With Tim Hammond MP, Shadow Minister for Consumer Affairs, Shadow Assistant Minister for Resources.
SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN failings in WA, media reform, Ellenbrook Rail .
TIM HAMMOND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSUMER AFFAIRS, SHADOW MINISTER ASSISTING FOR RESOURCES: Good morning everyone. It's with great pleasure that I have Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Minister for Communications, with me here in Perth today. And it was pretty timely for Michelle to be over here in Western Australia. I thought the cartoon in the amusement section of the West Australian was a lot further back but I read on page 5 of the paper today that, believe it or not, Mitch Fifield, our current Minister for Communications, is of the view that NBN is connecting 9 out of 10 customers in so far as an adequate hook up to the NBN goes. Well, I can't think of anything which is more divorced from reality than that statement from the current Communications Minister. All it really represents, it seems to me, is that he has absolutely no connectivity whatsoever in relation to the experience of Western Australians, both in my electorate but also all around the state. Every day, myself and my colleagues receive numerous complaints from customers who are simply not getting the experience that they deserve in relation to NBN connectivity. It's not good enough, at the moment the state of affairs is diabolical and it is happening under Malcolm Turnbull's watch. Here to elaborate further, both in relation to that and other communications issues, is Michelle. I will throw it over to her and happy to take any questions after that. Great to have you here Michelle.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thanks very much, Tim. It's great to be here in Western Australia again, and let's remember that it’s two years now since we've had Malcolm Turnbull, the ‘innovation Prime Minister’, but it's been far from innovation here in Western Australia for local residents. Malcolm Turnbull promised that every household and small business in Australia would be connected to the NBN by the end of 2016. That date came and went and what legacy did he leave us at that time? Two out of every three premises in Western Australia were still not connected. Now, Malcolm Turnbull talked a big game on Western Australia, he talked a big game about how he was going to bring connectivity to the state, how he was going to improve quality of life and broadband overall for the Western Australian economy. He has failed miserably on every single point. He promised that their second-rate NBN would be faster, cheaper and delivered sooner and he has failed on every single count. The reality is, for Perth, the most isolated capital city in the world, it relies on having the best connectivity in order to compete in a globalised economy and it's no surprise that last year we had reports that Western Australia was in fact the state of the worst connectivity in all of Australia. So far from what Malcolm Turnbull promised, we have a situation where average download speeds were about 7.1 Mbps, that's a fifth of average speeds reported in Canberra. So it's been a big disappointment for people who are yet to be connected and it's been a big disappointment for people who are connected. The narrative has now shifted from 'When am I getting the NBN?' to 'Now I'm on the NBN, when can I get off it?' So for the Minister for repeat the absolute furphy that 9 out of 10 migrations to the NBN are going on time, this would fail every single pub test in this state. You would be hard pressed finding a pub where that passed the test. We also see the party of the so-called 'champions of small business' where, in NSW for example, the lack of broadband connectivity and problems with the NBN are costing small businesses $9,000 a year. Now imagine how much that will be exacerbated in a city like Perth, in a state like Western Australia. Malcolm Turnbull should come to Perth and ask 10 small businesses whether their NBN migration went right the first time and I think he'd get a good reality check from that. As Tim said, it just shows how out of touch this government is.
Turning to matters of media ownership and I see today that Justice Black has confirmed a decision regarding the CBS/Ten deal. We also see many reports about how the deal-making went about to repeal the 2 out of 3 rule. And the more we see about how this sausage was made, the less appetising it becomes. It's abundantly clear that this government has no long-term plans when it comes to ensuring we have diversity of our media. Their argument all along has been that the 2 out of 3 rule needed to be repealed in order to make existing media players viable. Well, the decision in CBS simply shows that the 2 out of 3 rule works. The Government also has failed to provide the necessary detail about its deal with Nick Xenophon. We now know that there is a $60 million package of taxpayer funds, the vast majority of which will not be able to be accessed by exciting innovative players such as The Guardian - specifically locked out. And at the same time big media players will be able to access funds. So again, this just points to the government being completely out of touch. For a Prime Minister who said he was innovative, he is closing the door on innovative players such as the Guardian and The New Daily just as examples. And Nick Xenophon will be wearing this deal like an albatross around his neck. There is no way he can squirm out of the fact that the only reason why this deal got over the line was because he signed up to One Nation's demands to cause damage to the ABC and SBS. And I now see the Minister trying to squirm out of that as well. No amount of squirm will cover up the fact that the ABC is a trusted brand, that most Australians want to see their public broadcasters remain strong, and that this attack on our public broadcasters has been aided and abetted by the Nick Xenophon Political Party. Happy to take any questions.
JOURNALIST: A question for Tim, there's reports today in the press that the Ellenbrook railway line is shaping up to being one of the state's biggest political footballs. Do you have anything to say in regards to that?
HAMMOND: Look, I don't think you could find a more consistent approach to making sure that the mums and dads in the community in Ellenbrook are properly serviced, than a McGowan Labor Government, together with a future Bill Shorten Federal Labor Government. Bill Shorten made it very clear when he was out here for the state conference only weeks ago, that his appetite to land a fair share for Western Australia through a top-up deal which sees these funds to WA being the equivalent of a 70 cent floor, upon the election of a Federal Labor Government, being used for infrastructure projects such as the Ellenbrook rail. You might recall that Bill Shorten himself used the Ellenbrook rail line as a specific example as the type of project that a WA fair share fund could help land. Now, that's a $1.6 billion fund committed over and above all other existing projects to come into being at the time of a Shorten Labor Government. What you see time and time again are Labor Governments at a State and Federal level being the only government's properly committed to infrastructure and Ellenbrook is a perfect example of that.
JOURNALIST: Michelle, what elements of the Nick Xenophon deal is Labor supporting?
ROWLAND: Well, the reality is that we still don't have solid detail on the Government's deal with Nick Xenophon. Much of it is still to be worked out. The only information that's been released by the Government has been a paltry media statement, a few headline issues but no detail. And it was certainly an unedifying experience to see in the Senate last week, questions being put to the Minister about how this so-called 'innovation fund' would be administered, and the Minister being unable to answer basic questions, and instead deferring to Nick Xenophon to answer questions on his behalf. The most information we have out there is in Xenophon's own media release, which is hardly an official source and certainly does raise more questions than it answers. It's apparent that, after three years of this fund, we will have a void, we will have media diversity and public interest safeguards gone, but no fund to support journalism after that time. In the meantime, it's quite clear from all reports that dominant companies will become even more dominant through mergers. I would challenge anyone who thinks that achieving things like “efficiencies and synergies” are going to result in job creation rather than job losses. We're going to have less diversity in news. As I said previously, under the rules that we do know, smaller players are likely to be crowded out and maybe even disincentivised to enter the market. So the legacy of this fund is likely to be paltry, given that it's a paltry supply side solution and we know that the public interest journalism inquiry that Nick Xenophon was participating in actually made it clear that he barely knows what problem he is trying to solve, let alone what the solution is.
JOURNALIST: Just dove-tailing back to media ownership issues, there was $30 million in the Federal Budget for Foxtel’s sports coverage. How does that fit into these new media ownership laws?
ROWLAND: Well, again it's plain that this government is prepared to give $30 million of taxpayers' money to the big end of town at the same time it is prepared to sacrifice media diversity. Let's be clear, a Freedom of Information request has demonstrated that this decision to give $30 million to Fox Sports supposedly to assist coverage of women's and niche sports, was made without the existence of a single document. There is not one bit of government decision making in this policy process which is based on sound policy, and when you consider the fact that Essential polling shows 61 per cent of Australians were opposed to the repeal of the 2 out of 3 rule, you would be hard pressed to find one of them who thinks that $30 million of their hard-earned taxpayers' money should be going to Fox Sports. Again, it is clear that this is a government that is seriously out of touch, one that is prepared to do any deal, irrespective of consumer interests, irrespective of taxpayer interests and irrespective of the long term needs of our public broadcasters.