Jan 7, 2021









SUBJECTS: NBN failures in the Blue Mountains; importance of NBN in bushfire-affected communities; unfolding protests in Washington; democracy; Australia’s relationship with the United State; Australia’s coronavirus response; UK strain of COVID-19; travel bans; National Cabinet; vaccine rollout process; controls on airline crew.


SUSAN TEMPLEMAN, MEMBER FOR MACQUARIE: Hi, I’m Susan Templeman, the Member for Macquarie. And you’re in Hawkesbury Heights in the Blue Mountains. In spite of the name Hawkesbury, this is the Blue Mountains. We’re here because there’s been a widespread issue that’s triggered by storms. And that is that NBN boxes are not being protected in storms. We’re at Dan and Mel’s place and they’ve lost two NBN boxes that have required replacement in the last few weeks when storms have come. Now, that might not seem like such a big deal that NBN goes down, but it can be at least days, if not weeks, for many people to get your NBN box replaced. And in that time, you obviously have no internet at all. Again, you might think, well, is that such a big deal? Well, it is at places like here because if you look at your phone you can see there’s only, if you’re lucky, one bar of 4G at times and sometimes no bars at all. So there is very poor and often non-existent mobile communication. So that means not only do you not have internet, because we’re on NBN, that means you don’t have a landline, you also don’t have mobile coverage here. And that means you are essentially back in the dark ages. So NBN has not meant a better and more reliable communication here. In areas where there is Fibre To The Curb, this is a massive problem. And I’ve had hundreds and hundreds of constituents have NBN boxes blow out in just in the last few weeks. In fact, some people have had up to six boxes blown by storms. Even when people have unplugged the power, when they’ve turned the power back on, something’s happened and the box has been blown. So this is a real issue that requires a technical solution. But it’s a symptom of an unreliable NBN. And that makes working from home really hard. It makes studying from home really hard. And over the summer, it makes having kids at home without communication really hard. So that’s the issue I want brought. And I’m very pleased, somewhere here, to have Anthony Albanese here to listen to the day-to-day concerns that we face in the Blue Mountains and the Hawkesbury. Just to be clear about the scale of this, this affects potentially every household in the Blue Mountains, from Lapstone to Hazelbrook, which is where Fibre To The Curb has rolled out. That’s tens of thousands of people impacted. It also affects areas in the Hawkesbury in the other part of my electorate, like Bowen Mountain, so it’s a big issue. And on a week like this, where it’s very stormy, it’s absolutely top of mind. On my own team, three of my staff have experienced this. We speak from experience, but more importantly, the hundreds of emails, comments on Facebook, phone calls from my constituents, telling me this NBN Fibre To The Curb system is not running reliably for them. It is a really huge issue. So thanks, Anthony, for being here. I’ll hand over to you.


ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Well thanks very much Susan. It is good to be back in the electorate of Macquarie. A year ago, of course, I was a regular visitor here at this time when we had such devastating bushfires impact this community last November, December and January. And it’s been good to be able to chat with Dan and Melinda at their home here today about their practical experience of the problems that are there with the NBN. The NBN problem starts with the fact that the Government in 2013 stopped the rollout of Fibre To The Premise and moved to its mixed model that had a copper base system at the end of it, which was outdated before it began. If you want to look at the direct impact, you just have to go up to Windsor, a place where I, as Communications Minister, turned on the NBN with Fibre To The Premise. Windsor has first-rate broadband. The rest of the Blue Mountains here, as Susan has said, not only have problems with internet speeds that aren’t up to scratch, they have problems with regard to safety and reliability. And in bushfire-prone areas, this is a particular problem. It’s one that the NBN has to fix. And it’s one that the Government have to accept responsibility for fixing as well. The Government made an announcement in its Budget of an additional $4.5 billion to go back and retrofit Fibre To The Premise. And I would have thought that bushfire-affected areas should be a priority there of making sure that they get 21st century technology, which, of course, all Australian businesses and homes should have. Australia, in the latest figures, is ranked 60th in the world for NBN speeds, less than a third of what our neighbours in Singapore have. This is holding back our economy, holding back businesses, but also having a direct impact on families. Happy to take questions.


JOURNALIST: What sort of an impact does this have on people’s daily lives and also their working lives during the pandemic?


ALBANESE: Well, this has a particular impact on small businesses, many of which operate from homes like this one, whereby people rely upon that access to the internet, access to phone services. And what we’ve had here is stories of families that don’t have internet, don’t have a home phone and don’t have access to mobiles at particular times when there are storms. That has a real impact on the economy. But it also has an impact on the quality of life for families. Here, there’s a student here in year 11 about to go into their HSC year. All education through schooling these days is done largely through the internet and online. That’s how people lodge their essays and their exams, whether it be school or university or TAFE. So it has a real impact on them. And that’s why this is a problem that needs to be fixed.


JOURNALIST: How often is this occurring and what are the wait times on repairs?


ALBANESE: Well, this is occurring all the time. It’s happened twice in this home in the last few weeks. And it’s happened, as Susan has said, up to six times, one family, six times, in recent months. You’ve had the NBN boxes essentially blow up and shut down and lose access to services. And that’s why this isn’t good enough. There needs to be a fix put in that provides a permanent solution.


JOURNALIST: What are your thoughts on what’s unfolding in Washington?


ALBANESE: Well, what’s unfolding in Washington is a tragedy for the great democracy that is the United States of America. There is no doubt that both the words and actions of Donald Trump have encouraged this activity. It is of real concern. And all those who are supporters of democracy need to speak out in favor of it. Democracy is precious. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. It should be defended anywhere in the world. And I note President Elect Joe Biden’s very strong comments this morning. And I do note that Donald Trump made his statement about how people should go home. That’s good. But he also repeated some of the mistruths which are there, which have also been repeated by some in the Australian media, that somehow this is an illegitimate result. I’ve been a part of elections. And you win or you lose. You accept democratic outcomes. That’s a really important part of what makes our democratic principles and values which need to be upheld by all of us around the world. So we look towards the United States. It is our most important ally. I’m sure that the institutions of the United States will remain strong. And we’ll get through this because we simply can’t have circumstances whereby you have effectively an insurrection which is about overturning democratic processes which have taken place in the United States which have seen Joe Biden elected as the President of the United States.


JOURNALIST: What should the Australian Government be doing at this point?


ALBANESE: Well, the Australian Government should be making strong statements in support of democratic values, in support of the process that has taken place, whether it be the US presidential election, the Senate run-offs that occurred in Georgia in the past days, and just needs to be consistent in calling out support for democracy, which is so important. It’s the values that we share with the people and the institutions of the United States. But quite frankly, I think Australians and Americans will be very shocked to see people occupying the Capitol Building, occupying offices, including that of the Speaker, ransacking and destroying the equipment and breaking through windows. The photographs of people carrying out the Speaker’s lectern are, quite frankly, just extraordinary. And the strongest action should be taken in support of the rule of law against those who are breaking the law at the moment with this attempted insurrection in Washington DC.


JOURNALIST: Do these events give you any concern about the US as Australia’s security ally?


ALBANESE: The institutions of the United States will come through this. They have through their presidential election. They’ve elected Joe Biden as the President. They’ve elected Joe Biden in an overwhelming vote, who received over 300 electoral college votes, who received the support of more Americans than any president in history. And the fact that there is a small minority who are contesting that, they should really rethink their actions. Because when you have an election, it is the equivalent of in Australia, when the Parliament forms after an election, trying to contest the result. It’s anti-democratic. And it is regrettable that a minority of people in the Senate and the House are taking the response that they have to the election. But I note that there are senior people in the Republican Party who have very different comments. And I note Mitch McConnell’s comments were in stark contrast and upholding the democratic outcome which occurred. But for Donald Trump to be continuing to call upon Mike Pence to somehow stop the electoral college process occurring needs to be called out. It’s not usual for people to make those comments about what is a United States internal affair, but Democrats have to speak out in favour of democracy. And I’m a Democrat. And I support the United States so strongly as our most important ally. And that is critical. Because it’s not just based upon a relationship between individuals, it’s based upon a shared history and shared democratic values.


JOURNALIST: Looking at the coronavirus response, should Australia ban people from traveling back from the UK to Australia in order to stop that more contagious strain of COVID-19 from reaching the Australian community?


ALBANESE: Well, we should take medical advice and respond to that. The response shouldn’t be political. My concern has been with regard to the issue of vaccinations, that the Prime Minister has attempted to politicise that. The Prime Minister yesterday misled Australians when desperately searching for an excuse for why Australia’s at the back of the queue, not the front of the queue, as he said had occurred, stated that the UK somehow was rolling out its vaccine without batch-testing. That is simply not true. And the Prime Minister had to acknowledge that it wasn’t true yesterday. It should never have been said. We should have faith in those medical processes. And in Australia, that faith is placed in the TGA. Once the TGA approves a vaccine, it should be rolled out.


JOURNALIST: If the medical advice is to ban Australians returning from the UK, would you support that?


ALBANESE: I would accept whatever the medical advice is and those processes. These decisions shouldn’t be made by politicians, they should be made upon expert advice.


JOURNALIST: What additional measures do you think should be in place to protect the community from that UK strain. Should pre-flight COVID testing become mandatory?


ALBANESE: Well, that would be a common-sense proposal. It’s also the case that the Government could actually go back and have a look at the review, which it commissioned to itself by Jane Halton, that recommended specific quarantining, separate from hotels, that the Commonwealth should be in a position to do. The problem here is that Scott Morrison once again is following, not leading. He waits for others to make a decision, he hands over responsibility for decision making to the states and then makes selective criticisms based upon whether that state is a Liberal state or a Coalition state. That’s really not good enough. And I note that he earlier said that it was irresponsible to call for the vaccine rollout to be brought forward from late March, just a few days before it was brought forward from late March. He also said that it couldn’t happen to have the National Cabinet process meet before February 4th. And now the National Cabinet will meet tomorrow. It’s about time that Scott Morrison accepted that he has responsibility for national leadership here. And that national leadership isn’t simply to either say things that aren’t correct, or to hand over things for which he and the national Government is responsible to the states.


JOURNALIST: Should that vaccine be rolled out in February?


ALBANESE: The vaccine should be rolled out as soon as the TGA approves it. The TGA approvals are about going through a process of saying it is ready to go. That’s what the approval process for drugs in this country is. Once it’s done, then it should be rolled out as soon as possible.


JOURNALIST: Would you like to see stricter COVID controls on international airline crew?


ALBANESE: Well, quite clearly, there again, the recommendations consistent with Jane Halton’s review would see some of those issues dealt with. The Government is good at commissioning reviews, it’s not great at actually delivering outcomes from those reviews. These are serious issues and they require national coordination, just as we require better national coordination or issues such as borders. The fact is, at the moment, that’s not occurring. The states are taking their own action based upon their own advice, and I respect that. But we need better coordination, because the sort of mixed messages which are being put out there, and we saw the mixed messages which changes every day to the rules regarding attendance at the SCG test today. What we need is more consistency because consistent messages mean greater compliance, mean better health outcomes. Thanks very much.