at the right time.

DELANEY: Now, on another topic, also in the Communications portfolio, I’m going to spring this one on you with no notice. A couple of times this week, I’ve been interviewing local politicians about local issues and they’ve been at home on their mobile phone or out and about on their mobile phone. Here we are in the nation’s capital and we’re getting phone dropouts and bad, bad phone reception. That’s not good enough for the 21st century is it?

ROWLAND: 100% correct, and –

DELANEY: What can we do about it?

ROWLAND: I think there’s two things and this is what I advise my constituents. The first is speak to your provider, because particularly I know that Canberra is a growth region, just like North-West Sydney, because it is certainly in the business of the mobile carriers to be rolling out services, including infrastructure in order to service their customers. So, one of the first things you should do is speak to your carrier. If you don’t know who to contact there, speak to your local Member. These are the sorts of representations I receive all the time, particularly in new estates. Speak to your carrier or your local Member if you can, but certainly the former is easier for my constituents and ask them to come out and do some testing. The other thing of course is that we have competition for mobile services in Australia. So, you can always speak to your provider, again, explain your problems, and have a look around for some potential alternatives if you think it is your carrier who is not doing their job. Again, how much money has been spent on mobile blackspots by this Government? And we know that there are still many parts of regional Australia, and this came out in Eden-Monaro when Kristy McBain was listening to people in your part of the world – so many millions of dollars spent on mobile phone blackspots and yet we still have these very serious situations.

DELANEY: Indeed we do, thank you very much for your time today.