SUBJECTS: Malcolm Turnbull’s second-rate NBN; sexual harassment complaints

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The Prime Minister has come under fire today for his internet connection. The Turnbull private residence and the official residence have been connected to the NBN at the highest possible speed, 100Mbps. The connection was made at the end of last year and the lengthy wait some customers have endured is a big issue in all of this debate. Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Communications. Michelle welcome.


KARVELAS: The Prime Minister is in charge of running the country. Why shouldn't he have the very best, fastest internet connection available?

ROWLAND: We consider every Australian should have the capability of accessing the broadband speeds and the qualities that they need. And what we have here Patricia, it's a small piece of information out of Senate Estimates that really goes across a wide narrative about Malcolm Turnbull and his government. And Malcolm Turnbull's been a long-time sceptic of the need for high-speed broadband. He's even said words to the effect of 'Look, do households really have any use for high speeds of 100Mbps?' and he's said it's difficult to identify what sort of applications would need that. And that follows indeed from Tony Abbott, when he was Prime Minister, and when they stood up and announced their policy going into the 2013 election for their version of the NBN, where Tony Abbott said download speeds of 25Mbps will be more than enough for the average Australian household. We have a long established sceptic in the form of Malcolm Turnbull. He's ordered the fastest plan.

KARVELAS: OK, HFC connection, which is what the PM has in his private residence is something that 411,000 other customers, that's Australians, as he pointed out in Question Time today, have. So he's clearly not the only person to have this type of connection. It's an available connection. 411,000 households are taking it and so is the Prime Minister.

ROWLAND: But to the contrary Patricia, the reality is that late last year NBNCo announced that it was pausing connections on the HFC network because of the lack of reliability and the problems with connections. That's affecting over 1 million customers across Australia. Now Malcolm Turnbull, good on him, he got in very lucky, even after the announcement date of the pause, and he's out there spruiking the virtues of HFC. 

KARVELAS: Do you have any evidence that something inappropriate has happened?

ROWLAND: I'm not suggesting anything inappropriate has happened. What I'm saying is here is a Prime Minister who's a long-term sceptic of 100Mbps and yet he gets it, and he has the gall to spruik HFC as a preferred technology. And meanwhile, we've got three quarters of customers on his copper Fibre to the Node network who can't get top speeds. Three quarters of them!

KARVELAS: OK, Michelle Rowland to be perfectly clear, you're not suggesting that anything inappropriate has happened?

ROWLAND: All I have before us is what we have found out through Estimates. And today we asked the Prime Minster about his connection. We asked him about the fact that we've got so many Australians who can't access these speeds, we've got so many Australians who are on inferior technology.

KARVELAS: Although, as we just said, 411,000 other Australians do have the same speed as the Prime Minister.

ROWLAND: And 1 million people still waiting for their HFC connection.

KARVELAS: So it's a political point that you're making that you think the Prime Minister, in your view, is in a privileged position with these 411,000 other customers?

ROWLAND: Well quite frankly Patricia, it goes to a long-term issue of the fact that this Prime Minister has spruiked himself as the “Innovation Prime Minister”. This government is spending $50 billion on a network that is not fit for purpose. It is not seamlessly scaleable to meet demand as it grows. And when it's finished, it's not like Australians at the end of it will say 'Haven't we got a fantastic National Broadband Network'. No-one will be saying that. I guarantee you no-one will be saying that. 

KARVELAS: You said HFC connections are outdated and should be junked, yet today you've said it's a premium service. Which is it?

ROWLAND: He's got a premium speed. He's got a premium speed using HFC. 

KARVELAS: But you've said it should be junked and it's outdated and it's no good but you're saying it's a premium speed. 

ROWLAND: He's getting a premium speed, but unfortunately we've got over 1 million customers who are on hold. And the reality also is, Patricia, the number of complaints about HFC, about Fibre to the Node, has gone through the roof under this government. We've had a 160 per cent increase in consumer complaints. Consumers have made up their minds about this Prime Minister's second-rate NBN. 

KARVELAS: So is it a premium service?

ROWLAND: It's a premium speed that he is receiving. Now, whether or not the particular service that he is receiving is fault-free or whether he's getting the speed that he wants at any time day - I've got no knowledge of that.

KARVELAS: So if you've said HFC connections are outdated and should be junked, it seems inconsistent with you now saying it’s a premium speed.  

ROWLAND: Look, I don't believe that's the case and, Patricia, the reality is this Prime Minister is one of those people who has been connected through the HFC network. He one of those people who wasn't put on the pause and let’s remember too...

KARVELAS: You'd expect The Lodge to get access to the fastest speeds though? The Prime Minister of the country wouldn't you?

ROWLAND: Well, The Lodge is actually getting Fibre to the Curb technology when that is connected. Labor has been calling on the government, if it's not going to deliver fibre to the home, then at least take it as far as the kerb so that the amount of copper is actually diminished. Because we know that it's that technology which is causing so much unreliability for customers and that's borne out in statistics about customer complaints. 

KARVELAS: This example, because you've now conceded that there's nothing inappropriate about the process, what you're trying to highlight is what you consider unfairness that so many Australians don't have the same super-fast access. But the Prime Minister says actually in many cases they could've applied but they've chosen not to go for the very fast option. They can pay for it. People are voting with their feet aren't they? 

ROWLAND: Well, when you're talking about people paying for it, if you're talking about 'Technology Choice', this is an option to upgrade to fibre that the Prime Minister said would cost a few thousand dollars. But in reality, we know of consumers who have said 'Actually, I would like to upgrade my sub-standard Malcolm Turnbull NBN to a fibre model', and they've been quoted tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. So the reality is, it's quite frankly a lottery about where you are these days in Australia and that is not what Labor's NBN was designed to achieve. And look, it goes to this whole issue Patricia, about needing to take a long-term view about what Australia needs. We know about the propensity for more and more devices to have connectivity embedded within them, what we call 'the internet of things'. Look, in the last 10 years, can any of your listeners think, in 2007 and 2008 when the first iPhone was coming out and when early adopters were coming on board, could we have envisaged the type of applications that would've been developed and the types of applications that we know are being developed in future in areas such as health, education and aged care? 


ROWLAND: And that forward view is something that Australians embraced and still embrace today.

KARVELAS: So at the centre of Labor's political attack on the Prime Minister was this kind of simmering message that you're always sending through that he's a millionaire, that he has a mansion in Point Piper. This seems like a broader attack. This is a political attack about the fact that the Prime Minister’s rich isn't it?

ROWLAND: Look Patricia, where he chooses to have his primary Sydney residence is his business. The reality is the question was asked in Senate Estimates. One to which we just genuinely wanted to know the answer. And who knew that we would find out that that piece of information would expose the Prime Minister for being, quite frankly, hypocritical on saying in the past, and being such a sceptic about, who needs 100Mbps, but also how out of touch he is. All of his answers today could not go to the crux of the one thing that is most important in all of this: and that is consumers. That consumers to date have had poor experiences on his second-rate NBN, that's borne out by the number of complaints. And Patricia, during Question Time I was getting messages from people all over Australia saying, “I heard you ask that question, here's my story, here is my story”. And I get these every single day from people around Australia. How many times the contractor had to come out, how disappointed they are by not getting the speeds that they'd ordered, the quality of the service they've been receiving. Notice how light the Prime Minister was in talking about consumers in this whole episode.

KARVELAS: It's very difficult to argue that many people are unhappy with their NBN. I think that there's evidence of that, there's no doubt about it. I just want to get to another issue before I let you go. Tanya Plibersek in Question Time asked the Prime Minister whether he agreed a sexual harassment complaint against Barnaby Joyce should be publicly outed and that whether the woman's name should be publicly outed. Does Labor know who outed the WA woman Catherine Marriott?

ROWLAND: Not that I'm aware of Patricia. 

KARVELAS: So, are you concerned that this is being done by The Nationals or The Liberals. Is there any evidence?

ROWLAND: The point that we were making was that in cases where such complaints are made, confidentiality should be paramount. It is extremely disappointing to see that confidentiality has not been honoured in that instance. 

KARVELAS: What kind of impact does it have do you think?

ROWLAND: I think it sends a message, unfortunately, to people who would otherwise be speaking out about these issues that, “Look, I have to weigh up whether I want my name put out there. I have to weigh up what impact this may have on my career, my family and the rest of my personal life.” And if you have been subjected to this kind of behaviour that has been alleged, then certainly you have a right to complain and you should feel that you can complain with confidence and get a result. 

KARVELAS: Michelle Rowland thank you so much for your time tonight.

ROWLAND: My pleasure.

KARVELAS: Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Communications