Transcript - Progress of the NBN in Tasmania

October 8, 2013
Transcripts

8 October 2013

TRANSCRIPT OF THE HON MALCOLM TURNBULL MP
INTERVIEW WITH LEON COMPTON
ABC HOBART

Topics: National Broadband Network in Tasmania
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LEON COMPTON:

Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for Communications, good morning to you.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Good morning.

LEON COMPTON:

Let’s start with the management of the NBN rollout in Tasmania.  The State’s got its own NBN board.  Is that going to continue?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well we’ll certainly be looking at that.  We’re looking to save money with the NBN Co project right across the board.  So we haven’t made a decision about that but we’ll certainly be looking at it. 

LEON COMPTON:

So a suggestion that I think the board members are on $40,000, maybe more for the chair of that board.  You’re not sure that’s necessary?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well look I don’t have anything to say to you other than we are reviewing – the Government and the new management of the NBN Co will be reviewing all of the expenses.  So that will be one of them.

LEON COMPTON:

Let’s talk about the pledge made throughout the election campaign that all existing contracts will be honoured.  Do you stand by that?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yes we do.

LEON COMPTON:

And what about the questions by some that there might be some parsing inside that?  Do you stand by the fact that if all contracts were signed for the National Broadband Network for Tasmania before the election, that effectively it is whatever Labor’s vision was for the state will be delivered for the state?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well you’ve got to ask yourself what has actually been contracted.  Where are the relevant obligations?  Now let’s just look at Tasmania.  VisionStream, it was reported, signed a contract in March 2012 worth $300 million to complete the entire fibre rollout in Tasmania, covering about 209,000 premises.  That’s what NBN Co announced to be completed by 2015.

As far as we can see no work has been done by VisionStream for at least two months and they have basically downed tools.  The Labor Party didn’t say anything about that during the election.  The reality is that right through the election campaign, Anthony Albanese had the draft NBN Corporate Plan on his desk from the company.  It showed that half of the households that Labor was publicly promising would get the NBN by 2014 would in fact miss out.  But he never once told voters about that.  He kept that corporate plan secret. 

The reality is that right now after six years of a Labor Government, nine out of 10 Tasmanians don’t have any access to the NBN at all.  So the bottom line is there is nothing I could do – not one thing I could do to stop the NBN rollout in Tasmania because it has been stopped for several months.  And at this stage, VisionStream is just not building anything.  And there is a serious problem there which we have got to address.  So I’m not suggesting we would dishonour or breach any contracts but at the moment nothing is being done under the contract by the contractor. 

LEON COMPTON:

Why has VisionStream stopped operating for the last couple of months.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well you should ask them that.

LEON COMPTON:

It certainly feels like, on the streets of Tasmania, that nothing has been happening.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well you should ask them that.

LEON COMPTON:

It certainly feels on the streets of Tasmania like nothing has been happening for a period of time.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I can tell you there’s been no progress at all. You know we have only just appointed a new chairman of NBN Co and we are undertaking a strategic review Leon so we can find out exactly what the situation is at the moment, why is in the mess that it is where it is in the mess, and what we can do about it. So we’ll have better information in due course but right now I can tell you that nothing is going on in Tasmania and if you open up the lines I’m sure if there are any of the subcontractors listening now, and I would encourage them to ring in, and they’ll tell you what’s going on. So for Labor claiming that there was some wonderful progress going on in Tasmania which the horrible Coalition were going to stop, the fact is Labor’s project in Tasmania has been stalled for two months. The Premier -

LEON COMPTON:

Is there a binding contract with Visionstream at the moment as far as you can see?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well I have not seen it. At this stage I have not seen it. If there is clearly a serious problem between Visionstream and NBN Co but I’m only going on what was publicly stated which was there was a contract entered in to for Visionstream to cable up Tasmania and if appears that they have downed tools. But you should get Visionstream on the show and they can explain what’s going on.

LEON COMPTON:

We’re making those calls as we speak. Our guest this morning is Malcolm Turnbull the Minister for Communications. Minister the expectation was that Tasmania would have fibre optic internet delivered to its door in the vast majority of cases. Is it still your intention to deliver that for Tasmania and if not, for the mainland?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well what I’ve said Leon, I’ve said we’ll honour existing contracts but it takes two to tango. If Visionstream is not able to or prepared to complete the work it’s obliged to do under the contract, if for example it says there’s no way we can do this without going broke then the contract can’t be honoured.

LEON COMPTON:

And what happens then?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well that’s a very good question and that’s what we’re going to be reviewing in the strategic review.

LEON COMPTON:

Is it reasonable to expect there would be a default to the Coalition’s policy for the mainland which is fibre to the node rather than fibre to the home?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well Leon I know you’re encouraging me to speculate and make all sorts of policy decisions on your radio program but if you’ll forgive me what we’re doing is going through a very rigorous and thorough strategic review of the project. We hope to have that finished by early December so we don’t have to wait but this project has been failing. It’s been failing Tasmanians. Tasmanians were basically misled by the Labor party.

They were told that they had this great NBN coming to them, that the dreadful Coalition would stop it. The project has been stuck. It’s been dead in the water as far as progress is concerned in Tasmania for months. That’s not the Coalition’s doing, this all happened under Labor and what we’re trying to do is to work out what the problems are and how we can sort them out. And it’s not at all straightforward I’m afraid.

LEON COMPTON:

But if there is still a binding contract existing with Visionstream for $300 million, 200,000 connections, that will be honoured?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well honoured by Visionstream? Are you speaking for them?

LEON COMPTON:

That will be honoured by you in terms of honouring existing contracts as per your election promise.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Where there is a binding contract, for example with VisionStream, if VisionStream were to do its part of the contract then we would do ours which is obviously to pay them for the work they’re doing, in accordance with the contract. But at this stage there is no work going on and that doesn’t, I struggle to see how that can be in compliance with the terms of the contract. But again, I don’t want to – this is a detailed contractual matter with NBN Co and VisionStream – but my only point is that this management of this project and the lack of progress on this project is Labor’s work, or Labor’s lack of work, they made it, they knew the project was failing and the company itself had dramatically cut its forecasts at the time of the election but they kept those revised forecasts hidden because they didn’t want Tasmanian’s to know the full extent of their failure.

So they mislead Tasmanians right through to polling day and they only now are just starting to see the truth come out. And that’s what we’ll do Leon. The one thing, I’m not going to speculate wildly and make all sorts of promises and deal in hypotheticals on your show.

What I’m promising you is that we’ll complete the strategic review and we’ll put all the facts on the table. That’s what Tasmanians are entitled to. And this situation with VisionStream Tasmania is obviously very complex, the new management has to get to the bottom of it and when they do we’ll present that to you and the rest of the Tasmanian public and then we’ll outline what our options for dealing with it are.

LEON COMPTON:

Malcolm Turnbull is our guest this morning the Federal Communications Minister. Via text ‘VisionStream in Kingston working’ says one, Leon in Kingston last Friday ‘Thirteen VisionStream vehicles passed in the space of an hour’, ‘They’ve been digging up footpath in the last fortnight and putting in fibre optic cables’ says Bob this morning, ‘Seven in Beaconsfield yesterday with seven drivers’ says Dan in West Tamar, and Kerry was one of our previous texters. It sounds like, Mr Turnbull, there is still some activity happening around the state with VisionStream?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well that’s very, if that’s the case it’s very encouraging that some activity is going on. The last figures we saw was that no progress at all in terms of additional premises being passed. But again when we’ve got a full insight into what is happening you can be rest assured that it will be made available. But our commitment to honour contracts is there. All I can say is that the last figures that we saw from NBN Co is that less than 20,000 premises had been passed with fibre in Tasmania. So that’s less than 10% of the total rollout. So obviously completing it by 2015 looks pretty optimistic.

LEON COMPTON:

Can you understand from an outsider’s perspective that the way this debate has been conducted, the Labor Party promising fibre-to-the-home and the Liberal Party doing nothing to disabuse people of that idea of that is what would be delivered for Tasmania? Can you understand that in the lead-up to and through the last election that seems have been or that is a reasonable public expectation?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No Leon, what we said was that we would honour existing contracts. So the first thing you’ve got to ascertain is what is the existing contract and if there is an existing contract and the contractor, Visionstream, is prepared to complete the contract in accordance with its terms then so are we.

LEON:

Well what you were really saying Malcolm Turnbull is that you would deliver what the Labor party were promising. You were trying to match in the public mind the promise made by the Labor party so that it would appeal to the voters of Tasmania who were voting on that issue.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Leon what you’re doing is putting words in my mouth. What I said was that we would honour existing contracts because we were not privy to all of the details of the contractual arrangements between the NBN Co. and the various contractors and all I can say is that we will honour the existing contracts and now the Labor party have made representations about what those contracts involve.

I’m not going to validate their representations what I’m saying is that if the NBN Co. has a binding contract, an agreement, with a contractor to do certain construction work then that will be honoured. But of course, that will be honoured by NBN Co. but that of course then begs the question as to whether the contractors are willing or able to complete the work.

LEON:

Ok, let’s wrap it up and ask this: Do you have any evidence that Visionsteam are in breach of their contract at the moment?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I’m not making any comments about that at all. All I’m saying is that there has effectively, based on the figures we’ve seen from the company, there has been little or no progress over several months.

LEON:

OK, and on your policy Malcolm Turnbull, if VIsionstream are in breach of their contract and need to go back to the drawing board. What will the NBN look like under current Liberal policy?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Leon, you’re trying to draw me out, that’s your job, but you’re trying to draw me out to speculate about all sorts of hypothetical situations. I simply want to make these points. One, we will honour existing contracts. Two, there has been little or no progress on the construction of the NBN in Tasmania for several months. Three, as far as the overall project is concerned there is a strategic review going on to ascertain its current state, what it would take in dollars in time to complete the project on the specifications set by the previous government, ie. Fibre to 93% of Australian premises, and four, what the options are to do that more quickly and more cost effectively. So a lot of these questions you’re asking me about are really ones we can’t answer until we are better informed.

LEON:

Appreciate you talking with us this morning.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Thanks so much Leon.

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