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Transcript: Fixing the NBN’s Interim Satellite Service and the Racial Discrimination Act

3rd April 2014  |  Comments  |  Transcripts

TRANSCRIPT OF THE MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
THE HON. MALCOLM TURNBULL MP
INTERVIEW WITH ALI MOORE
774 ABC MELBOURNE

 

Subjects: NBN Interim Satellite Service; GST; Racial Discrimination Act.

JOURNALIST:

Malcolm Turnbull, good morning.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Good morning.

JOURNALIST:

I understand you’ve got a busy day ahead and you’re making an NBN announcement so you may as well make it now.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Okay I will.

JOURNALIST:

Good on you.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

As many people know the NBN Co under the previous government established what they called an Interim Satellite Service which was designed to provide satellite broadband services to people who couldn’t get access to fixed line broadband currently or mobile broadband.

It spent $351 million on it, they expanded the eligibility criteria so that 250,000 people were told that they were eligible, only bought the capacity to service 48,000, and then failed to manage the bandwidth adequately. So as a consequence we’ve now got only 44,000 people using it and instead of getting 6 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up they’re getting, at peak times, dial-up. So it is a serious train wreck, $351 million spent.

JOURNALIST:

What are you going to do about it?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Okay, this is what we’re going to do. The NBN Co will spend $18.4 million on acquiring additional capacity which will increase the bandwidth available to each user by about a third – these are the people on the satellite at the moment. And we are also going to establish new monitoring tools to enable that the use of capacity bandwidth is better controlled so that bandwidth hogs, very high volume users are not going to be able to shunt everybody else off to barely getting dial-up. So we believe in terms of the 44,000 odd people that are on it at the moment this will now mean that they will be able to do their email, do their internet banking, they should be able to Skype during peak periods, and that will upgrade the user experience.

JOURNALIST:

So this is being paid for by NBN but how much is it going to cost the end user?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

It won’t cost the end user, they’ll still be paying the same amount that they are now.

The other part of the problem Ali was that a lot of people who genuinely are out of the 3G or 4G area and cannot get broadband at all have not been able to get onto this service because the previous government as I said expanded its eligibility. So most of its customers are on the outskirts of the big cities, there are some people using the satellite who get the train to work. We’re going to tighten the eligibility so that it’s for people who really need it and we’re going to have about 9,000 new spots available. They will be funded by a subsidy scheme which will be rather like the old Australian Broadband Guarantee under the Howard Government. That will be in the order of $2,000 subsidy for equipment and that will enable another 9,000 people to get access to an interim satellite service.

JOURNALIST:

And you’re funding that or the NBN?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

The NBN Co, the government via the NBN Co.

JOURNALIST:

So what does all this do to the overall cost base? Because you have said for a long time that it is a disaster in terms of costs. We know how tough the Budget is, where are you finding the money for this?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

The money will come out of the NBN’s own resources which of course are lent to it, invested or provided by the government. But the difficulty, this is part of the mess left to us by Labor, we had a $351 million commitment to this Interim Satellite Service, 250,000 people told they could get it, only enough space for 48,000, and then so mismanaged that the people who did get it are getting a really inferior service, they don’t have any broadband at all in fact at peak times.

So I guess there were two choices. One is just wash your hands and say, well, it’s a Labor mess, suck it up there’s nothing we can do about it - the other thing is try to ameliorate it - to fix it up as best we can and then make sure that the long term satellites become available towards the end of next year and we don’t make the same, NBN Co, doesn’t make the same mistakes that were made with the Interim Satellite.

JOURNALIST:

So this is basically, it’s temporary subsidies, it’s just going to carry you for…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Oh it is, that why it is called the Interim Satellite.

JOURNALIST:

And…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

But having said that Ali the new satellite will be in position, you know, we hope, all going well, no incidents at launch etc. , should be in position at the end of 2015, but people are not all going to be able to jump on it immediately, there is obviously got to be a transition and so there is a bit of, there is an advantage in improving the quality of the interim satellite service and making some extra spaces available because then that makes the transition over to the long term satellites more ordered.

JOURNALIST:

And just before we move off the NBN Malcolm Turnbull, what is the status of the Strategic Review?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, the Strategic Review, the first part of it on the fixed line part of the project which is the vast bulk of it was completed before Christmas as you know, and that recommended what is called a multi technology approach, so don’t do fibre into every premises in 93% of Australia, use some fibre to the premises, some fibre to the node, use the HFC networks, and in other words, just be a bit smarter about the technology mix delivering everyone very fast broadband but doing so much sooner and at much lower cost – over $30 billion less cost.  In terms of the wireless and satellite which is a very… has got some very serious problems with it, that review, that review will be concluded very shortly and I will be making more detailed announcements about the results of…

JOURNALIST:

It will be made public?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

…that next week – I am sorry?

JOURNALIST:

It will be made public?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Oh yes - absolutely. As with the first part of the strategic review there are some issues, areas that are redacted, you know, blacked out…

JOURNALIST:

Commercial-in-Confidence…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Commercial-in-confidence… but not very much and I might say that for anyone that is interested the Strategic Review – the first part of it is on the NBN Co website, so that’s nbnco.com.au.

JOURNAALIST:

Okay.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I encourage you to read it

JOURNALIST:

Okay, so you’re obviously spending lots of money here through the NBN Co, but we all know that we are in tough budget circumstances, what have you made of the Federal Treasury boss’ speech yesterday, Martin Parkinson, now obviously that speech was run past Joe Hockey and must have the imprimatur of the government, one would probably quite safely assume. Do you agree with him that the GST is going to have to be broadened - it is going to have to apply to more areas of expenditure including areas like health care?

MALCOM TURNBULL:

Well, look I won’t buy into that speculation; I see Julie Bishop has said earlier today that the Government isn’t proposing to increase the GST.

JOURNALIST:

Well not before the next election, you had already made that clear.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yeah.

JOURNALIST:

But do you think that broadening it will make more sense?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I think, look, let’s step back a bit. The bottom line is this, that countries have to live within their means, we have to live within our means.  So once you have determined how much we want to spend, need to spend, on all of the things governments do, you know from soldiers and tanks to health care and to aged pensions, and so forth and once you have decided on that then you have got to find the revenue.  And the GST is certainly a very efficient tax and it is, and there is, and has been, a very strong body of opinion in the tax community – and these are people that write about taxation and efficient means of taxation, to support this type of value added tax.  But it is fraught with politics Ali and it is very…

JOURNALIST:

Well, that is your business…you are in politics.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Absolutely and that is why I am talking about it, it is fraught with politics and you have got to make sure that as you adjust your taxation system to a more efficient, that you replace inefficient taxes with more efficient taxes, you have got to make sure that you are not increasing the net burden on the tax payer so it is…

JOURNALIST:

But if you don’t increase the net burden how do you raise more revenue which is the whole point of the exercise?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, you’ve got to, clearly, this is the point about discipline in expenditure. At one level it’s terribly simple. At the moment we are, the government, the Labor government left us with a budget where we’re spending a lot more than we’re receiving in income.  And you’ve got to bridge that gap, now this is why Joe has got such a tough job because…

JOURNALIST:

What I’m asking you about is, looking ahead, how do you bridge that gap?  Just looking for a straight answer from you, in theory, do you believe in the broadening of the base of the GST, do you believe that on the table of the Liberal Party in Canberra, should be putting things like healthcare under the GST?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well look Ali, can I just say, I don’t want to set hares running on this issue, I’m the Communications Minister, but I would say if you want to deal with this on a philosophical basis, or a principle basis, as a general rule, everybody involved in tax design will tell you, that ideally you have taxes that have a broader base at a lower rate.  In other words, if you talk to Professor Fairbairn at the Melbourne Institute he’ll make exactly the same point that you should have as few exemptions and concessions as possible and therefore have a broader base and a lower rate and raise the same amount of money and do so in a way that provides much less of a break, much less of a disincentive to economic activity.  But the devil Ali is always in the detail and I am happy to go into immense detail about the NBN and broadcasting policy and the ABC but I don’t want to start hares running on GST or tax.

JOURNALIST:

Let me move to another issue which is one of the reasons that I was keen to have you on the show today to talk to our audience because I was perusing a few of the websites of Government Ministers, the likes of Greg Hunt and Julie Bishop and Joe Hockey, and yours is the only one I found, I’m not saying it is the only one, but it is the only one that I found, which actively calls on your electorate to comment on the exposure draft for changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, in particular 18C. You give a very detailed rundown on your blog on your website of what you’re looking for…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

…malcolmturnbull.com.au.

JOURNALIST:

For anyone who would like to see it, it is very clear there! I have a couple of questions for you but, my first one would be, you point out on your blog that it was the Andrew Bolt case in 2011 that led Tony Abbott to commit to changing this.  Andrew Bolt was found by the Federal Court not to be covered by the legal exemption of making fair comment in good faith because the articles contained errors of fact.  Under your proposed changes would the outcome be any different? You’re a lawyer…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I think it arguably would be.  A lot of people thought that decision was wrongly decided as a matter of law…

JOURNALIST:

But take it the way it was decided…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

…and a great pity that it wasn’t appealed.  But certainly under the exposure draft which the government has put out for consultation, I mean this is not a proposal of government as a Bill is, this is a draft, just to be quite clear.  It is explicitly a draft.  This is the Attorney-General’s draft.  What is canvassed is having an exemption which basically says you’re not caught by the prohibitions about speech that would vilify or intimidate somebody on the basis of race if you’re participating in a public debate, and in a nutshell that’s essentially what subsection 4 of the proposed clause does.  But what it doesn’t have is the requirement that’s in the existing section 18D that you have to be acting reasonably and in good faith and indeed my recollection is that Justice Bromberg found in the Bolt case that he hadn’t acted reasonably or in good faith.

JOURNALIST:

Correct, so does that mean the errors of fact would make no difference to the outcome of a case under your changes?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, let me just be clear about this.  You can still act reasonably and in good faith and make errors of fact.  The concept of reasonableness and good faith really comes from defamation law. You could be dead wrong, if you’ve acted reasonably, if you’ve been diligent – to act unreasonably and in bad faith you would have to be found to be wilfully publishing things that you knew to be factually wrong.  Or to be malicious about it.

JOURNALIST:

But would you like to see good faith stay in there?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well this is a decision for Cabinet. I have to say that a huge number of people do.

JOURNALIST:

Want good faith to stay in there?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

They want good faith and reasonableness to stay in there because the argument is that subsection 4, without that qualification, basically means that any remarks in any sort of debate, however misguided and so forth, would be exempt.  Perhaps a more black and white case was the case about Fredrick Toben, this is the man from Adelaide who had a web publication in which he, among other things, denied the existence of the Holocaust.  It was very, very ugly anti-Semitic propaganda, I suppose you would call it. And he was - the court found - he could not get the benefit of section 18D because he had not acted reasonably or in good faith so this is a very big issue.  It’s a very important issue in my electorate.  I would just make this point - I make no apologies for this.  My electorate has, among other things – your Antony Green from the ABC says Wentworth is the only electorate with more barristers than baristas – it has a lot of lawyers but it also has a very large Jewish community.

You’ve got the largest community of Holocaust survivors in Australia and they know extremely well, keenly, that racial hate – speech provoking racial hatred – which can initially be dismissed as being the rantings and ravings of someone too weird to take seriously, can end up in Genocide.  We live in the most harmonious multicultural, multiracial society in the world in my judgement and we have to be very careful as we balance the competing interests of free speech and protecting our harmony and to get the balance right.

And that’s why the government, the Attorney-General, I give him great credit for this, in a very humble way, George Brandis is a very learned lawyer but he’s showing his innate humility in putting this proposal out for public consultation

JOURNALIST:

An exposure draft as you say.  Malcolm Turnbull I know that you’ve got to go and we’re very rapidly running out of time.  One other very quick question; I am curious about the definition of ‘vilify’ proposed under the changes in the draft it says, ‘for the purposes of this legislation vilify means to incite hatred against a person or a group.’ But that’s not actually the definition of vilify, if you look at it in the Oxford Dictionary it’s abusively disparaging or writing about something in an abusively disparaging manner.  Why does the draft up the ante, if you like, on the definition?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, again, George would be the best person to defend that.  It’s a tighter definition but it is not unusual for an ordinary word like vilify to be given a statutory definition for the sake of clarity.  But people have said that the criticisms of the exposure draft or the suggestions - the main ones I’ve had so far are the definitions of vilify or intimidate are too narrow and that the proviso of acting reasonably in good faith should go into subsection 4 and they’re the main points people make.

JOURNALIST:

And very quickly before we go, you back those changes, this is what you’d like to see? It’s only a draft.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Again, this will be a Cabinet decision and they’re perfectly reasonable and cogent proposals but this is something that the Attorney-General and his colleagues in the Cabinet will take into account.

JOURNALIST:

OK, Malcolm Turnbull thank you very much for being so generous with your time this morning.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Thank you so much Ali.

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