SUBJECTS: NBN; Canning by-election; Syrian refugee crisis; Perth airport delays






MATT KEOGH, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR CANNING: We’re here today with Michelle Rowland, who is our Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications and Alannah MacTiernan, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Western Australia. We’ve been holding a forum here in Armadale discussing the NBN. This is a critical piece of infrastructure for all of Australia, in particular a concern for the people of Canning. In Canning we are now getting a second-rate NBN system, and that’s a key concern to people in this area. They already have difficulties with telecommunications and internet access throughout this area, and the second-rate NBN system that is being delivered by Mr Abbott and his government is a key concern. It’s been great to be able to field question, talk to people about their concerns about making sure they are getting 21st century infrastructure and not a second-rate system under this government. It’s quite clear to me and it’s clear to people in this forum that a vote for Tony Abbott’s candidate in this election is a vote for a second-rate NBN, and Labor will fix that.


JOURNALIST: Is it something that is being raised with you regularly while you’re door-knocking? Do people actually see a difference between the two parties on this issue?


KEOGH: They do see a difference between Labor and Mr Abbott’s government on this issue. In fact, it’s probably one of the clearest distinctions you can find. Labor is committed to a 21st century system of telecommunications for this country. This is nation-building infrastructure. Under Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull, they have turned back and they’re giving us a second-rate system which is not going to deliver what people need as we move through the 21st century, as we get to the end of the mining boom and need to be developing science and technology in this state and this area.


JOURNALIST: Were you surprised to hear some residents have problems even with the phone lines when it rains?


KEOGH: I wasn’t surprised to hear that at all, I’ve known that for a long time. I actually worked for an internet company while I was at uni and this has been a common problem, especially in older areas with older exchanges and telephone pits. But that really exemplifies the problem of Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull’s approach to the NBN. We can’t rely on the copper network as a way of delivering internet as we move through the 21st century. We need to be getting fibre to the premise.


JOURNALIST: With two weeks to go until the by-election, how are you feeling about your chances now? 


KEOGH: It’s a close race and I’m playing to win. This is a really important election for the people of Canning to be able to send a very strong message to Mr Abbott and his government about their concern with his broken promises and the wrong priorities for this country.


JOURNALIST: There’s a lot of talk about the extent of swing and the impact that might have. Are you expecting a big swing towards Labor?


KEOGH: Clearly I would like a big swing towards Labor because it’s really important for people here that they’re able to send that strong message and start getting the services they need in this area. People are concerned about rising unemployment, they’re concerned about cuts to their schools, they’re concerned about money being ripped out of their hospitals. This is an opportunity for the people of Canning to send that very strong message to the government that they don’t like what is happening under Mr Abbott.


JOURNALIST: Labor has been promising money during this campaign whereas the Liberals don’t seem to be promising much money. Can we expect more of that in the next fortnight?


KEOGH: Labor has been out here as part of this campaign saying what we will do, and we will continue to say what Labor will do in government to deliver for the people in this area.


JOURNALIST: Will there be more money attached to your promises?


KEOGH: We’ll see as we go through the next two weeks of the campaign. I’ll hand over to Michelle.


MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATION, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Thank you. Matt is absolutely right when he talks about there being stark differences in this key area of policy – and that is nation building, that is infrastructure, that is the National Broadband Network. There is probably no better policy that sets out these stark differences about how we approach the future, how the people of Canning should be able to approach the future, than the differences in the policies in this area. We are committed to making sure that all Australians have equitable access to the highest quality broadband. It was standing room only here at this forum this afternoon. I am not surprised with the number of people who have serious concerns not only about their current telecommunications systems, but also about their ability for themselves and their children and even their grandchildren to be able to participate and compete in a world where around our region we see governments that have taken the future-proofing steps and made sure they have the highest quality broadband. I would urge voters in this by-election in two weeks’ time – and I know the NBN is one of those sleeper issues that probably doesn’t make the front pages much but is a vote-changer – I would urge any undecided voters to call the Liberal candidate, to ask him what his policy, what his government’s policies are going to be for the people of Canning, and then compare that to what Labor and Matt Keogh have in terms of vision for the future.


JOURNALIST: Do you think Australia should immediately accept 20,000 Syrian refugees?


ROWLAND: Two points on that. Firstly, I don’t think anyone can help being moved by some of the humanitarian  situation we have here in terms of the vision that we see, the terrible consequences of this conflict. I think two things should be happening. Firstly, Australia should be giving an immediate $450 million injection to the UNHCR. We work through the UNHCR to make sure Australia does its fair share with its humanitarian intake program. Secondly it is Labor policy to double our humanitarian intake for 13,500 to 27,000. This is what we should be doing. The first step should be immediate, because as we have seen from that vision that I mentioned, we have seen people who have been waiting to be processed in Europe and are waiting to get out of some of these camps, which clearly, when you hear the testimony of these unfortunate people, it is not fit habitation at the moment. They need money, they need to make sure that the UNHCR is able to function properly.


JOURNALIST: So you think Australia should be playing a greater role to help solve this crisis?


ROWLAND: Absolutely, and we can do that in those two specific areas.


JOURNALIST: Do you think we should accept the 20,000 refugees then?


ROWLAND: I think that we should be doing exactly what Labor party policy has said, which is doubling our humanitarian intake. As to where those humanitarian intakes are drawn from, again, we will rely on the UNHCR for that, but I would not be surprised, at all, if the UNHCR recommends that additional amount from this conflict region.


JOURNALIST: Have you been moved by the pictures you’ve seen and do you think the Australian public would expect more from both sides of politics?


ROWLAND: It is impossible not to be moved by this and I think anyone who is a parent – having seen some of that vision, it made me get up and get my three-year-old out of bed and give her a hug. It is impossible not to be moved. I think that public sentiment is certainly changing the views of countries and I think that some of the commentators have rightly pointed this out in the case of the UK. Australia should be doing more. We should be immediately increasing, by a substantial amount, our contribution to the UNHCR, and we should be doubling our humanitarian intake.


ALANNAH MACTIERNAN, SHADOW PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR WESTERN AUSTRALIA: On the airport – quite clearly WA is being ripped off. We’re collecting about $120 million a year from passenger user charges to fund Customs and the smart immigration technology. Quite clearly, with Mr Abbott’s cuts, that money is being redirected elsewhere. It is completely unacceptable that people are waiting up to 90 minutes at our international airport; it’s unacceptable that we have, at any one time, as much as half of the smart technology not functioning. We’re being ripped off here in Western Australia, and we want Mr Abbott to put those jobs back into Customs to ensure that we can in fact clear those people through the airport in a decent time. This has the potential to impact on our tourism industry and it’s certainly not fair to all those West Australians who are routinely using our airport.


JOURNALIST: Can I also ask you about the Syrian issue and whether you think Australia should be accepting 20,000 more refugees?


MACTIERNAN: I’m totally at one with Michelle. Our policy is that we have to double our humanitarian intake and to ensure the UNHCR sets those priorities. And as Michelle says, very very likely that the UNHCR would prioritise people coming from Syria. Again, a stark difference. We know that we can’t solve all of the world’s problems, but we do need to do more to pull our weight. We are a lucky country and we can afford to take more refugees than we are currently taking.