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TRANSCRIPT: NewsDay with Tom Connell, 22 November

 

TRANSCRIPT

NewsDay with Tom Connell

Monday, 22 November 2021

 

TOM CONNELL: Meanwhile, the federal government announced an NBN upgrade this year. Labor says it’s going to go further, the opposition promising a revamped national broadband network. It says as well it will stay in public hands. Joining me live now is the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts, Paul Fletcher. Thanks for your time today.

PAUL FLETCHER: Good to be with you, Tom.

TOM CONNELL: So this Labor announcement, it says it’s going further – an additional 1.5 million homes and businesses with access to faster broad band. Surely they’re entitled to look at this and say, “Well, that could be good for me.”

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, let’s start with Labor’s track record when in government – six years, $6 billion, barely 51,000 premises connected to the fixed line network when they left government. By contrast, we now have 8.3 million premises around the country connected, 12 million able to connect. And that’s because we moved away from Labor’s deeply flawed model in 2013 and we moved to the multi-technology mix – a mix of fibre to the node, fibre to the premises and –

TOM CONNELL: Sure, but it is a long time ago now. The debate’s shifted to how we do the current system.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, it was really important in 2020 when the pandemic hit and 98 per cent of premises around the country were able to connect to the NBN. Millions of us moved to working and studying from home overnight and we really needed good broadband. You need good speeds both down and up for two-way videoconferencing. It wouldn’t have worked with the previous generation of broadband.

TOM CONNELL: But 1.5 million homes and businesses extra –

PAUL FLETCHER: If we had stuck with Labor’s plan, several million fewer premises would have been connected to the NBN and able to connect when the pandemic hit in early 2020. So our professional management of the NBN, we worked out what needed to be done, appointed capable, experienced board and managed, worked out a plan, executed on it and then what we did last year was we said we are now going to commit 4.5 billion in additional investment to upgrade the network so that by 2023 8 million premises will be able to order a speed of up to –

TOM CONNELL: Right, so Labor’s saying another 1.5 million homes and businesses.

PAUL FLETCHER: So a few points there. First of all, NBN is fully committed with what we announced last year so that by 2023, 8 million premises will be able to order a speed of –

TOM CONNELL: You mean what they can’t handle anymore?

PAUL FLETCHER: They’re fully committed to delivering that upgrade through to 2023.

TOM CONNELL: So I’m just saying, fully committed. What? You mean there are no spare workers beyond that?

PAUL FLETCHER: Sure, that is exactly what I mean.

TOM CONNELL: Right.

PAUL FLETCHER: It’s a major job planning a rollout like this. Labor has stuffed up the rollout before. Our side has a track record in delivering rollouts.

TOM CONNELL: What about the private sector? Surely there are other workers –

PAUL FLETCHER: Tom, if you’re seriously suggesting to me that they could rollout more quickly than what is in our plan, that’s simply not right. And, in fact, if you look at what Labor’s proposed they’re clearly accepting our plan through to 2023. So this makes no –

TOM CONNELL: They’re going on top of it.

PAUL FLETCHER: That makes no practical difference between now and 2023. But there’s one other very important point: Labor’s original plan was the crazy idea that every home in Australia would be – in the fixed line footprint would be connected to fibre to the premises all the way to the home, whether the customer wanted it or not. Now, what we announced last year was that we’d build the fibre down the middle of the street and then the lead-in to the home, the fibre to the home, would only be built if the customer ordered a high speed service that needed fibre to the premises all the way. That’s the sensible business-like way to do it. That’s the way that Chorus in New Zealand did it, for example. Now, very interestingly, last week Labor adopted our approach. Now, they wasted a lot of taxpayers’ money with their previous plan but they have now adopted it.

TOM CONNELL: Okay. So, just to clarify, your main issue is you’re saying they will not be able to find workers to do this. You are literally running at 100 per cent capacity in your upgrade and it can’t go any quicker?

PAUL FLETCHER: There is a plan to get to 8 million premises able to order a speed of up to 1 Gbps by 2023. Then what Labor’s proposing is on top of that there will be more happening. But can I make the point –

TOM CONNELL: Okay.

PAUL FLETCHER: Can I make the point, we’ve never said we’re going to stop at 2023. What we have said is here’s what we’re committing to and here’s how it’s fully funded – 4.5 billion funded through borrowing on the private sector market.

TOM CONNELL: Okay.

PAUL FLETCHER: Labor can’t tell you how their plan is –

TOM CONNELL: They say they’ll figure that out in government.

PAUL FLETCHER: Yeah, they said they’d worry about it later, just like they messed up just about every other aspect –

TOM CONNELL: Well, some things are easier in government, I suppose. Let me ask you about another issue in your portfolio, because we’re about to enter campaign mode. The last one was a big promise of 47 commuter car parks around the country. How many will be finished by the time this election rolls around?

PAUL FLETCHER: So where we are at the moment is that there are 10 either completed or under construction.

TOM CONNELL: But what will that number be completed –

PAUL FLETCHER: There’ll be another two that will commence construction before the end of this year, and by the end of next year there’ll be 34 completed or under construction. So –

TOM CONNELL: Okay, hang on. I just want to know completed. So you’ve got a lot of – sure, you have a figure. But by the time we have the election – I’ll be generous, let’s say the election is May –

PAUL FLETCHER: By the end of next year we will have 34 completed or under construction around the country.

TOM CONNELL: How many completed at the end of next year?

PAUL FLETCHER: The number I’ve given you, Tom, is the number that we’re committing to, which is 34 complete or commenced construction.

TOM CONNELL: That’s a big difference, whether you’ve started or finished something, though.

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, these are significant projects around the country designed to reduce congestion. The reason we’re doing them is because we had advice amongst others from Infrastructure Australia that said that it would make sense to build more commuter car parks so that we encourage more people to be getting on to the train if it’s convenient to drive your car to the local station then get on the train.

TOM CONNELL: Okay. So is there a figure available within the department of the completed rather than completed and under construction?

PAUL FLETCHER: We’ve been very consistent in the metrics that we’ve reported on. So 10 completed or under construction and by the end of next year it’ll be 34 completed or under construction. There are lead times in infrastructure, Tom.

TOM CONNELL: But no figure available on actually completed?

PAUL FLETCHER: It’s not particularly remarkable that they’re not all done now. It makes time. There’s a number of steps you have to go through. You have to go through the planning, you have to get environmental approves, you have to go out to market to identify the party that’s going to be constructing.

TOM CONNELL: But when you announced 47 last time, was there any talk of, “Well, we might only have done three by the time we go to the voters again”?

PAUL FLETCHER: Tom, this is very much in the ordinary course of infrastructure projects being rolled out. There’s a lead time that we’re systemically –

TOM CONNELL: Well, you said order course. How many –

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, can I just – if you just let me finish. So just in the last few weeks I’ve visited Emu Grove – Emu Plains, I should say, in Sydney where construction is underway. Revesby where construction is underway. Construction is underway at Mandurah [no audio]...in a small number where either the relevant state government or the council has indicated that they’re not ready to construct at the site that we’ve specified.

TOM CONNELL: But how many won’t go ahead?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well, there’s been a small number. But we continue to be in dialogue. So if I talk, for example, about the Kananook commuter car park, we announced in the budget this year that the Victorian government had advised us that could not proceed. We’ve now had the local council, the Frankston City Council come to us and say they’ve now bought some land and they’re interested –

TOM CONNELL: But can you say for now how many are not going ahead, a figure?

PAUL FLETCHER: Well –

TOM CONNELL: Ten, 15?

PAUL FLETCHER: – the metric that we’re reporting on is completed or commenced construction.

TOM CONNELL: But the metric voters want to know as well is how many won’t go ahead?

PAUL FLETCHER: What people want to know is that it’s easier to get around our big cities –

TOM CONNELL: Well, they want to know if a car park’s going to be built in their area.

PAUL FLETCHER: And that’s why we’re getting on with announcing and completing the commuter car parks that are being delivered.

TOM CONNELL: Okay. Got to leave it there. Minister, thanks for your time, today.

PAUL FLETCHER: Thanks, Tom.