SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan to reverse $83.7 million cut to the ABC; Malcolm Turnbull’s second-rate NBN.
TOM CONNELL: Joining me now is Labor's Michelle Rowland, the Shadow Minister for Communications. Thanks for your time today Michelle. I will get into portfolio in a moment but just your quick thoughts today, I know you're not always in agreement with Donald Trump, but think it's fair to say you'd wish him well today?
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Absolutely. The eyes of the world are on these events that are taking place very shortly and I'm sure that every country in the world, every citizen who hopes for a peaceful environment and stability in that region would be wishing all the participants well.
CONNELL: Just on what you announced yesterday, $84 million would be restored to the ABC. This is a funding freeze the government has initiated, so you would reverse that. Obviously you think they need that money to get along as an organisation, deliver what they do to the Australian people. Some media organisations believe the ABC has too much money compared to them. Obviously News Corp is the owner of Sky News, do you have sympathy for other media organisations with all the splinted revenue that's happened in the past couple of decades?
ROWLAND: Well Tom, of course the ABC serves Australians under a charter, so their shareholders are essentially the Australian public as opposed to commercial media organisations. But you are right, and I'll make two points on the comments you just made. Firstly, it's no secret that around the world Australian media markets are having to contend with not only globalisation, but also the rise of emerging platforms and ones that are eating into advertising revenues. So that's well understood and it's one of the reasons why some years ago I called for us to have an updated inquiry into the broadcasting sector so we know exactly what the landscape looks like. And it's pleasing to see that that's being explored in the Digital Platforms Inquiry. And News Corp, I think, has made a very worthwhile submission to that inquiry, looking at issues such as the algorithms employed by Facebook and Google and the like. Some of these issues will require, I think, international co-operation but it's not something that's impossible. It's happened in areas such as copyright law for example. So you can understand that side of it.
But the other side of it too, of course, is that the vast majority of Australians trust and value the ABC as it operates in not only a digital platform, but also its commitment in rural areas and everything it’s required to do under its charter, including education purposes. So they're servicing, whilst many Australians would watch a variety of commercial, including subscription, and public broadcasting, they each have a special role to play. I think the issue with the ABC with this latest cut and why we're seeking to reverse it, Tom, is that the ABC has said 'look, we have done every efficiency that we can make over the past five years. This is thin edge of the wedge.'
CONNELL: Just on the rest of the media organisations though. Obviously there's this push to make sure Facebook and Google, for example, aren't making the lion’s share of the money out of journalism when they're not hiring and journalists. Is that sort of where we're we are headed. Do you think there's other intervention at a government level needed or do these organisations need to sink or swim after that off their own bat?
ROWLAND: It's a vexed issue Tom. And again I would point out that the ABC has a charter in which it services Australians as essentially the shareholders. So they're actually serving very different purposes, answering to the public rather than to shareholder organisations. But it certainly is one that's being looked at in the Digital Platforms Inquiry. It's one where Australian media markets are, of course, not immune. It's a global disruption that has been happening.
And again, the ABC is not immune from that disruption either. It's competing – while it's not a commercial broadcaster, it's competing in areas such as content, and ensuring that they attract and create the best content and that’s accessible to Australians. So, whilst they do have different issues that they're having to deal with as a public broadcaster, and that's different to commercial broadcasters, indeed it's been a global trend for some time. And it will be interesting to see as this Digital Platforms Inquiry progresses, what recommendations come out of that and what actually happens to those recommendations once they're released.
CONNELL: You've been very critical of the government on the NBN obviously, and Labor's had a pledge for some years to go back to the full Fibre to the Premises rather than Fibre to the Node, but this project's getting more and more completed. You've spoken about a sort of cut-off date to be able to fulfil that for some time. Are we at the point now where you might be taking a very similar pledge to what the government's doing at the next election on the NBN?
ROWLAND: Well, I think there's a couple of things Tom. The first is, whilst there has been obviously the rollout progressing, with a mix of copper and HFC added to that mix as a result of Malcolm Turnbull's multi-technology mix, we know that HFC and copper have been failing. That's why the HFC network was put on pause at the end of last year and we know copper is attracting an enormous number of complaints. But we have been calling on the government to do things now. In fact, over a year ago I called for the government, if it wasn't going to rollout Fibre to the Premises, which is Labor policy as we took to the last election, we actually committed to having up to 2 million more premises being able to be connected with fibre. The unfortunate thing was we had a business case for that, after the election, of course, that became redundant with the effluxion of time and just the fact that this government progressed with its second-rate network.
But I think the important thing to note is I see that the NBN has been ditching more and more HFC and copper for Fibre to the Curb, which is technologically feasible and one that allows for upgrades in future. But unfortunately there has been no money set aside for future upgrades to fibre and there's no assumption in the business plan that there will be fibre well into the future unfortunately under the government's current model.
CONNELL: All right, well we'll see where Labor gets to eventually before the election on exactly how it will be different. Michelle Rowland, thanks for your time today.
ROWLAND: No worries, thank you.