Transcript - The NBN Rollout in Tasmania

February 21, 2014
Transcripts

21 February 2014

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

Topics: National Broadband Network rollout in Tasmania
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LEON COMPTON:

First this morning, though, let's talk about the National Broadband Network rollout. The State Liberal Party have said they want the full fibre optic rollout for the NBN in Tasmania, but have they been able to change the minds of their federal colleagues on the issue? The plan for Tasmania, as you've heard over the past couple of weeks, is to rollout fibre optic connections until the end of the year, and, after that, to rely on a mix of technologies mostly expected to be copper from 2015 and beyond.
You'd also know from news that Will Hodgman met Malcolm Turnbull earlier in the week to lobby him on the issue. Malcolm Turnbull joins us this morning.
Good morning to you.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Good morning, Leon.

LEON COMPTON:

Did Will Hodgman change your mind, Minister, on the National Broadband Network rollout it Tasmania?
MALCOLM
MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, Will Hodgman made a very considered and detailed proposal to us relating to conducting fibres and fibre to the premises trials in Tasmania using Aurora's aerial assets, you know, its poles. He has put considerable thought into the matter and Will's argument basically goes like this: he says, look, I understand fiscal responsibility is central. He knows very well that the Federal Government's got a very tough budgetary problem. He knows that the Labor Government has mismanaged the NBN and that it has blown in budget and timeframes and so forth.

But his case, as he put it to me, was that because there is a greater extent, a wider extent of aerial infrastructure, by which we mean electricity poles and wires, in Tasmania, Aurora - he says, well, why don't you conduct some trials? We already have built aerial infrastructure, of course, there, but conduct some further trials and see how close the cost of fibre to the premises using the aerial infrastructure can come down to the point where some people are arguing it will comparable to the fibre to the node approach that has been recommended in the strategic review.

So we're looking very - it was a very detailed discussion. Will has a - I have a very, very good relationship with Will. Tasmania could not have a better advocate than Will Hodgman, particularly dealing with the Coalition Government in Canberra, and he's - so we're taking that on board and we're doing quite a bit of work at the NBN Co now to see if we can progress that idea of some trials and really test this proposition that Tasmania is different and the cost structures in Tasmania are different because of these aerial assets.

LEON COMPTON:

So he's in with a shot of changing your mind. You say he's the best advocate for Tasmania. The test of that will be whether or not he convinces you to adopt his policy, which if the full fibre optic rollout, won't it?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, the test really, I have to say to you, is whether you can manage Tasmania. I know there are a lot of Tasmanians that aren't very happy with the state of the state, with the state of the state's budget, with the poor economic or inadequate economic growth in Tasmania, that they're concerned about that. And the real issue for Tasmanians is do you want to reward failure and put back in a Labor-Green Government that has demonstrated over many years, far too long, that it can't manage the state, or do you want to have a new Liberal team that you know will be able to work far more effectively with the Liberal Government in Canberra.

LEON COMPTON:

Well, I think what Mr Hodgman seems to believe is that your change on the stance of the NBN rollout could cost the State Liberals this election.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, the only thing I can say to that is that the determination of the nature of the NBN rollout is a matter for the Federal Government, not any state government. So the time to express a view on federal policy is at a federal election. I have to say if you want to examine the track record, and I'm not trying to make cheap shots here, but the reality is that the Labor Government is Tasmania has - its advocacy of the NBN, its advocacy of broadband in Tasmania was singularly ineffective. But, in fact, by the middle of last year, the rollout had stopped. It had stopped dead in its tracks.

So we expect the NBN, under the Coalition's leadership, this year, this calendar year to pass more premises in Tasmania than had been passed by Labor in the previous five years. So far from stopping the NBN and, indeed, stopping fibre to the premises, we've actually got it cranked up and going again. I mean, the project was stalled.

LEON COMPTON:

I suppose the counter argument to that is, of course, Mr Turnbull, that this project would never have happened at all were it not for a Labor Government at the federal level and potentially at the state as well.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

It certainly wouldn't have happened in as wasteful and time consuming manner under a Liberal Government, because there is only the Labor Party could have wasted so much money on this. Just remember this, Leon, and this is a very important point - 2007, there were around two million premises - it was estimated around two million premises in Australia that had either no broadband or very poor broadband. Six years of Labor Government has made very little dent into that.

The Labor Party paid no attention in the NBN rollout to where the need was greatest. They didn't even know what parts of Australia had the worst broadband. The first time a government had actually looked into that is now, the Abbott Government. We, as we promised, have done a very detailed study on broadband availability and quality around Australia and we have published it. It's on the Communication Department's website - communication.gov.au/mybroadband - and we've divided Australia into 78,000 distribution areas and then, using information from the various telecom companies, have estimated what broadband is available there and what the quality of it is.

Now, that will enable us, as the NBN rollout continues, to prioritise the areas with the worst broadband to bring them up to speed sooner. Labor wasn't doing that, I can tell you. You talk about Tasmania, I've been out in Western Sydney with Ziggy late last year into areas in Labor electorates, I might say, where you had Telstra HFC, you know, the hybrid fibre coax, 100 MB product available on that, and Optus HFC, also 100 MB product available on that, and they were yet rolling out the fibre in those streets. And yet there are parts of Australia, including in Tasmania, that have virtually no broadband at all.

So Labor's rollout was entirely focused on politics. So what we're doing, with complete transparency, we're setting out, we're saying, right, these are the areas in Australia that have the worst broadband, here they are, and what we're going to do, as far as practical, is reprioritise the rollout so that they get fixed up first. In other words, if you've got really good broadband already, and a lot of Australians do, you can't expect to be the first people to bet your broadband upgraded to even better broadband. Let's focus on the people with the greatest needs first.

LEON COMPTON:

Mr Turnbull, I want to spend a few moments exploring this idea about looking at poles as a way of stringing up the NBN rather than putting it underground. You're saying that Will Hodgman convinced you at your meeting to take a further look at this issue.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, yes, he did. He is very - yes, he did. He made a - Will - we talked about the Telstra agreement. There's a lot of detail there. We talked about the Telstra agreement, we talked about the issues of what they call making ready the Aurora infrastructure, the Aurora poles, he recognises that's an issue. You will have seen that Lara Giddings said that Aurora would wave the rental on the poles. The problem with that is that's a very small part of the cost. The real cost for an aerial rollout is Aurora's requirement that the poles, in effect, be upgraded, and that's been running at close to - around a couple of thousand dollars a pole in Tasmania where we've done it. So that adds to the cost.

But what Will's argument was, because he is very committed to openness and transparency, but he's also responsible. He's not one of those politicians that says just give it to me, I don't care what it costs, you know, I just want the money. He is a good, sensible, rational man, a good manager.

Will's argument, Leon - just let me finish - Will's argument runs along these lines: he says, look, aerial deployment, all other things being equal, is cheap than underground. That's true. Do some trials, be totally transparent about the costs. We can negotiate with Aurora to actually do the deployment. They could do it and be totally transparent about the costs. And then if as many people argue in Tasmania the cost of aerial deployment is comparable to fibre to the node, then that would obviously would make a strong case for doing a lot more fibre to the premises using the aerial techniques. That's what we were talking about.

LEON COMPTON:

Okay. When will these trials start?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, the NBN is working through the feasibility of that and we're - if we agree to go down that route, and we're looking at it very seriously, but we're not going to be - I know there's an election on, but we've got to - NBN Co is a business and it's got to look at these things carefully and in a considered way, but they would start very soon, yeah, sure.

LEON COMPTON:

So you'll make a commitment that will be not only looking at this issue in terms of trials, but potentially we might have fibre optics to the door where otherwise we were talking about using a copper mix after 2014. In fact, that might change and it might be fibre optic to the door off the poles.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Leon, this is - just so we understand, this is not a religious issue, at least not for me and it shouldn't be for anyone else. This is all about trying to balance one technology form against another and it's all essentially a question of cost. I mean, even under Labor's proposal, there was seven per cent of Australia that weren't going to get fibre to the premises. Why? Because it was too expensive. So you've got to - and the difficulty with Labor's plan, as we all know from the strategic review, is that if it had been continued without amendment, it was going to run up a bill of $73 billion and increase the average internet bill by up to 80 per cent.

So Australians would be paying $43 a month more for their broadband under Labor's plan. Tasmanians would --

LEON COMPTON:

And, Mr Turnbull, what I want to do at the moment is try and get as many specifics about this proposal out of you as possible so that we know what we're working with here. So you've talked about it, a trial will begin as soon as possible and potentially there'll be a change after 2014. We might be looking at fibre optic to the home coming out over the poles and wires network rather than a copper option.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, Leon, you're putting a lot of words in my mouth. Let me just be very - I'll put the words into my mouth and I'll just be very clear about this. Will Hodgman has argued to me very persuasively that by using Aurora's poles, you can significantly reduce the cost of fibre to the premises in Tasmania and in doing so bring that cost down to a level that is very close to, comparable to the cost of fibre to the node. And I have said in many places, many times, that if you can - that the question of whether you do fibre to the premises, fibre to the node is a function of cost. And obviously the closer you get them, the stronger the case for fibre to the premises.

LEON COMPTON:

Okay. When will that cost comparison be known? Will it be known before the state election which is on 15 March, or will it take longer?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, you wouldn't be able to get the trials done and completed in three weeks, Leon, so being realistic there are a lot of estimates floating around, and there are estimates that have been put to us along - as Will was, you know, Will was doing. Will was making the case that the cost of the aerial deployment costs would be much lower in Tasmania because of Aurora's assets and therefore that would enable us to do a lot more fibre to the premises in Tasmania than our, you know, mixed technology approach would imply.
 
And what he said to me, he said, well, Malcolm, I understand that everybody's sceptical about forecasts and estimates as they are, why don't you do some trials and test it in the real world, publish the results, and then, you know, we - you bring the Tasmanian people into your confidence, and then you can see what the basis for that is.
 
Now, that is a very constructive approach, and that is very different, if I may say so, without - I don't want to be harsh in my criticism of the Premier, but the only conversation I've had with the Premier about this, she delivered me a lecture that was like a stump speech, you know, at a Labor Party rally, and I was utterly unable to engage her in any discussion or conversation, so…

LEON COMPTON:

Okay.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

-- if Tasmanians want somebody that can engage with the Federal Government, and actually persuade them to do things instead of delivering, you know, speeches from political talking points, Will Hodgman is the person that is best able to make a persuasive and effective case for Tasmania.

LEON COMPTON:

Malcolm Turnbull is our guest this morning, the Federal Communications Minister. Before we leave you this morning, Mr Turnbull, a personal question.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Yes.

LEON COMPTON:

Are you comfortable with the Government's approach to asylum seekers at the moment?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

The - if - I think the question should be - the answer to the - if the question was, do I agree with the Government's approach? Yes. I don't think anyone is - feels happy, satisfied, with the asylum seeker problem. It is a shocking mess that we were left by the Labor Party. I mean, you've got to remember, there was a set of policies in place under Howard which worked, and the boats had stopped. Labor threw them away.

LEON COMPTON:

I understand. If you - if the end.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

No, I know you don't want to hear this, Leon.

LEON COMPTON:

No, no, I do want to hear this.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I know you don't want to hear this.

LEON COMPTON:

I do want to hear this, Minister, I just want to say…

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

I don't think you do.

LEON COMPTON:

I wanted to distil it and say, if the end point is that no more boats are coming and that people are not taking risks at sea, people would be happy to get to that end point. But does the end - does the means justify the end, at the moment, in your view?

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Well, I think the means that are being used are ones that are being well managed, where the incident in Manus Island is obviously very regrettable. It's not the first time there's been a riot in a detention centre, of course, and they have cleared under governments of both sides. It's being independently investigated, and if there've been failures in, you know, in supervision or management, obviously they'll be addressed.
 
But, you know, if you - the really - the bitter tragedy of all of this is that all of those unlawful arrivals, all of those deaths at sea, all of that pain and suffering would never have occurred if Labor hadn't recklessly thrown out the Howard Government's policies, which we know as a fact - it's not speculation - worked, and the boats had stopped. And of course, then, you know, at the very end of the Labor Government they, you know, tried to sort of reinstate the policies they had thrown out five years before. I mean, it is one of this - I think John Howard's right, the border protection disaster under Labor is their single biggest policy failure.

LEON COMPTON:

Appreciate you talking with us this morning.

MALCOLM TURNBULL:

Thanks so much, Leon.

LEON COMPTON:

Malcolm Turnbull, Minister for Communications.

ENDS

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