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TRANSCRIPT: Sky News with Kieran Gilbert, 17 November

TRANSCRIPT: Sky News with Kieran Gilbert

17 November 2021

Kieran Gilbert: Let's get some reaction now to Labor's NBN expansion policy, I'm joined by the Communications Minister Paul Fletcher. Minister Fletcher, thanks for your time. Labor promising to provide high speed internet, full fibre NBN access to a further 1.5 million premises. It's hard to be too critical of them, isn't it, given this basically looks to me like an expansion of what the government's already doing?

Paul Fletcher: Well, Kieran, good to be with you. Labor can't be trusted to deliver the NBN, let's not forget when they were in government six years, $6 billion, barely 51,000 premises connected to the fixed line network when they left government. By contrast, under the coalition, with now 12 million premises able to connect, 8.3 million premises are connected. When the pandemic hit, 98 per cent of all premises around Australia were able to connect to the NBN. And that was so important in getting us through the pandemic, with millions of us moving to working and studying from home and really needing good broadband, good video conferencing. Now, we've got a plan, we announced it last year and we're executing on it, $4.5 billion, under which 8 million premises by 2023 will be able to order a speed of up to 1 gigabit per second. So we're getting on with expanding the NBN, delivering the NBN. Anybody who thinks Labor based upon their track record in government would do a good job of delivering the NBN wasn't paying much attention when Labor was last in government.

Gilbert: But you look like you're on the same page now. I mean, as you said there, $4.5 billion, expanding to 8 million premises that fibre access. Labor's extending that a further 1.5 million. It doesn't seem like the grounds to be too critical, given, as I say, they're doing what you're doing, but just with a further 1.5 million homes and businesses.

Fletcher: What's really interesting Kieran is that Labor has now abandoned their one true faith of every home must have fibre connected all the way, whether a customer wants it or not. Our plan, announced last year was that in the footprint, the fibre to the node footprint where we're giving people the opportunity to upgrade to a speed of up to 1 gigabit per second if they want it, we’ll roll the fibre down the centre of the street, then we'll connect the fibre to the home when people place, when the customer places an order for a high speed service, that's a good business-like way to do it -

Gilbert: Labor's doing the same thing.

Fletcher: It’s the way Chorus has done it in New Zealand, it makes sense. Labor has now adopted the Coalition's model, but don't believe Labor when they say that if their original plan had been maintained that we would have got to a better outcome, we would have got to a much worse outcome, a much slower outcome. And when the pandemic hit, millions fewer homes would have been able to connect to the NBN. And that NBN connection has been so critical for so many Australians getting through the pandemic with good quality, two-way broadband and video conferencing.

Gilbert: Isn't the government's argument, though, in terms of management of the NBN, undermined by the fact that your own budget around this is blown out from 29 to $57 billion?

Fletcher: Well, we're actually repaying, NBN is now repaying government debt, so the NBN has now repaid $11 million* of debt it had to the Commonwealth government and the $4.5 billion that we announced last year, that investment that's funded by private sector debt, debt in the private markets, Labor can't tell us how today's announcement is going to be funded. They’ve used weasel words, but it looks very like they're planning to put more public money. At the same time as under the Coalition, the NBN is repaying taxpayers money, so the fact is Labor has a very poor track record of implementation. They can't be trusted to deliver the NBN. By contrast, the Coalition has delivered 12 million premises now able to connect, 8.3 million are connected, and an upgrade plan $4.5 billion connected announced last year, very clear about where the funding was coming from. And by 2023, 8 million premises will be able to order speed of up to one gigabit per second.

Gilbert: Minister Fletcher, on a couple of other issues of relevance today ahead of the final sitting week next week, if Labor were to commit to say, for example, a 2030 target of 35 per cent reduction. That's what the government's projecting we will hit anyway. Would the government be, you know, hampered in terms of running a critical or scare campaign against Labor if they simply legislate what you're doing anyway?

Fletcher: Look, when it comes to emissions, emissions are down 20 per cent on 2005 levels. Our international commitment is to be 26 to 28 per cent down by 2030, with very well advanced towards meeting that, we’ll meet that and beat that. We've made that very clear. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction took that, took our commitments, including net zero by 2050, to Glasgow. Under the Morrison Government, Australia is achieving reductions in emissions that exceed those of many other countries. We're a country that when we make international –

Gilbert: So if Labor sets a target of what you're achieving, as I say, you can't be too critical again on that matter? If they simply say our target will be 35 and your target is already, you know, your projection is already going to hit 35 to 38. So it's hardly too ambitious.

Fletcher: Kieran, I'm not going to get into commenting on speculation about what Labor's policy might or might not be. What we're focussed on is delivering on Australia's international commitments and a clear plan to do that, technology not taxes, already 20 per cent down in emissions levels in Australia today compared to 2005 levels. We will meet and beat our target just as we met and beat both Kyoto one and Kyoto two. We'll let our track record and performance do the talking. I'm not going to get into speculating about what Labor's policy might or might not be.

Gilbert: Finally, the religious freedom laws, the bill to go back before the parliament wraps up this year. Why now? Why the timing?

Fletcher: Well, Kieran, the Prime Minister and the government made a commitment on this, and so we're acting consistent with that commitment.

Gilbert: And confident it will get through before the election?

Fletcher: Look, I'm not going to engage in speculation or predictions consistent with our commitment. We'll bring the legislation in. It'll be a matter for the parliament and we’ll obviously be making the best case. Michaelia Cash as the Attorney General has done good work in this space, but it'll be a matter for the parliament.

*Correction: $11 billion.