SUBJECTS: Sky News Blair Cottrell interview; National Energy Guarantee; Malcolm Turnbull’s second-rate NBN; Labor’s call for an ANAO audit of the NBN Corporate Plan.

KIERAN GILBERT: Joining me now is the Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland. And Michelle Rowland, before we get onto policy discussion I know you want to make some remarks about an individual who was on Sky News last night. Our news director has said overnight it was wrong to have that particular person on Sky News. I know you and I both share that view, have contempt for that person's views, but you also wanted to make some remarks. 


Well certainly Kieran, and I acknowledge your own comments and also those of some of your colleagues and I think we are in very much agreement that individuals such as this hold extremist views that would be repugnant to the vast majority of Australians. They should not have more airtime than they deserve and I'm sure we would not want to waste another second talking about such people but I think the point is well made. 

GILBERT: Yeah, and it won't be repeated, that particular program, and as you say racism, always repugnant and sickening.

Michelle Rowland, let's look at some policy now, some policy debate and the National Energy Guarantee. You are still open minded, the Federal Labor Party at least, when it comes to the NEG aren't you?

ROWLAND: Kieran, we've made it very clear that in this latest design of the NEG, and as Mark Butler our Shadow Minister has articulated, one of the fundamental flaws in this is the fact that it does nothing for renewable energy. We have a situation where we have very low emissions targets under this government's policy, but in particular this would absolutely stifle investment in renewable energy. And if you want to talk about jobs, you need those large scale renewable energy investment decisions to be made in order to drive those jobs into the future in this sector. This government wants to say it's focused on innovation and science and all the rest of it – again this shows that there is absolutely nothing joined up when it comes to their policies in this area. 

GILBERT: When you look though at this overwhelming support from the business community, and farmers, all the experts, the energy security board urging parliamentarians to get this framework in place and then there's scope for you to toughen those ambitions, those emission reductions, if you win the next election. Why not at least agree to this sort of bipartisan approach on the framework?

ROWLAND: Well certainly Kieran we have been very much open-minded to having a framework that works, but we are not going to be locked into pathetic rates of emissions reductions targets. And if this government was so keen on getting this through, then it knows full well the position of Labor, it knows full well the position of the other states and it needs to understand, it needs to actually respond in its policy.

But I think what this comes down to is the failure to actually convince everyone in its own policy room and I'll say this Kieran: I note the frustration of the Energy Minister in his comments with you earlier. I think the frustration needs a mirror, because he needs to direct that at himself and his Prime Minister to note that in five years – we're nearing the end of this government's second term in office – we have not actually had an energy policy and lo and behold energy prices have skyrocketed and pollution levels have gone up.    

GILBERT: But is it fair for someone, Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Premier, to be pointing to some of the usual critics in the Coalition Party Room when Josh Frydenberg is right in saying that the majority, certainly those speaking publicly, are backing his approach. They've been some critics but certainly from the usual group. I mean, you can't throw out the whole policy because of that surely?

ROWLAND: Well Josh Frydenberg will be meeting with these states and territories and I know that this week is an important one for them so now is the time for him to articulate his concerns in this area; articulate to those states and deal with the actual misgiving that they have about that policy and that's his job. And I would've thought that after nearly five years of not having a policy in this area, this government would be very keen to put its best foot forward to get it over the line. But it is quite clear Kieran that this government has no intention and no capability of doing that at this stage. 

GILBERT: Let's look at the National Broadband Network and the S&P report that suggests that there will have to be a multi-billion dollar write-off when it comes to the value of the NBN. Do you agree with that?

ROWLAND: It's a scathing assessment that Standard & Poor’s have provided on the multi-technology mix Kieran, and it just demonstrates that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, when he was Communications Minister and even today, continues to bungle this rollout by imposing a retrograde technology mix on this country. And it is quite clear that we need an audit of those assumptions underpinning the Corporate Plan, particularly in areas such as revenue targets, in areas such as operations and maintenance, but you only need to look at the budget - we had a situation where Tony Abbott as Prime Minister and Malcolm Turnbull actually said they were going to build the NBN by 2016. They said they were going to do it for $29 billion. That's blown out by four years and $20 billion dollars! And now as Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull continues to prosecute this second-rate network that costs more and does less. 

GILBERT: Okay, well one of the problems highlighted by that report, the Standard & Poor’s analysis, is that the wholesale model that they're using is not going to generate the take-up necessary to make it viable, to meet those targets that the government has set. If they change the pricing, would that fix it?

ROWLAND: That's one element of it Kieran, and when you talk about it – and I think sometimes people throw “write down” around as though you flick a switch and you have something written down – it does need to have a mechanism that sets that off and pricing is one of those. We saw the pricing structure change at the end of last year and that's something that Labor was calling for for some time.

But what this also highlights going into the future, Kieran, here's where the real problem arises: and that's the impact of wireless competition with the advent of 5G and entry level pricing at certain level for the NBN versus whatever entry level pricing there will be for 5G services. And we know that in areas where the NBN is of a second-rate technology and people would rather use wireless services, then certainly even a very minor switch by consumers to wireless services will have an enormous impact on the already dire situation we have for the NBN's current economics.

GILBERT: So you and your colleagues are calling on the Auditor General to look at the financial underpinnings of the NBN. What will you do in government if you do win the next election in relation to this? Will you seek to write off the investment, the billions of dollars that have been spent here?

ROWLAND: Well it's precisely why we are calling for the ANAO to undertake this assessment now Kieran, the information asymmetry that exists, the information that we don't have currently as the Federal Opposition is one that we need to address. And we have a situation where the NBN not only obfuscates when it comes to getting answers to us on key economic issues and key issues about their business, but in some cases refusing to answer them at all. It's high time that we had an independent assessment of the mess that Malcolm Turnbull has made of this. We had a Joint Standing Committee of the Parliament call for this and it's high time we got this done so we have all the facts on the table, for the Australian public as well. 

GILBERT: The government does say the most recent Auditor General report said that the NBN had given a true and fair view of the NBN group’s finances. You reject that?

ROWLAND: Well you only have to look at precisely what Standard & Poor’s have had to say about this, Kieren. It has specifically targeted the retrograde technology; it has specifically gone into detail about the dire situation in which we find ourselves with the economics of the NBN. And we must always take into consideration the impact of factors such as second-rate technology, the costs of maintaining that; gosh, we've had HFC blow out by something like 50 per cent and meanwhile around the world the costs of installing fibre have come down by just about as much. 

GILBERT: Appreciate your time Michelle Rowland, we'll talk to you soon. 

ROWLAND: Pleasure.