Subjects: Coffs Harbour NBN switch on; Asbestos; Pacific Highway
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, it is fantastic to be here in Coffs Harbour for the switch on of the NBN to more than 14,000 homes on the Coffs Coast. Here in Coffs Harbour at Sawtell and at Toormina. This is exciting technology that will make a huge difference to people’s lives. It will make a difference to people’s lives not just in terms of downloads, but importantly in uploads, in the provision of services such as aged care, the example that we have here today.
The example whereby someone in their own home can upload their basic health information, their blood pressure, their blood sugar levels, and do other essential tests and have that direct liaison with a nurse who can be located in Gold Coast or, indeed, anywhere in Australia or the world in real time.
That’s the sort of difference that it can make to people’s lives. We know that education doesn’t stop when you leave the school or university gates. Health care doesn’t stop when you leave the hospital and aged care shouldn’t mean that you have to go in to an aged care home.
These are the practical applications of the National Broadband Network. The National Broadband Network, bringing fibre to the home right around Australia, making sure that people can access this world best technology, making sure that we can compete, particularly the regions, can compete with capital cities around the world, including of course here in Australia.
And it’s particularly important for regional Australia that what we’re delivering is the same speed in Coffs Harbour that you can get in the CBD of Sydney, Melbourne, or Brisbane or, for that matter, London or New York. But importantly also, at the same price. I find it incomprehensible that anyone could oppose the delivery of these services that are being delivered here on the Coffs Coast and oppose them being delivered to all Australians, particularly those in regional Australia.
Happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Minister, the demonstration that you were watching earlier today, was that a live demonstration?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Over there, yes. The nurse was sitting in the Gold Coast hospital, so that was real time. And what you can do is develop a relationship with the service provider. In that nurse’s case, we’re talking about a single nurse being able to give real time monitoring to 150 patients. Just think about the cost and inconvenience of all those trips to the GP by the patient or by the nurse having to travel to those patients to deliver that health care.
So this is important in terms of economics, but most importantly, it’s important in terms of transforming the way that care is delivered, making a real difference to people’s lives.
QUESTION: So that wasn’t a pre-recorded video?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: No. The nurse, my understanding was there.
QUESTION: What other assurances can you give to small businesses? And there are plenty that have moved here to Coffs Harbour, who made the sea change from Sydney, on the promise of this NBN. They’ve got cable in their street, and yet they’ve been waiting eight months or more and still nobody can give the reason why they just can’t get the connection. And they’re now at a significant disadvantage to their competitors.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Well, the only difference in terms of connections, people can connect up to the home if they’re part of a strata title building or part of a shopping centre. Obviously, there are negotiations that have to take place between the NBN Co and the shopping centre, but there’s no reason why that can’t be expedited. What we will see is if you have the same access to technology here in Coffs Harbour that you have in the Sydney CBD, then all of a sudden, Coffs Harbour becomes a very good option to locate your businesses and, therefore, the Coffs Coast has enormous opportunity to take advantage of jobs growth, to take advantage of economic activity, because of the number of other advantages which are here.
There’s a lower cost of living in terms of housing in regional Australia compared with renting an office or premises in the CBDs of Sydney or Melbourne. In terms of lifestyle, people are very attracted to moving away from our heavily congested cities. The NBN should be seen as a transport mode as well. One of the things we’ve suffered from in Australia is the tyranny of distance. The vast differences between each other and our vast distance from the world as an island continent.
What the NBN does is remove that tyranny of distance, making sure that we can compete with each other whether you’re in a region or in a capital city and making sure you can be competitive with the fastest growing region of the world, which is, of course, our Asian neighbours. So this is absolutely vital technology and it will make a huge difference to regional Australia.
QUESTION: In terms of the rollout, there was some concern recently in Coffs Harbour about asbestos potentially being uncovered. Around Australia at the moment, what’s the update on the progress of asbestos removal from Telstra pits?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: We had the largest use of asbestos anywhere in the world. You have asbestos, whether it’s dealing with Telstra pits, whether it be dealing with renovations in suburban homes, whether it be what occurred recently with a refurbishment of a local oval in suburban Sydney where when they dug up the oval in order to put in proper water facilities and to improve and upgrade the oval, they found that asbestos had been dumped and just soil put on top of it decades ago.
What we need to make sure is that each and every time asbestos is dealt with, it’s dealt with carefully. It’s got to be dealt with according to best occupational health and safety practice. Telstra have accepted responsibility for these issues and they are ensuring that best practice measures are put in place. If the alternative proposal, the copper proposal, as opposed to the fibre rollout that we’re engaged in, went ahead, the same access to pits would be required and the same issues would have to be dealt with.
The fact is, when you deal with infrastructure projects, including, might it be said, some road projects and rail projects that I’ve been responsible for, the issue of asbestos comes up in Australia because of the outrageous neglect of the facts around asbestos by companies like James Hardie that went on year after year, decade after decade.
I’m very proud to be part of the Labor Party that took on the asbestos issue and put in place best practice and took action when others were pretending that this wasn’t a serious issue.
QUESTION: But Minister, where is it up to? You didn’t really answer the question about where the progress for the asbestos removal has reached.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: I have answered the question. When you do infrastructure in Australia, you will have asbestos issues. It needs to be dealt with each and every time. It’s dealt with each and every time there’s a project in which asbestos is present. It needs to be managed according to best occupational health and safety practice. This is not an issue that will be dealt with over a day or a week, this is an issue that is dealt with whenever you deal with infrastructure development, whether it be a large infrastructure project, such as the National Broadband Network, or whether it be someone fixing up a suburban house who wants to change their car garage. Asbestos will often be present and it has to be dealt with in a safe way with absolute care and so it’s not something that you tick the box on. It’s something that’s real and it’s something that needs to be dealt with.
QUESTION: …your thoughts to that.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: The Pacific Highway is an absolute priority, that’s why we have contributed $7.9 billion since we’ve been in government in 2007. That compares with $1.3 billion by our predecessors over twice as long, the 12 years in which they were in government.
You have major projects, the Kempsey Bypass just completed, Frederickton to Eungai, the construction will commence in the next couple of weeks, and, of course, you have the Woolgoolga up to Sapphire section under construction, as well as funding for pre-construction work between Woolgoolga and Ballina.
So projects right up and down the coast. Thousands of people working on the Pacific Highway. Our funding is on the table. We’re opposed to any toll on the Pacific Highway. The State Government, though, needs to put up its share of the money as they said they would prior to the election.
QUESTION: No hints on an election date?
ANTHONY ALBANESE: Uh, no.
QUESTION: Worth an ask.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.