Jul 3, 2013

Transcript of doorstop – Farrer Place, Sydney

Subjects: New standard to help prevent ‘bill shock’ for Australians travelling overseas; NBN; local government referendum; Infrastructure Australia’s latest annual report

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Today I’m announcing, as Communications Minister, that the Government has ensured, through the ACMA that consumers will get protection when they travel overseas from getting a shock when they get home and receive the bill for their mobile phone or for their iPad or other data usage.

Too many Australians have travelled overseas and have come home to find that the bill for their telecommunications usage is more expensive than the holiday or business trip that they’ve taken.  For example, one gentleman – who, with his permission, we’ve put out the information today – Craig Bowater, who spent a day in Singapore, and copped a $9000 bill.

That is simply unacceptable, and that’s why we will impose, through the ACMA, a new rule that will apply from 27 September, but which the telcos are complying with now in terms of Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, which will ensure that proper information is given.

That will take a number of forms.  One: when someone switches on their phone overseas, they’ll be informed through SMS what the charging regime will be, and therefore given a reminder of the consequences if they use data roaming on an international level.  Secondly, they will receive information which will enable them to disconnect from international data roaming at a small fee.  Thirdly, if they do choose to use international data roaming, what will occur is that they’ll get reminders as bills go up by $100 so that they won’t receive a shock and will get a reminder on a cumulative basis of exactly how much money they’re spending on these international calls.

Of course, one of the things that I don’t think a lot of consumers know is that when they receive a call, as well as when they make a call, there’s a charge for that, let alone the very high costs that can be associated with international internet usage.  What this will do is ensure that people will make other arrangements, such as usage of Wi-Fi, which is often free of charge on an international level, once people check exactly what the facts are, depending upon their accommodation or where they’re doing business.

This is really a common sense change that is to the benefit of consumers that will really stop people getting a real shock that can ruin a holiday or ruin a business trip when they get the bill.

QUESTION:  [Indistinct] telcos [indistinct] negotiate with certain people to try and resolve these big bills.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Look, there’s no doubt this has been a red hot issue, and it’s a red hot issue because there hasn’t been the information out there to consumers, and consumers have got a shock, and we have ensured that people have the information.  Now, if people want to rack up a bill that’s sizeable, that’s okay, but they should do so in the full knowledge of what they’re doing.  The problem here has been that people have – particularly with data usage through the internet – racked up huge bills not being aware of it and finding themselves in a situation such as, you know, $9,000 in a single day in Singapore.  That is over the top.

But the price issue is difficult because, in terms of negotiations, there has to be negotiations from country to country in order to control the actual pricing regimes.  We’re doing that with New Zealand and negotiations are proceeding there.  New Zealand – and more Australians travel to and from New Zealand than any other country – they’d expect, not surprisingly, that if you’re in Wellington is no different to if you’re in Perth.  Well, there is a big difference.  We are negotiating that through from country to country, but this is about providing that protection, providing that information and the telcos are cooperating with this.

QUESTION:  Minister, there’s been recent reports suggesting the NBN Co board [indistinct].  Can you please comment on the voracity of that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Look, Mike Quigley certainly has my support as the CEO, as does the NBN board.  Board matters are a matter for the board, which of course, operates independent from government.

QUESTION:  Have they approached you about the issue?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   No.

QUESTION:   Has the NBN or will the NBN meet its connection targets for this financial year?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Look, you’ll see all of this information out there in the fullness of time.  With due respect, I’ve been the Minister for Communications for a good 48 hours now, and one of the things that will characterise this government is we will receive proper briefings, we will give considered policy responses, and frankly I’m not in a position to go into detail before all of those briefings are finalised.

What I do know is this: that Labor supports the National Broadband Network.  The National Broadband Network will transform the way our economy functions, the way that health and education services are delivered, and I also know this: that the Government contribution to the NBN is $30.4 billion.  The Opposition plan is $29.5 billion.  You get 1000 megabits from our plan for 30.4.  You get 25 from the Opposition plan for 29.4.

If you went into any of the fantastic shops and cafes that are around here and there was a deal going where you could get, over whatever period you like into the future, 25 cups of coffee for $29 or 1000 cups of coffee for $30, you would be a complete mug to buy the alternative proposal.

The NBN is nation building infrastructure.  We support it.  I look forward to working with the NBN Co and the board and my new department on all of these issues.

QUESTION:   Tony Abbott says he’s not a tech head.  Are you a tech head? How do you go when the home computer breaks?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   I do okay.  I have an advantage of having a 12-year-old son, and anyone who’s got a 12-year-old son would know that they’re pretty good at it.  So I don’t pretend to be an absolute expert on all of new technology, but certainly I, like others, are amazed at the extent of change that has occurred in terms of the information technology revolution.

And one thing I do know is when it comes to technology, you’ve got to embrace the present and pursue the future.  What you can’t do is embrace the past.  And the debate that is going on over fibre versus copper is completely absurd, completely absurd.  It is as silly as the debate that went on 100 years ago about copper versus iron wire that occurred in the Federal Parliament in 1910.

In 2013 people will look back in 20 years’ time and frankly they will be embarrassed that there was anyone in the Federal Parliament who suggested it was okay to keep the old copper wire network rather than move to fibre to the home.

QUESTION:  A lot of social networking is responsible for those outrageous data bills people are getting overseas.  Are they entitled to think it’s a bit rich that they’re in another country talking to their friends and family and being charged for their trouble?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   I think there’s a range of consumers and we all know people, I think, who have been hit with bills when they’ve been overseas that they haven’t expected.  Part of that is just communicating with friends and family.  There are ways around that, particularly through Wi-Fi.

You know, we got advice about how to make use of our mobile technology when we travel overseas, but for young people who just jump on the plane and then come home and find that their mobile phone has cost them more than the plane journey, I think they’re entitled to say, this is wrong, and what we’re about today is doing something about it.

QUESTION:  So why can’t you say to the companies, this is wrong.  Not just the disclosure, but the actual charge, it’s too much.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, you might have missed it but I have said that it’s wrong.  The Government doesn’t control all of the telecommunications sector and the telco agreements internationally.  We don’t control the government in Singapore.  We don’t control other governments internationally.  A lot of these issues are international and must be settled through country to country agreements.  The first country that we’re trying to work this through with is New Zealand.

QUESTION:  When will you actually release the information on whether or not you’ve hit your targets for the NBN?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   You’ll see that imminently.  If I foreshadow all of the announcements that are coming then you won’t be excited when the announcements come.  So hold your horses.  I’ve been two days in the job.  We’ve got a major announcement here today – a benefit to people in local communities here in Australia.  I think it’ll be very much welcomed.  With regard to the NBN and meeting the targets, that announcement of course will be imminent given that the target date was the beginning of this month.

QUESTION:  Just on another issue, the local government referendum and reports that it’s over before it even starts.  Do you think they’re premature?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, I support the local government referendum.  I support it for two reasons.  One, because our Constitution should actually reflect what the governance structures are – we do have three tiers of government here in Australia.

The second reason is, I want to ensure that there’s no doubt about Federal Government’s ability to fund local roads, to fund the Black Spots Program, to fund local community infrastructure, to fund and support child care and other services that local government provide, and this is vital, particularly in regional communities.

 I must say I looked yesterday and there you have just a few weeks after the vote in the House of Representatives which went 134 in favour and two against, and the overwhelming vote that happened in the Senate.  And I saw Christopher Pyne out there saying the referendum should be abandoned.  And Tony Abbott, when asked, who has said yes to the referendum, who has said yes to constitutional recognition, who’s spokespeople stood up at the Australian Local Government Association conference just two weeks ago and backed in the referendum.  He’s now saying, if in doubt, vote no.

Well, I think this just characterises Tony Abbott’s attitude to politics, which is that even when he says he supports something he still falls back to saying no.  This is an extraordinarily negative response by Tony Abbott.  He knows what’s at stake.  He knows and has said he supports a success in the referendum, but we know in Australia it is very tough indeed to get a referendum question supported.  Once one side of politics comes out and says no, it makes it very hard indeed.

QUESTION: So given the uncertainty about the election date, would it not make more sense to pull the referendum?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   No.  The terms of the referendum have clearly been settled.  In terms of the election date, I do find it somewhat amusing that Tony Abbott and indeed – there were one or two people in the media who were saying – gee you shouldn’t have set down the election date.  That was silly.  Why did you do that? And now every time I do a press conference, the people from the same media outlets are saying, why don’t you set an election date? Well the election date will be on a Saturday, and it will be in accordance with the Constitution.

QUESTION:  Infrastructure Australia has come out and said that they think there should be a congestion tax.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Look, Infrastructure Australia is a body that is separate from the Government.  It’s an independent board.  They come up with their own views, I’m sure they would have also said that that is an issue for state governments.

 [ENDS]