Apr 10, 2013

Transcript of doorstop – Senate Courtyard, Canberra

Subjects:  Impact of Coalition’s broadband policy on regional Australia; Federal Election; Tony Abbott’s anti-public transport policy

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Thanks for joining us at this media conference. I’m pleased to see that everyone can get in here, unlike the media conference that was held by Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott to launch what they’re calling their National Broadband Network policy.

Of course it’s not national. It’s not high speed broadband. And there’s no network. This is a policy disaster for regional Australia. The great benefit of the National Broadband Network is that it is a 21st century technology which overcomes the tyranny of distance from which regional Australians have particularly had to overcome.

The National Broadband Network ensures that whether you live in Mackay or in Marrickville, you’ll have access to the same high speed broadband through fibre to the home. It’s technology that provides for an initial hundred megabits but can be upgraded, unlike this policy that for most cases won’t result in any higher speeds being delivered.

This policy announcement today also gets rid of the consistent wholesale price. What that price ensures is that whether you live in a regional town or whether you live in a capital city, you have access to the same services at the same fundamental price. That’s a foundation of our policy and one of the reasons why regional Australia has supported this policy so strongly.

It’s not surprising that the Coalition are backing away from their previous condemnation of the very concept of the NBN but it is the case also that today, year after year after year of complaining and condemning Labor’s plan of an equity injection, of an investment into the NBN that will provide a return to the government, that today they have abandoned that policy and are now saying that indeed this will be off-budget.

What that does is tear to shreds the additional spending that at past election campaigns the Coalition said would come from savings from investment in the NBN. Indeed there’s a comparable government equity contribution that they’re suggesting of more than $20 billion, similar to the equity injection which is occurring under Labor’s NBN plan.

What’s more, this would deliver a second rate plan by 2019, just two years earlier than Labor’s plan  to roll out high speed national broadband around the country.

This is a failure of a policy and I can understand why Malcolm Turnbull in Wentworth thinks it’s okay because if you live in an inner city CBD seat or you live in my electorate, you do have better access than you do in regional Australia.

But what does Barnaby Joyce and the National Party and other regional members say about this dividing policy? A divide between those people who live in the capital city CBDs and those people who live in regional Australia. If you live in regional Australia you’ll not only get slower broadband, but you’ll get hit in the hip pocket in order to pay for it.

It’s no wonder that they wanted to avoid scrutiny. It’s no wonder that the Coalition have avoided up to now release of policies. Because whether it’s this second rate policy or whether it be the policy announcement last week of no funding for urban public transport and an abandonment of the principles behind Infrastructure Australia, it’s very clear that when it comes to the detail that Australians will be able to examine between now and September, the Coalition are found wanting.

Happy to take some questions.

QUESTION:  Your plan though costs $37.4 billion but it’s subject to delays at the moment. It means it won’t hit the targets for 30 June. Can you be sure that in the next term of government if Labor holds power that the cost of the NBN won’t exceed $37.4 billion?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Stephen Conroy has outlined in great detail the reasons for the negotiations that had to occur in terms of the structural separation of Telstra and other reasons why the original timeframe was varied. We’re very confident this will be delivered. We’re confident about all of the projections which are being made and we’re confident that our policy has strong support, particularly in regional Australia.

This will make an enormous difference to people’s lives and people do understand that it’s not just about downloading, it’s about the difference it can make in terms of  education, to health, to transform the way that Australia functions. The great difficulty in a nation such as ours has been a relatively sparse population spread across a very vast land.

The National Broadband Network is the transport mode of the 21st century. It will make an enormous difference particularly to regional Australia and that is why it has such strong support. I noticed today the Coalition talking about our NBN in a way I think that’s as hollow as the Sonny Bill Williams hologram. Tony Abbott had to ask was it computer generated or was it an apparition that seemed to appear just before him before he and Malcolm Turnbull gave what was a pretty farcical press conference at Fox Studios earlier today.

QUESTION:  Mr Albanese, the Greens have inferred that should the Coalition win the next election they wouldn’t let this through the Senate. Should you find yourself in opposition after the next election [indistinct]…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re going to win the next election.

QUESTION:  [Indistinct]

ANTHONY ALBANESE: We’re going to win the next election. Thank you.

QUESTION:  Mr Albanese, can I ask you just quickly on Holden. Should the Government have got more of a guarantee out of Holden [indistinct]…

ANTHONY ALBANESE: [Interrupts] That’s a matter for the Minister.

QUESTION:  [Inaudible question]

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Have a look at what’s occurred in the past. Have a look at where the polls were at this stage in 2001, or 1998. I sat in this building; I sat in opposition in 1998 in the lead up to that election, when the polls showed us ahead 58 to 42, 59 to 41. In the lead up to 2001 we even had one poll that was even a bit better than that – it had a six in front of the Labor number. I came back after the election and I sat in the same seat because what happens during an election campaign is people focus. People focus on what the real differences are.

And today we’ve seen one of the real differences. The Government’s plan is for high-speed broadband delivered to all Australians regardless of where you happen to live,  regardless of your income.  Being able to have access to that broadband – that’s been difficult to achieve. The structural separation of Telstra was talked about for a very long time. We got it done through this plan. The Coalition have no idea about how they deal with some of the issues with regard to Telstra and managing their way through a dismantling, effectively, of the NBN plan, which is what they want to do, except for: “oh trust us, you know, we’ve got some mates in Telstra we’ll talk to.” I mean really, that’s not good enough.

We have a very clear plan, the Opposition now have their plan out there as well. Their plan is slower, their plan would discriminate against people in regional Australia, they’d get rid of consistent wholesale pricing. It is a plan that is a horse and buggy plan, rather than a fast car plan for the twenty-first century.

Along with those issues is how we deal with urban congestion and having funding for public transport. In the lead up to the next election you’ll see in Colin Barnett in Western Australia having to think about where he stands with regard to public transport. You’ll see  issues in Queensland, the discussions that we’ve had with Premier Newman, and people who rely upon a program such as the Moreton Bay Regional Rail Link. We’ll have the Regional Rail Link in Victoria, which will reach another milestone next week, that will provide benefits for people in Geelong, Bendigo, Ballarat. They’re the sort of issues, as we lead up to the election, that people will have to determine when they mark their ballot paper.  On carbon pricing, the scare campaign that has resulted in nothing is now seen for what it is. Do the business community really want carbon pricing to be dismantled as Tony Abbott has suggested he would do? They’re the issues. They’re the issues that people will debate in the lead up to the next election.

QUESTION: Just on NBN, one of the claims that Malcolm Turnbull made today is that: sure you could get 100 meg, but it’s not necessarily four times better than 20 meg ’cause there’s so much you can do.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: No that’s five times. I’m a numbers guy.

QUESTION:  Do you accept any part of that- it’s the application that counts, not you know, this absolute speed number.

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  The speed is related to what you can do. That’s the point. The speed is related to the sort of delivery. You know they’ve tried to trivialise this as it’s about downloading movies. Frankly if you download a movie and it takes a bit longer, well that might be annoying but you know – big deal. What it relates to though, is in terms of real time delivery and we’re already seeing it. We’re already seeing it in practice, the difference it can make in health and education. And if you look at international experience, the Australian NBN plan is seen as world’s best practice.

The reliance upon copper  is last century’s technology. And the plan today would rely upon last century’s technology. If we are going to compete in the Asian Century, what we have to do is compete on the basis of high skills, best technology, making productivity a winner at every possible opportunity. And this is a productivity issue, it’s about our economy, it’s about how it functions, it’s also about service delivery. Surely it’s extraordinary if we say: well we know there’s a better technology, we know it can be done better, but for almost the same amount of equity injection we’re going to have  a second rate service, and we’re going to charge people more for it.

It’s an absurd plan. It is no wonder that they’ve tried to hide it. There’s been a lot of rhetoric; just compare this plan with what they said at the last election campaign, and what they’ve said at various points in between.

QUESTION:  Regional Australia and the NBN. The Coalition have indicated today they’re likely to keep the satellite contract that you’ve signed, and have also promised to try and increase competition amongst mobile carriers and fixed wireless carriers in rural and regional Australia. Doesn’t that have some merit?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  They’re getting rid of the commitment to wholesale pricing. They’re getting rid of the commitment that says: whether you live in Mackay or in Marrickville, you’ll pay the same price. They’re getting rid of it. It’s pretty clear.

QUESTION:  But on wholesale pricing- on wholesale pricing, your model, it’s cheap right now but in order for it to stay off the budget you forecast that each user has to pay more than $60 – it’s about triple what the wholesale prices are now – by 2021. So, if look at it- if you map it out, you need to get a lot more money from each user for yours to stay off budget.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What they’re talking about is hitting people up if they want to actually get connected to their home in terms of an extension. They’re talking about getting rid of that fundamental, universal pricing. And it’s just like if you want to send a letter from Mackay to Canberra, to Parliament House, you pay the same price as if you want to send a letter from Barton to Parliament House. That’s a good thing, it’s important in a country as vast as ours that that principle be maintained. Thanks very much.