SUBJECTS: Medical transfers from offshore detention centres; deteriorating economics of the Liberals’ multi-technology mix NBN.
LAURA JAYES: Joining us now is the Shadow Communications Minister, Michelle Rowland, here with me in the studio. Are you satisfied by this move from the Government?
MICHELLE ROWLAND MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well Laura, this not only looks like a backflip from the Government, but a dog’s breakfast before 9am. On one hand we've had Scott Morrison saying that these measures were completely unnecessary, that the Bill that was going through the Parliament that they we're so concerned about losing was unnecessary, and now there's this notion of having this panel. We're very prepared to look at the detail but I think underlying all this we should remember that we need to ensure that people who need medical care receive it. And if that is on the advice of medical professionals and certainly they are the people whom we should be taking that advice from.
KIERAN GILBERT: Would you look at a situation that is not legislated like this, because that's one of the differences here, that the Government's approach wouldn't be a legislated scheme or mechanism.
ROWLAND: We'll have a look at the detail, Kieran, and from my understanding, only what's been reported in the media today, Scott Morrison's in the process of sending a letter to Bill Shorten setting this out. So I expect that we will examine that closely. We'll examine that against what is in the proposed legislation and Labor, as I said, our responsibility and our objective here is to make sure that people who need medical care receive it on the proper advice.
JAYES: Yeah, panel or not, I think what the crossbenchers are concerned about is that there's a bureaucracy that's actually holding up these medical transfers but are you comfortable, in principle, with the Minister in charge having the final say?
ROWLAND: The Minister should have the final say in these matters, and I want to make it very clear that the Minister, under the legislation as its proposed, still has the power to reject. That's certainly something that needs to be taken into account. But I also think there's been a lot of talk this morning, and I'm sure the Australian people will be very pleased to hear about the number of children who've been cleared from offshore detention, but it does raise the next challenge and actually it's not a next challenge, it's a now challenge, and that is ensuring that we have third party resettlement arrangements in place for the hundreds of people who are genuine refugees, and also the number of sick refugees who are receiving medical treatment in Australia right now. Where do they go after that treatment has ended?
GILBERT: Michelle Rowland, can you give our viewers a reassurance this morning that you will look at this on its merits and not just the capacity to embarrass the government in Parliament ahead of the election?
ROWLAND: Well, our objective has always been that the outcome is about people. It's about people's lives. It's the government, Kieran, that has changed its position. Labor has not changed its position, but Labor has always indicated that we are always very ready to have discussions within the Parliament about the best way forward on this. And let's face it: this backdown comes in the face of what has been seen as a potentially humiliating defeat for the government. That is not something that Labor Members wake up in the morning and wish for. We wish for good policy to be enacted.
JAYES: What is the difference between what the Government has put forward today and the legislation that Labor was willing to support in the House?
ROWLAND: To be honest, it's quite difficult to understand, now having read what's in The Australian today and then the Minister's comments just now. It appears as though, and this is taking a reading only from those two sources, it appears as though the government seems prepared to engage and give the crossbench what they thought they wanted without having to go through the process of legislating it. And on one hand, you can see that that may well be the case, because Scott Morrison for so long was arguing "no need for this, nothing to see here, completely unnecessary," and now in order to avoid a political defeat, is looking at other avenues.
JAYES: But to Kieran's point, if you really want a policy outcome here, what's wrong with not legislating this and supporting something outside of Parliament which doesn't require legislation?
ROWLAND: Sure, and as I said we will have a very close look at what the government's proposing. Of course the crossbench has a big say in this as well, and we'll assess all of this on its merits.
GILBERT: You are the Shadow Communications Minister as well. Front of the AFR this morning suggesting that you're considering a write-down in the NBN in terms of its value. This could see a multi-billion dollar hit to the budget if the value of that organisation, of the NBN, is reduced. Is it inevitable in your view when you take office, because you've given a commitment to fix the economics of the NBN? Should we brace ourselves for a worsening of the budget bottom line as a result?
ROWLAND: Well, the starting point of this Kieran, of course, is that the value of the NBN has been severely eroded by the multi-technology mix. It costs more to maintain, it generates less revenue, and it's more susceptible to competition from things like 5G mobile technologies as they emerge. Now, what is happening here is that the market, analysts, and rightly so, are getting very interested in statements by the Chairman of NBNCo that the NBN's value is $50 billion, and he's failed to provide any evidence to back that up. But we need to be very clear that government doesn't have some magic write-down wand. This needs to be triggered by something such as a change in pricing, it needs to be done in accordance with certain accounting standards, and it's not something that happens overnight.
But certainly, the issue is about the value of the NBN and its long-term economics. This government looks intent on kicking the can down the road with that, saying and ruling out on several occasions that there will be any write-down. The fact that there is a possibility that a write-down could occur in future, indeed quite separate from any action the government may take, is certainly something the sector recognises and it's something that we should be very aware of, because let's face it, ultimately this is about ensuring that we have an asset that is fit for purpose in the end. That's not what we're getting under the multi-technology mix but consumers deserve far better. In fact, there was another story this morning about something like 160,000 missed appointments in the last financial year alone for the NBN.
JAYES: Should taxpayers brace themselves for further blowouts though, if as Kieran said, a budget write-down but also you say you don't like the multi-technology mix. Is Labor looking at a further multi-billion dollar spend on replacing some of that copper network?
ROWLAND: Look, to your second point, Laura, we've made no secret of our desire to have fibre deeper into the network, and it's something we've been calling for from day one when this government took office and initiated the multi-technology mix. It's very clear that the copper NBN, Fibre to the Node, is not delivering, has, by and large, the most number of complaints. We've had the pay TV network, the HFC cable, in fact, go on pause for a considerable period of time, costing a lot of revenues.
So I think, and we're very well advanced in our approach to this, this should be about looking at the long-term economics and getting that right, but ultimately this should be about what the NBN can do, not about what it is. It is a reality that the economics of it, and its infrastructure base, are very much intertwined. But at the end of this, I think when people remember that Malcolm Turnbull promised to deliver an NBN for $29 billion by 2016, there are no easy decisions to be made here, only tough choices for any future government, whatever side of politics that may be.
JAYES: Michelle Rowland, as always thanks so much for your time.