With Lisa Chesters MP, Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations, Shadow Assistant Minister for Rural and Regional Australia, Member for Bendigo.
LISA CHESTERS, FEDERAL MEMBER FOR BENDIGO: Last week I released a damning report into the rollout of the NBN across Bendigo and Central Victoria and invited Michelle to come and learn firsthand about the challenges that we face here. We're here today at this advanced manufacturer here in Bendigo just learning how slow internet is really stopping their business from progressing. We want to be a town that manufactures things. We want to be a country that manufactures things and a key to that for so many of our businesses is fast, reliable internet. I’m going to introduce Michelle to say a few words just about the NBN in general and the disastrous rollout that we’ve had across Australia.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thanks very much Lisa and thanks very much to ICA for hosting us today. It’s most instructive to be here at an advanced manufacturer in regional Victoria, and one that understands the value of high speed broadband. That’s because they live it every day. It’s important for them not only to have the best quality and fastest download speeds possible, but upload speeds are very important. And often, in too many cases, the value of that upload speed depends on the technology that’s available. Now ICA have detailed to us about how they now have a number of multi-national clients who expect that they will be able to perform downloads and examine information in real time. And when you have that data heavy and time sensitive work, you cannot let your connectivity fail. Unfortunately, they said, they have been losing out on some projects because of the lack of reliable broadband. This is a story that is too common across Australia. We met earlier today with an elderly consumer in her home for whom it took a question in the Parliament from Lisa Chesters as the Federal Member to actually get some action on her home internet service. And again, Lisa has been most active here with ICA, raising it in the Parliament and taking it up directly with the Minister responsible to get some results for them. But unfortunately there are only so many hours in Question Time each year and businesses like ICA need to have those results and need them promptly. So we will continue to prosecute the case for a world-class National Broadband Network. Currently, under Malcolm Turnbull’s multi-technology mix, we have a multi-technology mess. We have regions and towns divided on the basis of the infrastructure that is being utilised. Unfortunately, for so many small businesses, as we have seen in independent results from their own organisations, they are losing thousands of dollars each year just because of unreliable broadband. Now this cannot be allowed to continue. Last year, in fact almost a year ago exactly, the Minister for Communications said that 2017 would be “the year of the consumer”. Well we saw consumer complaints soar by 160%. We saw the HFC rollout shut down in November last year, paused for a period of at least 6 months or so while they dealt with problems with that network. All this can be sheeted home directly to Malcolm Turnbull. This was his idea, to have this multi-technology mix. He wears the consequences of that. We don’t want to see thriving, entrepreneurial businesses like ICA wearing the consequences of that. And that’s why we continue, even in opposition to really ensure that the government is held to account and to really ensure that people understand that they have rights to complain and, as long as we have great local members like Lisa Chesters, we’ll continue to bring up these individual cases.
JOURNALIST: What can be done to mitigate some of the circumstances and issues that we have seen here?
ROWLAND: Well first and foremost, I think there should be an increased focus on customer service by NBNCo. We have had too much buck-passing between retail service providers and NBNCo. We have had too many situations where, and it is quite clear in the case of ICA, they are treated not as an important, innovative industry. Their concerns clearly haven’t been listened to when they’ve been raised. So we think a bigger focus on the consumer, and indeed the consumer being the central focus of the NBN rollout, needs to be paramount. And we’ve been pressuring the government to do that and it’s because we’ve been doing that we’ve been able to see improvements such as this.
JOURNALIST: We’ve already come quite some distance down the road with this multi-technology that we have with the NBN so is it a case of persevering with what we’ve got?
ROWLAND: It’s a good question because this will require a number of choices for an incoming government. Malcolm Turnbull has said that by the end of this term, the rollout will be complete. But for so many people, it will not be a complete rollout because they will not have the best quality broadband that they would have had under Labor’s first rate NBN. We will have a situation where regions and towns are still divided by technology. So the question becomes for an incoming government, “What can we do?” For Labor, we understand that we are not into, for example, ripping copper out of the ground. We understand that so many people have already had a poor migration experience and may not want another one. So we will certainly need to be informed by the realities on the ground if we manage to form government in the next term. But I can tell you, from Lisa’s perspective and my own, we are absolutely focused on two things: firstly, putting the customer at the centre of everything we do, and secondly, the National Broadband Network is a values proposition. It’s about having equality of opportunity - equitable access to world class broadband no matter where you live or work. And we will enable those principles to inform us if we form government.
JOURNALIST: ICA had their issue resolved now, they’ve moved to Fixed Wireless from the satellite. NBNCo says they don’t have any issues, ICA have said they don’t have any issues anymore with their connection, so is everything sorted here now? Have they got adequate internet now?
ROWLAND: Well, from ICA’s perspective this is certainly a better result than they would have had. The question though is why did it take so long? We knew that this was an issue for them for some time, but we are just pleased that through the advocacy of good local members like Lisa, we were able to have these improvements. This also raises the question of Malcolm Turnbull’s promise that you could actually have choice of technology. He promised to have this ‘Technology Choice’ program and it would it cost a couple of thousand dollars if you wished to upgrade, for example, to fibre. We know that the average cost far exceeds what Malcolm Turnbull quoted, in some cases tens of thousands of dollars to get that upgrade. We know of instances where consumers and small businesses have been told it is simply not technologically feasible. So this lottery of what you can get really is something that is hampering small businesses. It’s pleasing to see that a resolution has happened but as the ICA blokes here themselves have said, it shouldn’t have taken pressure and a question in the Parliament to get this done.
JOURNALIST: Mitch Fifield said that Labor’s rollout wouldn’t have been completed by 2026. Is that accurate?
ROWLAND: Well, Mitch Fifield knows very well that his promise of making 2017 the year of the consumer came to a crashing halt. This is a government that promised to finish the NBN, to have minimum speeds by the end of 2016. They absolutely failed on that account. They promised it would be delivered for $29.5 billion. It’s blown out by an extra $20 billion. So when you ask consumers and small businesses what they think of this government’s second rate rollout they will tell you loud and clear that this is not a rollout that is working for them. Now the government can trot out all the statistics they would like and all the misleading statements they would like about Labor’s plans but the reality is, even today, the public clearly favours Labor’s original proposal of having a fibre-based rollout.
JOURNALIST: And Lisa you’ve spoken about Industrial Conveying quite a bit, are there any other businesses facing similar issues or has it all been resolved now?
CHESTERS: What ICA has told us today, as the Bendigo manufacturers have told us, is that what they have got from NBNCo is step one. After a lot of kicking and screaming, what they’ve got is a band aid solution. So they are able now to do some of the work they want to do but they can’t expand their business. Today their clients want businesses that can continue to service their product, what they manufacture on an ongoing basis. Where NBNCo have failed, where the Minister has failed is to really sit down with our Bendigo manufacturers and talk about the future. We’ve got some incredibly innovative businesses that want to expand what they do but they simply can’t because they don’t have the connectivity. I think it is really rich of NBNCo to say job done, tick move on. They should come out here and meet with ICA and learn about their future plans, learn about what they want to achieve if they had better connectivity. It’s just not good enough, the response we have had from NBNCo. But it’s not just ICA. Other businesses we have had, people working in the health sector such as In8health physio and the Bendigo Foot Clinic, they’re struggling with NBNCo with connectivity because it drops out when they’re trying to do online bookings or payments. Also across the board with our Bendigo manufacturers. Businesses innovative in the ag space have told me they’ve had issues with the internet going down when they are trying to do real time processing of data in the cloud.
JOURNALIST: Are these isolated cases though? Are the majority getting adequate service?
CHESTERS: Well this is the other problem we have with NBNCo – people call up and they get told to go to their telco and then they close the file. Michelle is right, we have a failure within NBNCo to focus on customer and customer service and having someone come out and troubleshoot onsite the infrastructure issues that they have. NBNCo have taken responsibility for infrastructure yet they are not on the ground and experience or learning firsthand, the infrastructure issues that we have.