23 September 2020



SUBJECT: Government’s NBN backflip.
ROBBIE BUCK, HOST: The Opposition is certainly making some noise about it. Michelle Rowland is the Federal Shadow Minister for Communications. Good morning to you.
BUCK: Your response to this announcement?
ROWLAND: This would have to be the most extraordinary, humiliating, wasteful, expensive public policy backflip in a generation. This Government has built a network that costs more and does less, and in the end, has accepted that fibre is what Australians need.
WENDY HARMER, HOST: Well, just again from that article by Mike Quigley, he was the first CEO of the NBNCo. He said that the system that was first chosen in the end by the Tony Abbott Government would end up costing Australia’s taxpayers billions of dollars more than if the original deep fibre NBN had been allowed to continue. Are we able to quantify that, whether that prediction came true?
ROWLAND: Absolutely, just look at the facts. The Government said that its original NBN would cost around $29 billion – this is their second-rate NBN. They’ve now spent something like $25 billion more than what they promised, and now they’re going to spend billions of dollars more yet again in today’s announcement. Not only is this more expensive than Labor’s original fibre plan, but consumers have suffered in the meantime. For 10 years, this Government has been opposed to having world-class, fibre-based broadband, and all of a sudden, it’s having this epiphany that somehow this is visionary, it’s going to be a driver of jobs. Well, forgive me if Labor turns around and says ‘geez, I wish we had thought of that’. This is a Government that gets all the big calls wrong, and this is one of them.
BUCK: The Government will badge the upgrade as a recession busting initiative. We are of course in a recession and this should create 25,000 jobs, including 16,000 jobs in construction, engineering, logistics and retail trade. I mean surely you support the creation of that many jobs?
ROWLAND: Well, this was always going to end up being the necessary end game. We always knew that we needed to upgrade this network. It is just a pity that we are now in a recession, that we look back and Australians can see how much money has been wasted. But not only that, you can think about all the suffering that has gone on over the last seven years or so – for consumers, for small businesses, even for students who need reliable internet access and there are thousands of them. So, this is a Government that has not prepared for the future. It is only just talking about broadband being a driver of jobs and economic growth. We should be there by now. Instead, when Labor left office, we were ranked 30th in the world for broadband. We’re now 62nd. So, there is so much catching up that needs to be done.
HARMER: Well why do you think that – I mean, the blame’s been sheeted off in many directions on this – but why does the Labor Party think their original plan was scuppered?
ROWLAND: Well, clearly Tony Abbott thought that this was a political opportunity and Malcolm Turnbull seized that. Even to this day, Malcolm Turnbull will tell you that his multi-technology mix was visionary. Well, I don’t see anything visionary about seeing 50,000km of new copper being purchased – it’s something like enough to wrap around Planet Earth. The world has clearly showed that fibre deployment is the way to go, it’s also cheaper in the long-run and as has been said on many occasions: do it once, do it right, and do it with fibre.
HARMER: I just wanted to say here though, I mean we had a listener on earlier today saying it’s about ideology. There are other people who say it was done at the behest of other media interests. You are saying there it was about money in the end?
ROWLAND: Well, that’s partly the case. Indeed, as you showed in that clip from Malcolm Turnbull, they wanted to talk about money. They wanted to talk about how they would deliver this faster, sooner and it would be more affordable for consumers, and they were wrong on every count. The reason they were wrong Wendy was because they weren’t thinking long-term and they weren’t thinking about Australians and it’s Australians who will suffer a result.
BUCK: But, better late than never?
ROWLAND: It’s very unfortunate that this is a better late than never scenario. This is like building a two-lane highway and going back and having to build another lane in either direction. Every Australian knows that if you do something half-baked up front, it’s going to cost you in the end.
BUCK: Alright, we’ll leave it there. Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Communications.