SUBJECTS: Labor’s NBN Service Guarantee; Malcolm Turnbull’s second-rate NBN; Emma Husar.
TIM SHAW: Federal Labor is committing to an NBN Service Guarantee. The Member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann has been banging on about the serviceability of the NBN in Canberra, quite justifiably so and many consumers in Canberra have given up. But it's a big country, our country, and has the NBN, the National Broadband Network, got the capacity to deliver a quality, a service guarantee that we expect, that when you pick up the phone the damn things going to work?
Michelle Rowland is saying that Labor will commit to an NBN Service Guarantee. To tell us more the Shadow Minister is on the line. Michelle Rowland, welcome to 2CC Breakfast Canberra.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Good morning Tim, thanks for having me.
SHAW: Very good. What would this service guarantee look like Michelle?
ROWLAND: What it will be Tim, and many of your listeners will be well aware of issues that they may be having themselves as consumers or as small businesses with the NBN, we have so many consumers who are frustrated, not only with the speeds that they are receiving, but the quality of service. But in particular Tim, I think Australians are reasonable people and they understand that sometimes things go wrong. But what really irks Australians is buck-passing and a lack of accountability, and that's currently what we have when it comes to the NBN. Sometimes when things go wrong a consumer will contact their retail provider and say 'look can you help me fix this'? They will sometimes say 'well unfortunately, that's an issue with the infrastructure involved, so that's a problem with the NBN’, and so we have this ping-ping that consumers are subjected to and they don't get resolutions…
ROWLAND: …and this needs to end.
SHAW: You know, I've got older listeners, as you know, in Canberra. They've lived here 50 plus years Michelle. All they want is when the phone rings to be able to pick it up and when they need to make an emergency call, some of them are in their 80s, some even in their 90s. I've spoken to the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, I'm sure you have too, and they've fundamentally said a service guarantee is critically important because there are some users of phones in Australia that don't want the speed, they're not interested in the internet. They just want the damn copper phone to work. I mean, are you wanting to start at that grassroots level to ensure that all Australians have got that basic connectivity in their homes?
ROWLAND: ACCAN is absolutely right Tim. It is about getting some basic service standards and I should point out Tim, it's not novel. Currently there is a limited form of a customer service guarantee, primarily applicable to Telstra as the supplier of what’s called a standard telephone service. And that applies to connection timeframes, fault repairs and missed appointments, and it actually enables consumers to be compensated a sum of money so they actually receive some form of recompense in the event that these standards are not met.
And the important thing to note here, Tim, is this is just as much about incentivising good behaviour so that that level of service that people rightly expect becomes the norm, rather than it being focused on penalties. But this is certainly what we think needs to be brought into the internet space, into the delivery of broadband, because, quite frankly, we don't have that sort of end-to-end reliability for consumers.
SHAW: Didn't Rod Sims get onto this when the ACCC said 'look we are concerned about misleading and deceptive conduct of those retailers that were saying they were flogging an NBN service that would deliver 'X', but they were delivering less than ‘-0.Y'? Rod Sims got onto it, they smartened up their behaviour within a month, but Labor wants to extend and expand the remit of the ACCC. Tell us more about that.
ROWLAND: Well you're certainly right, Tim, that the ACCC has undertaken this action and certainly that's welcomed. But the ACCC has also been undertaking a review into wholesale service levels and these kind of standards and we've also had the Parliament's own NBN Joint Committee deliver a report where it called for strengthened wholesale service levels. So we formed a view in Labor, and this has come about, Tim, because we've gone around Australia for the last two years and listened to consumers and small businesses and we formed a view that we need those end-to-end service standards to ensure that the NBN supply chain is accountable for its performance.
SHAW: Yeah. I want to talk to you about the original plan of Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister, around the NBN. He reckoned three to four billion dollars; that would crack it on. We're now up to somewhere in the order of $70 billion. The Federal Government's providing the NBN with about $19.5 billion in debt funding. If Labor wins government, and say over the two terms, would Labor be looking to offload NBN to the appropriate and organised independent company? Because government got out of running phone companies; it was the Howard Government that lost Telstra, tranche one, two and three. What's Labor's long-term plan for the NBN?
ROWLAND: Well Tim, I think there's two important points to make there. The first is you talk about long-term vision – that's very true and it's because there was a market failure. We had a situation where we didn't have facilities-based competition that was delivering for the regions and for metropolitan customers. We simply didn't have companies willing to invest in providing high speed broadband across Australia and that's why the NBN was envisaged in the first place. It was to deal with the market failure and to deal with those issues of inequity.
But to the second point Tim, I think that we need to take a step back and realise that there is certain steps under the legislation that need to be undertaken before any government even contemplates a sale of the NBN. Certainly that is clear, those provisions are there for a sale. But we need to understand where we are right now and it's very pertinent that you raise issues of cost because only recently Standard & Poor’s, which you know is a very well respected agency, has recently released a scathing assessment of the economics of the NBN.
Those economics of the NBN really go towards its value, but we also need to remember that there are new technologies emerging like wireless technologies and the advent of 5G which in some instances will make 5G more attractive than broadband delivered over the NBN. I'm not saying it will be a substitute and I think that some theories to that have been somewhat overblown. But Tim where you have consumers, where you've got listeners, who aren't satisfied with their current level of service and they're being delivered over an inferior technology like copper of HFC, they will prefer to use a more stable and accessible technology like wireless when it becomes available. And even a small shift in that, Tim, will have really serious implications for NBN's revenue.
SHAW: I want to tell you, my listeners, you faced the people in 2010, 2013 and 2016. You're a hardworking representative for the seat of Greenway. I want to ask you about Emma Husar. I want to talk to you about this terrible fight that's going on and it seems to be factional. Michelle, have you got anything to add to that and I think Emma has made it clear that after the sacking of a member of staff, this is when these allegations starting coming through. It's hard enough to be a Federal Member of Parliament, but clearly it's hard to be a female representative of the Labor Party. What are your thoughts on where Emma Husar is at the moment and should the ALP stand by her?
ROWLAND: Well Tim, I think it’s a complex series of events that we've got here and to be quite honest I don't know that me adding any views to this are going to help either Emma or the people who've made these complaints. It is subject to an independent investigation and I actually take the view, Tim, that the NSW Labor Party has done the right thing in instigating this kind of investigation. John Whelan is someone who is very well respected and I think it's highly unfortunate that this is being played out in the media, which is one of the reasons why I don't want to add to that, because I don't want to put anything else out there that might jeopardise the inquiry. But I think that due process needs to take its course and that we need to step back and allow that inquiry to be undertaken, to report and until that time I don't think that it's useful to do any further commentary on that.
SHAW: Alright. I want to thank you for your time this morning, and back in Canberra next Monday for the sitting week. Make sure you bring your scarf and your jacket Michelle, it’s a bit cold this morning alright.
ROWLAND: Good tip, thanks.
SHAW: Thanks Michelle Rowland, Shadow Minister for Communications. She's the NSW Member for Greenway.