TRANSCRIPT - PRESS CONFERENCE - 26 AUGUST 2016

SUBJECT/S: NBN Co’s latest Corporate Plan; NBN raids 

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good afternoon. The release of today's latest Corporate Plan by NBN Co once again demonstrates how Malcolm Turnbull got everything wrong in his mismanagement of the National Broadband Network. We see what he got wrong in terms of cost, in terms of timing, and in terms of technology. Originally Malcolm Turnbull said that this project, under his stewardship, would cost $29.5 billion. That has now blown out to $54 billion. And we know that there was significant wriggle room left in the last corporate plan in terms of the peak funding cost being anything between $46 billion and $56 billion. We know, and it is indeed a fact, that $54 billion is far in excess of the $29 billion they promised this would cost as part of their 'faster, sooner, and more affordable' broadband package. We know that they've gotten the technology wrong, we know that instead of provisioning for the future they have relied on this multi technology mix, MTM, or Malcom Turnbull's Mess. Every assumption that went into this MTM plan has been proven to be grossly wrong. We know that fibre to the node technology has been favoured by Malcolm Turnbull and indeed a copper based technology which is not fit for the future. We know that under his plan, HFC was supposed to be one of the big game changers for the NBN. In 2013, in fact, he said that there would be 2.6 million premises connected to the National Broadband Network via HFC by the end of this year. That is simply not going to happen. And the figures in this corporate plan released today show a significant decline in the number of HFC connections to be compensated, you guessed it, by a far inferior fibre to the node copper connection. And we see that in terms of fibre to the premises connections, these have flat lined. And yet we know around the world the cost of fibre deployment is decreasing. So it begs the question, and it is something that Labor will be closely interrogating in Parliament this year, why is it that this government is so fixated on a backward looking broadband network, rather than a future proofed network, one which has significantly lower operating costs into the future, one which is indeed designed as the NBN Co itself pointed out currently people have around nine devices connected in their homes at any one time and that will increase to 29 by the year 2020. Why is it then that this government is so fixated on having such a backward looking plan for broadband. So Malcolm Turnbull's multi technology mix has been proven to be an utter mess. I point to the lived experience of consumers, those who have been connected to Labor's real broadband network. Ones which are able to take advantages for themselves, their small businesses and their education. Compared to those which have been connected by the far inferior copper technology which has been beset by difficulties which consumers consistently complain about, including in terms of NBN Co and their retail service providers arguing with one another over whose responsibility certain aspects are. And the last point that I will make is that this goes again to the whole notion of Malcolm Turnbull as being someone who has managed to complete stuff up after stuff up. The NBN is the prime example of that. The Census has been another example. The way in which he called a double dissolution allegedly supposing to get the Senate result that he wanted, yet another example. It is stuff up after stuff up from Malcolm Turnbull and the public knows it. He is a stuffer-upperer of Olympic class. So we see yet again today that this example of the National Broadband Network under his stewardship has been one which fits within exactly that theme that he has set for himself and his government.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible] on the way to fixing the issues of the HFC [inaudible], do you have any confidence that that could be done without affecting the cost of the NBN?

ROWLAND: Well if you're taking about firstly the HFC, so the coax cables that the government has entered into a deal with, that again remains to be seen. I mean, initially this was supposed to be the real deal breaker and the government indeed entered into a significant deal to take over that aspect of the network. One in which we argued even the operators themselves had said this was a network that was not fit for future purpose. So it remains to be seen whether the operating costs, and any remediation costs in fact, are too high to be done effectively. And on that very point I'll note that in the corporate plan a statement itself is there that alludes to NBN Co choosing instead to go with the least cost options. So it makes you wonder, are they abandoning HFC because the costs have blown out from their original estimates in favour of a far cheaper and far inferior fibre to the node copper technology.

JOURNALIST: The $29 billion of public funding capped, but obviously NBN is saying $54 billion so they are going to have to look at other ways of getting financing. Do you have the same confidence that they do that they'll be able to get that money?

ROWLAND: Well this is up to NBN being able to go either to the market or in fact to the government if it so chooses, and this is indeed a question for NBN to answer. I don't have the visibility of whether or not what their chances are in that respect, but what I do know is that they allege this whole project was going to cost them $29.5 billion. They will now have to find other funds somehow and I know that Bill Morrow has made statements to the effect that he's confident they'll be able to do that. Again, we'll have to wait and see on that.

JOURNALIST: Isn't it wise [inaudible]?

ROWLAND: Well that was the intention of the NBN and as a wholesale national piece of utility infrastructure Labor in fact designed it so that it would be fit for purpose for the future. The point that I would make on that however, is that this is a government that has grossly underestimated its costs. So not only have those costs blown out, not only has the timing blown out, remember that we are rapidly nearing the end of Malcolm Turnbull's own alleged completion date of everyone having minimum speeds by the end of this year. It's simply not going to happen. That's blown out to 2020, a more realistic date that Labor says for their completion under their current model is probably 2022. So it remains to be seen whether or not they'll be able to raise the capital necessary to take that through to completion, whatever future date that may be.

JOURNALIST: I've seen issues where residents and businesses in areas such as Craigieburn have had their internet and phone services cut off, some after six weeks due to an issue with [inaudible] NBN roll out. Are you concerned that issues like that may continue with the current form that the NBN is in?

ROWLAND: I am concerned because I receive similar complaints, not only from my own electorate but from consumers right around Australia. And as I said in my opening comments, one of the biggest sources of complaint at the moment are people being cut off from having any broadband access for weeks on end because [inaudible] and the NBN can't determine whose responsibility it is. I don't think that this is going to decline, I think as we see more copper remediation being necessary where we don't actually know the quality of all the copper that we've got at the moment, we are going to see people being beset by faults, we are going to see people not satisfied with the service that they are getting and in fact, one of the biggest complaints that I get from consumers that are on FTTN delivery at the moment is that they are paying for a service which they are not getting. I know that the ACCC is looking into the issue of broadband speed claims and representations and what is actually being met, but I think this actually goes much further. This goes to an issue of NBN Co holding itself out to having provided a certain level of service for people. They're not getting what they paid for and the reason they're not is because of Malcolm Turnbull having stuffed up.

JOURNALIST: [inaudible]

ROWLAND: Look our concern with this is the lengths to which the government will go to cover up Malcolm Turnbull's own mismanagement. That is our concern. We don't have an issue with the federal police. What we have an issue with is the lengths to which this government is going to supposedly cover up something that has already been demonstrated to be true. And that is Malcolm Turnbull's maladministration of the NBN. So Labor will be pursuing this issue. We'll have more to say on this next week but we will certainly be standing up for transparency and the truth, and bear in mind that once upon a time Malcolm Turnbull was very strong on protecting whistle-blowers. This time around, and as we've seen not only in this case but also on election night, when the going gets tough for this bloke he calls in the AFP. He called in the AFP during the most ungracious election night speeches I think anyone has ever witnessed. He called in the AFP earlier in the campaign, and I'll say this also, the number of people in the community who are outraged by the government's action on this point; do not underestimate it. Do not underestimate how much people think that this has been something which should not have occurred, something which only occurred because the government is seeking to hide something, and what they are seeking to hide is the truth about Malcolm Turnbull's litany of stuff ups on the National Broadband Network.

JOURNALIST: Mitch Fifield described it today as 'the greatest turnaround in Australian corporate history', how would you describe the NBN?

ROWLAND: Well if he would describe a great turnaround as a cost blowout from $29.5 billion to $54 billion, go ahead. If he would describe having a network that is not fit for purpose, that is not future proof, that relies on a copper network that John Howard privatised last century, then go ahead. And if he thinks that the Australian public reckon that this is a good deal for them, then he should go ahead and perhaps even go out and speak to some consumers and their lived experiences and those small businesses who can't operate from home because they don't have adequate broadband. I have residents in my own electorate who are living on one side of the street where they have Labor's fibre to the premises superior network, and on the other side of the street they have absolutely nothing. This government has created divided towns within communities. This is not a turnaround, this is in fact a stuff up by this government and we will be pursuing the National Broadband Network and Malcolm Turnbull's maladministration well into this Parliament.

JOURNALIST: Going back to the leaked documents yesterday, Liberals claim they're actually national security matters and top secret documents, do you have any kind of perspective on this?

ROWLAND: It would certainly be interesting to know what elements of the NBN Co would ever be considered to be top secret. And if they have this sort of information where it's top secret, then I suggest that the onus is on them to demonstrate what is in fact secret about it. There is certainly nothing that has come out in the public domain that cannot be shown to have indeed supported Malcolm Turnbull having stuffed up on the NBN. But if they want to keep pursuing this, if they want to keep resisting it, go ahead. Because the Australian public know that this government has a lot to hide and what they are trying to hide is Malcolm Turnbull's maladministration of this project. Thanks very much.

ENDS

FRIDAY, 26 AUGUST 2016