Interview with 4BC’s Patrick Condren on SPC Ardmona, the NBN in Griffith and the ABC

February 5, 2014
Transcripts

5 February 2014

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON MALCOLM TURNBULL
INTERVIEW WITH PATRICK CONDREN
4BC BRISBANE

Topics: Griffith by-election, SPC Ardmona, NBN, ABC
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PATRICK CONDREN:

But first, let’s get to it.  Malcolm Turnbull welcome to the studio, welcome to Griffith, welcome to 4BC. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Great to be here again.

PATRICK CONDREN:

Is Tony Abbott a liar?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Absolutely not.  He’s an absolute straight-shooter. 

PATRICK CONDREN:

Why would Sharman Stone call him a liar then?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well you’d have to ask Sharman that.  But Sharman is a very passionate local member.  She’s got a big business, an industry, in her electorate which has got a cloud of uncertainty around it – that’s probably the most charitable thing you could say about the position of SPC Ardmona at the moment.  And there’s a lot of anxiety.  And in passionate times people say passionate things but Tony Abbott is very much a straight shooter.

PATRICK CONDREN:

Should a member of the team be calling the Prime Minister of Australia a liar?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well look I really don’t want to run a commentary on Sharman.  She’s a good friend and a good colleague –


PATRICK CONDREN:

But she’s called the Prime Minister a lair –

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well these are things you should address to Sharman.  The fact is –


PATRICK CONDREN:

And you’re a member of the front bench.


MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I am –

PATRICK CONDREN:

So as a member of cabinet, do you think it’s appropriate for a member, for a backbencher, to be referring to the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, as liars?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I don’t think that’s quite what she said to be frank.  I think she got herself – she was having words put in her mouth which is what you’re trying to do to me.

PATRICK CONDREN:

Not at all, not at all –

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

But I really don’t want to drawn into jumping on Sharman.  She is doing a very good job standing up for her constituents.  In passionate times people say passionate things and sometimes they’re not as well considered as they should be, but all I can say, you’ve asked me what I think about Tony Abbott in telling the truth: Tony Abbott is a straight shooter and he tells the truth, he calls it as he is. So the suggestion that he is a liar is just wrong.

PATRICK CONDREN:

He’s never lied to you?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

He’s never lied to me no.

PATRICK CONDREN:

The NBN, let’s move on to the NBN. When will Griffith locals get the NBN?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well we’re working on that. All I can say is they’ll get it a lot sooner under our Government than they ever would have done under Labor. After six years of Labor’s NBN nothing was built in Griffith and in fact only two percent of the network overall was constructed. So the project as you know was massively behind schedule.

It missed every forecast by a mile, by many miles. And of course we now know that if we had persevered with Labor’s program, Labor’s approach, the project would cost $73 billion, $29 billion more than they said. They would take four more years to complete and of course it would see Internet prices go up by up to 80 per cent. Which is common sense if you think about it, if you over capitalise one of these projects you’re obviously going to have to charge very high rates.

So Labor made a shocking mess of the NBN and what I’m doing is sorting it out. And our goal is to get it built as soon as we can and at the least cost and most affordable. So we’ve been in for a few months now, for a few months, and we’ve got new management coming in. We’ve done the strategic review, we’re working on a new corporate plan and when that’s complete we’ll be able to set out some timetables and forecasts. But they will be deliverable. So it’s all very well -

PATRICK CONDREN:

Sure, sure. You’ve put your case and you’ve laid down your case against Labor as you would be expected to do, so when will Griffith see the NBN where you’re up here campaigning today?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well the exact timetable is something that the company will set in due course but all I can tell is that it will be completed much sooner than it would have been done had Labor stayed in government and continued with their plan.

It is all set out in the Strategic Review, one of the things we’d said we’d do during the election is get an objective study done of where the project is now, where you would go, what would happen if you would continue with business as usual, and what our options were for completing it sooner, at less cost, and more affordable for consumers.

PATRICK CONDREN:

So it will be slower under you.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No, that’s not actually strictly right. I mean the -

PATRICK CONDREN:

Will it be the same speed as what Labor was suggesting?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

There is no doubt that the peak speeds available on a FTTP network are, theoretically at least, very high. Higher than you would likely have under a FTTN network. But none the less you’re talking about speeds of up to about 100 Mbps. Which is well in excess of what residential consumers need, indeed in a lot of instances what most businesses need.

So it’s not -- the real problem with Labor’s approach was simply that they had not done their homework and it taking far too long and costing far too much money and as a  consequence was going to see Internet prices go through the roof. Now this is one of the disconnects from reality that the Labor Party classically has. They are hopeless managers of money or anything else. There is no point spending $73b on the network at taxpayers’ expense getting either a negative or negligible return on it, and in addition to that slugging consumers with much higher Internet costs. It’s a complete lose, lose, lose.

So I’ve inherited this as the Minister and so what I’m trying to do now is sort it out. But I can’t just snap my fingers and sort it out in five minutes, regrettably.

PATRICK CONDREN

Regrettably indeed. Particularly for those people who are just after some NBN at their houses.

MALCOLM TURNBULL

Well exactly. And you know the people they should blame for this are the Labor Party who have lied and lied about this project. Let me give you an example this is a recent issue. There is a percentage of Australia, Australians, 3-4% who live in remote areas and the only way realistically they can get very fast broadband is by satellite. You know that’s a fact.

PATRICK CONDREN

Sure.

MALCOLM TURNBULL

So the NBN has, the previous Government ordered two satellites. They are being constructed in California and they’ll be delived in 2015. But in the meantime they’ve set up what is called the ‘interim satellite service’. They bought some satellite capacity on other satellites and offered this service. And they said that it covered 250,000 premises. They said we have passed 250,000 premises with satellite. But they never had the capacity to serve more than 48000. They didn’t tell people that.

PATRICK CONDREN:

But with respect, you know, politicians embellish all the time

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No

PATRICK CONDREN:

They do it with monotonous regularity..

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No but Patrick, we shouldn’t tolerate it. What Labor should have… 

PATRICK CONDREN:

Have you never been guilty of embellishing?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I certainly haven’t been guilty of misstating facts, deliberately misstating the facts.

PATRICK CONDREN:

Lying. Lying.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well that is lying. Because what they should have said was, ladies and gentlemen we’ve got 48,000 spots, services available. First in, best dress, once the 48,000 spots are filled they’ll be no more available. And they never said that. They basically misrepresented and of course you’ve got thousands of now disappointed people.

PATRICK CONDREN:

And now talking of misstating the truth, I mean Tony Abbott has been accused of SPC Ardmona of misstating the truth over workers entitlements.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I think what there is, there is a debate about how generous the entitlements were. But I can assure you –

PATRICK CONDREN:

Because essentially the Prime Minister is using the workers’ entitlements as a reason for not granting the $25 million.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No that’s actually not –

PATRICK CONDREN:

As part of the reason –

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

That’s actually not right –

PATRICK CONDREN:

As an example.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Okay let me answer the question.  What Tony has been saying and what the Government has been saying, is that SPC Ardmona belongs to Coca-Cola Amatil, which is a $9 billion market capitalised company.  It is hugely profitable.  It has got more than enough capacity to fund this upgrade themselves.  They were seeking Government money – they were seeking $50 million, $25 [million] from us and $25 [million] from the Victorians – in order to improve their return on their investment by one per cent. 

So they were basically trying to improve their return on capital by one per cent.  Now you’ve got to ask yourself – are businesses really able to do this?  Should the owners of this radio station, should they be able to come to the Government –

PATRICK CONDREN:

Absolutely, I agree –

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

And say, give us $25 million?

PATRICK CONDREN:

I could hit you up outside for a couple of million.  Patrick Condren media isn’t breaking even –

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

That’s right.  And the fruit shop around the corner isn’t selling enough fruit.

PATRICK CONDREN:

I agree entirely.  But then the Federal Government turns around and because of an election promise it gives $16 million to Cadbury.  So I mean it’s –

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well again, that was a Tasmanian issue and I can only recall what Eric Abetz has said – he’s the Tasmanian senator, as you know – that was focused, that was a tourism exercise –

PATRICK CONDREN:

But the press release talked about improving the output of chocolate.  So the tourism –

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well all I can tell you is what Eric has said.  I wasn’t involved in that decision but I’m sure it was a very wise one. 

PATRICK CONDREN:

Now I know you’re a fan of the ABC – you appear quite regularly on QandA and those sorts of programs. 

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well it gets a million viewers on a good night so I’d be a bit of a mug if I didn’t.

PATRICK CONDREN:

Well it’s half the audience that you’re appealing to here on 4BC.  They released a statement yesterday saying that its coverage of allegations that Navy personnel deliberately burnt the hands of asylum seekers  --  they’ve admitted they should have conducted more editorial checks before putting such a story to air.  Are you satisfied with that?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I’m glad they’ve corrected the record as it were.  I think they should seriously consider making an apology.  Now I’m an old journalist myself and I want to stress by the way that the ABC by Act of Parliament has editorial independence.  So I can’t tell them what to write or broadcast.  The responsibility for ensuring that their news and information, current affairs services are accurate and objective and impartial, lies with the board of directors.  My own view – and this applies to 4BC as much as it does to the ABC: If, as a journalist you make a mistake, and as we know we all do, we all have an we will in the future. 

Then when you realise you have made a blue, an error of fact or an error of judgement or both, then collect it and if offence has been caused, often it isn’t caused, but if offence is caused then you should apologise for it. Now this was a very serious allegation, caused enormous offence, naturally. Imagine if they had identified, imagine if the allegation Sub-Lieutenant Billy Bloggs had done --

PATRICK CONDREN:

Sure, sure but what --

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

-- No hang on, but if they did that, the Sub-Lieutenant would have a defamation action, you couldn’t jump over it. So this is pretty serious stuff and I think having recognised that errors were made, you know Mediawatch and Paul Barry did a very good assessment of that, then it’s up to the board or the management of the ABC, really should consider, very seriously, whether or not an apology is appropriate.  Because this wasn’t like getting the numbers on a statistical release wrong or price of something wrong or the forecast wrong.

This was a very serious allegation to accuse the Navy of having tortured asylum seekers – and yes I know they said they weren’t accusing them and that they were just reporting what others were saying – but they gave it a lot of credence and credibility. That’s very serious. So I think an apology would be appropriate but again it’s not my call I’m the Communications Minster but I am not the Editor-in-Chief of the ABC and those people --

PATRICK CONDREN: 

Maybe that’s the next career! The Editor-in-Chief. That is a reshuffle if things don’t go your way you could move back into journalism.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: 

No, I don’t think so. [Indistinct]

PATRICK CONDREN:

You’re doing a study, a review of the ABC. How much less money do you think they should get?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, what we’re doing is, what the Department is doing with the help of Peter Lewis who was the CFO of Seven West Media for 15 years, what they’re doing is just going through the ABC and SBS’s costs and looking at whether they are delivering their products and services as cost efficiently as possible so we’ll see what the results of that are. Now --

PATRICK CONDREN:

Should they get less money?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, just hang on a minute, firstly you’ve got to see what the result of the study is. But I want to make this very clear, this study has nothing to do with the controversy about border security or the Navy or Edward Snowden or anything like that. It is part of my business as usual getting on with the job of being the Communications Minister. I’ve got a number of big businesses under my jurisdiction…

PATRICK CONDREN:

-- Sure, sure.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Hang on! Hang on! Just let me finish! Just let me finish! ABC, SBS, Australia Post and the NBN and I’ve got to make sure that they are all run as efficiently as possible so that’s your reason. If there had been no drama at all about Indonesia or the Navy this study would have been undertaken.

PATRICK CONDREN:

Righto, we’ve got to go. Thanks for your time, thanks for coming in. Next time we’ll stand up.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Righto, ok, better for our backs.

PATRICK CONDREN:

It is indeed better all around.


ENDS

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