SUBJECT: Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN mess, AFP raids
EMMA ALBERICI: Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Communications Minister and she joins me now from Canberra. Thanks very much for your company.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thank you.
ALBERICI: We'll get to the NBN in just a moment, but first I want to go to the AWU raids. Tell us, where is the evidence that supports the claim by Brendan O'Connor that the Prime Minister is using the AFP as some sort of political plaything?
ROWLAND: This is an extraordinary turn of events today, Emma, where we see the media waiting for the AFP outside the AWU's offices. We have an extraordinary situation in Parliament today, where we were hearing about the AFP's resources being stretched in their ability to do their jobs. And yet, at the same time we have these raids taking place. It just beggars belief that somehow the Prime Minister can wash his hands of this. And the Prime Minister has form –
ALBERICI: Sorry to interrupt, how can you be certain that the AWU hasn't broken any laws that need investigating?
ROWLAND: Well, as Brendan O'Connor said, if there are any questions to be answered they would certainly be of a civil nature. They certainly wouldn't warrant the type of behaviour that we have seen and it certainly wouldn't warrant calling in the AFP for this matter.
ALBERICI: How do you know?
ROWLAND: Because we are quite certain that anything that is associated with this matter is, in fact, one that's been dealt with properly by the AWU. We know that Bill Shorten was questioned with over 900 questions before the Trade Union Royal Commission. We had a waste of taxpayers’ money in that case and all we see now is the government pursuing a political agenda. And the Prime Minister has form on this. He has form on when he gets into a desperate situation, he calls in the cops.
ALBERICI: Well, we do know that there was a donation of $100,000 to help set up the Get Up! movement. There was $25,000 from the AWU to be donated to Bill Shorten's personal political campaign for election in Melbourne while he was the National Secretary. These are issues that should be investigated to check that proper approvals were sought.
ROWLAND: No-one's saying that they shouldn't be investigated if there are grounds to do so. But this certainly doesn't warrant the type of behaviour that we've seen. They certainly don't warrant the extent to which the AFP has been called in and if there are any questions to answer, they would be of a civil nature if anything else.
ALBERICI: Okay, let's move back to the NBN. Mitch Fifield claims Labor's version would've cost households an extra $500 on their internet bills a year.
ROWLAND: Well, this is rubbish and this is coming from a government that seeks to ascribe all blame and take no responsibility. This is a government that promised the NBN, under their watch, would be delivered for $29 billion. It's blown out to $50 billion. They said it would be finished by 2016. That came and went. And we have consumer complaints topping 160 per cent of an increase since the last reporting period. So we see that there is a complete lack of confidence from Australians in this government's version of the NBN, of a copper-based network, and they are simply washing their hands of it. And it's an extraordinary turn of events, Emma. We only had last week the Minister for Communications saying that the NBN would be "the envy of the world". We had the Prime Minister only recently saying that the NBN was “in hand”, talking it up as “a great corporate turnaround”. And then all of a sudden we have the head of NBNCo coming out and saying, "well, I'm not sure if it’s commercially viable". It's an extraordinary thing and you have to ask what has changed.
ALBERICI: Well, the Prime Minister calls it a calamitous train wreck; well he says it was a calamitous train wreck when they took it over from you. He vows it will completed $30 billion cheaper and six to eight years earlier.
ROWLAND: Well, that's absolute rubbish. We always had a peak funding of $45 billion and a 2021 completion date. So, for this government to come out and try and lecture us on delivery when they have failed by their own parameters is something we'll have no truck of.
ALBERICI: But hold on, after two terms of a Labor Government and $6 billion in expenditure of taxpayers' money, you had fewer than three per cent of Australian households connected, so how could you have been so sure you we're on track when you had that slow kind of pace of advancement?
ROWLAND: Well, this was a rollout that was not only complex, but it was in fact nationbuilding. This was a rollout that was actually taking control of arresting the digital divide that we have in Australia, on a scale never before seen since the Snowy Mountains Scheme. This government's been in for five years.
ALBERICI: But you we're saying you were on track. It didn't sound like you were on track, with due respect, with only three per cent of people connected after two terms of government?
ROWLAND: Well, we knew from the start that this was going to be a massive project. This government decided to adopt a different technology mix and, in fact, decided to have a mish-mash of technologies and now they are claiming that it is going to be one of the best in the world. Well, consumers would like to beg to differ on this matter and it's very clear that it is failing consumers at every turn and this government is taking no responsibility.
ALBERICI: So, if Labor wins the next election what's your intention? Do you go back to an all fibre network?
ROWLAND: It's always been our preference for fibre, and to have fibre as deep as possible into the network, Emma.
ALBERICI: But is that going to be your policy?
ROWLAND: Our policy is going to be informed by the needs of consumers and putting them at the centre.
ALBERICI: Well, you've just finished saying that the mish-mash of technologies, as you put it, was the wrong way to go. Will you go back to an all fibre network?
ROWLAND: There is nothing we would want more than to have as much fibre as possible. That's why, at the 2016 election, we had a fully costed business plan.
ALBERICI: We don't want to go backwards, we want to go forwards so voters know what they're weighing up. Is that what you're commitment would be?
ROWLAND: Well, our commitment is that we want to see fibre expanded as far as possible. But Emma, the reality is this: we need to be informed by the state of the network as it is, in the event that we are elected at the next election. And Bill Shorten has made it very clear that we are not in the business of ripping up copper. We are in the business of being informed by the realities of the ground and making it the best consumer experience possible.