23 September 2020



SUBJECT: Government’s NBN backflip.
KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Let’s bring in the Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, for this development today. Michelle Rowland, with the fibre to the home development today, I discussed with Stephen Conroy before and I want to get your thoughts on this. Is there a chance that much of the upgraded infrastructure becomes redundant anyway because of 5G?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well, there’s always been a problem with the advent of 5G Kieran, that it would be a competitor, particularly to more inferior technologies. It’s long been understood in telecommunications analysis that mobile and fixed networks are complimentary, they’re not substitutes. But when you get to a stage where consumers will not choose a particular technology or favour one over another because of issues such as price, such as reliability and other technical considerations, then it certainly does become a problem for a network that has inferior technologies. That has always been the case when it comes to the copper-based, second-rate network that this Government has built.

GILBERT: So, with companies like TPG/Vodafone threatening to take their 5G products into the FTTN areas, there was the chance that they would basically lose the NBN, all those particular customers?

ROWLAND: Certainly a very great risk for NBNCo, especially considering that those private sector mobile operators are in there to make a profit. They would be seeking to maximise their profit as much as possible, to promote its latency, its speed and other features it would have over inferior technologies such as copper.

GILBERT: So, is fibre to the home then – I know Labor argued in the past that this was the future proof technology – is it still future proof despite the gains that have been made in wireless technologies and so on?

ROWLAND: It’s certainly future proofed because what you’ve got here in terms of fibre is a network that becomes a conduit for everything else. You simply change the electronics at the ends in order to make it do different things. There’s a level of quality that far exceeds that of copper and HFC, which will leave Australians wondering why it is that it has taken seven years for this Government to admit that it was wrong and do the policy backflip of a generation.
GILBERT: The answer’s quite simple isn’t it? They were losing customers, basically. I think the number originally under the NBN Plan was that 16% of homes would not sign up. Essentially, that was the rough estimate. In recent times, the NBN hasn’t been looking at that percentage or not releasing it publicly anyway – the percentage of homes they expect not to sign up because it’s been increasing?
ROWLAND: Well, let’s be very clear Kieran: the vast majority of complaints about the NBN are on the inferior networks that have been rolled out under this Government, including for example their failure to properly dimension and ensure satellite and other fixed wireless capacity. Those are technologies that actually should work, but instead, this Government has wasted so many billions of dollars. Think about it: 50,000km of new copper, enough to wrap around the Planet Earth, at a time when we should have in the first place rolled out fibre and been properly dimensioning satellite and fixed-wireless services for regional and remote areas. This Government has got the big calls wrong every time when it comes to nation building, and when it comes to ensuring jobs and productivity, and future proofing Australia. So, this backflip now from this hapless Minister, this completely embattled Minister Paul Fletcher, simply demonstrates that this Government did not have a clue seven years ago, has wasted billions of dollars, but most of all, has left consumers, small businesses and students absolutely wanting the best technology and not getting what they deserve as Australians.

GILBERT: What do you say to the argument by Mr Fletcher, as he’s put today repeatedly, that the way they rolled it out to enable an upgrade at a later point allowed them to expedite the roll out?

ROWLAND: Oh, what absolute nonsense! Any Australian will tell you: if you’re going to do a renovation, if you’re going to build something, you do it right the first time because otherwise you’re going to have to spend more time fixing it up. This embattled Minister, who was Parliamentary Secretary and is now the Minister, this Government under his watch said that their NBN would cost $29 billion. They’ve already overspent that by $25 billion and they said it would be finished by 2016 – completely failed on every test. This Minister – his credibility is completely shot! I doubt that there is an Australian who would accept that argument, particularly when you consider not only the wasted money, but the wasted opportunity over those seven years simply because out of spite they said that they did not want to support this plan.

GILBERT: Once the upgrade is done, and millions of homes will be able to get that fibre to the home arrangements, will we end up in the same place that Labor would have been anyway, albeit a couple of years later, according to your estimates?
ROWLAND: Not just years later, billions of dollars later. And unfortunately, over that time, you have a look at our region, you have a look around the world at the great advances that have been made to their economies as a result of them having high-speed broadband. And you look at where we were when this Government came to office: we were ranked 30th, we are now 62nd! So, think about it: this Government now talking about the NBN being a driver of productivity, jobs growth, nation building. Well, forgive me Kieran, but it’s very unbelievable that there’s some sort of epiphany that has gone on here with this Government suddenly realising that fibre was the answer all along. They’ve wasted everyone’s time, they’ve wasted taxpayers’ money, but most of all, it’s the wasted opportunities for Australians.
GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, appreciate your time.