Aug 9, 2013

Transcript of press conference, Townsville

Subjects: NBN switch on in Townsville; Peter Beattie; NBN; CopperString Project. 

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   It has been great to be here today for the switch on of the National Broadband Network here in Townsville to another 12,400 homes and businesses. The take-up rate here in Townsville is one of the highest in the country. After six months, 50 per cent of people who have the possibility of connecting to the NBN have chosen to do so. That compares internationally very highly indeed.

Australians understand that new technology is about the future, and Australians embrace the future. The National Broadband Network is already making a difference in the delivery of health and education services right here in Queensland. For this business here, National Qualifications Australia, it is already making a difference to their business. What that means is it will encourage businesses to locate here in Townsville and make those businesses that are already here more competitive in terms of across Australia, but importantly more competitive across the globe.

We live in the fastest growing region of the world, the Asia-Pacific region, and here in Northern Australia there is unprecedented opportunities as a result of the boom that we see in China, in India, in Indonesia, in our region. We need to ensure, when it comes to the National Broadband Network, that we do it once, we do it right and we do it with fibre. High-speed fibre to the home and to the business means that people will have the same access under our plan for the same price as people in the CBD of Brisbane or Sydney.

If the National Broadband Network is dismantled, which is what the Coalition want to do, it will mean that half of Townsville gets the rollout stopped, so you will have winners and losers, rather than everyone having access. If people want to access high-speed fibre, they will have to pay $5000 for the privilege, and that’s the difference between the two parties. We believe that access to high-speed broadband is essential. They believe that it’s just a privilege. We believe that people in regions should pay the same price as people in Brisbane CBD or Sydney CBD. Under the Coalition plan, there will be different prices, one for the CBD and a higher price in regional Australia. They just don’t get it. We can’t go back to saying that we will continue to use last century’s outdated, unreliable copper network, rather than embracing the needs of today and the future which is all about high-speed fibre.

This is about new infrastructure, but our Government has also delivered on traditional infrastructure. Here in Townsville, I’ve been at many sod-turns and indeed openings, including the Port Access Road and the Douglas arterial duplication. The Townsville ring road is under construction. The Vantassels section of the Bruce Highway will commence construction in coming months. We’ve invested in Townsville’s traditional infrastructure almost half a billion dollars since 2007.

People will remember back to what happened the last time that the Conservatives had control of the Treasury benches in Canberra. What happened was that they spent over 12 years $1.3 billion on the Bruce Highway. We’ve quadrupled funding for the Bruce Highway and here your local member Ewan Jones has been good enough to acknowledge that the Federal Labor Government has been far better for the Bruce Highway and for infrastructure in Townsville than was the former Howard Government.

But in order to become a majority Labor Government, we want to make sure that Cathy O’Toole joins Kevin Rudd’s Labor team as the Member for Herbert. That’s why today I think you saw an example of people watching the NBN, watching the local member came along to watch, which is fair enough, but what we need is people who are prepared to participate, and I invited him to participate and he chose not to. We actually need representatives who are not prepared to stand on the sideline and watch as the future goes past them, because Townsville has opportunities for the future. We need to embrace it. That is the Labor vision. That is the Labor vision, the smart state vision for Queensland, that’s particularly good for our regions. I might see if Cathy wants to say something.

CATHY O’TOOLE:  Thank you, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister Anthony Albanese. It is absolutely fantastic to have the Deputy Prime Minister here today to launch the next 12,000 connections to the NBN. Can I say to you that the NBN is one of the clear things that people in this community are talking to me about. People are really excited about the prospects that this will bring to our community, particularly for small business, particularly for job growth. Jobs are one of the things that people talk to me about on a daily basis. This NBN and the opportunities that it bring will offer substantial jobs growth in this area. But not only that, we’re now going to see extraordinary opportunities for education and for health, two of the other major areas that people speak to me about as I walk around the streets of Townsville talking to people on a daily basis.

So thank you very much, Deputy Prime Minister, for coming to Townsville for this really exciting event today where we switch on another 12,000 homes. Thank you very much.

QUESTION:  Cathy, do you think Ewan Jones sits on the sidelines?

CATHY O’TOOLE:  I do. This is primarily why I stood up and put my hand up for the candidacy for the Labor Party for the seat of Herbert. I’ve lived here all of my life. I have never in my life seen so many local members, four of them in fact, sit so silently while our town has been devastated by 800 job losses, 226 of those frontline job losses from our Townsville Hospital. This is a tertiary hospital. We deliver in Northern Australia. This is not good enough. This is also a teaching hospital, let me tell you, so the ramifications for those job losses in our health sector are huge for our community

QUESTION:  Do you think Peter Beattie’s introduction to the mix gives you a boost as a fellow Labor person trying to win a Queensland seat?

CATHY O’TOOLE:  Look, I think Peter Beattie’s introduction to the mix is a fabulous announcement for Queensland. He has been an extraordinarily popular Premier. He has done huge work for our state over the years. I welcome his nomination as a candidate and his endorsement and I think he will certainly bring to the table his strengths and capacities and abilities, but of course we want to have that so we can re-elect as a country the Rudd Government.

QUESTION:  A lot can happen in three years. Are you worried that the broadband will be outdated by the time it’s rolled out in Townsville?

CATHY O’TOOLE:  Look, yes, if the Opposition were to get in, that’s exactly what I perceive will happen. As the CEO of an organisation where it was my role to establish technology and infrastructure server to take us into the future, the very thing that I talked to the experts about at that time was I want something that time was I want something that will take us into the future. I do not want a bandaid solution for the next 12 months, so when I was negotiating to set that up, that’s what I asked for and that’s what I asked for and that’s what I got. If I were in that position now, where the business that I ran was located, it is connected to the NBN and I certainly would have been moving forward very quickly.

QUESTION:  When was the last time you spoke with Kevin Rudd about the needs of Townsville?

CATHY O’TOOLE:  Two weeks ago when the Prime Minister was here. I was able and very fortunate to be able to spend time with him walking our beautiful Strand, albeit it was a dull day, and we had the opportunity for at least an hour to discussion one of the issues important to the people of this community and we did.

QUESTION:  Do you feel that a 50 per cent take-up, I mean, is that disappointing figure to you? That’s only half the population. Do you feel that that might be waste of funds? 

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, can I answer that? The National Broadband Network take-up rates are the highest of any broadband rollout in the world. We take up technology. That’s what Australians do. Whether it’s mobile phones, whether it’s smart phones, we take it up. That’s what Australians do. We’re not frightened of the future, and what we should be frightened of, though is stepping back to the past, and copper is a debate that happened last century. In – there is a great reference I’ve made in Parliament to a debate in the House of the Representatives in 1910 where there is a debate over copper versus steel wire in terms of communications and there were people saying that steel is OK, we’ve been using it for 30 years, we don’t need this new copper thing. It was a debate that was – copper was on the right side of in 1913. It’s not the right side to be on in 2013, and in terms of the future, data can go through fibre at the speed of light. I would ask people – log onto a site how fast is broadband. Log on, how fast is the NBN? Log on and you’ll see the difference that’s there.

Importantly, it’s not really just about downloads. Downloads are important, but the real transformations occur with uploads, because that is what provides the opportunity to change the way that education and health services and indeed for businesses like smart manufacturing, it’s absolutely essential, that upload capacity, which under the NBN is 400 megabits per second. Under the Opposition plan, they don’t even talk about uploads in their plan.

QUESTION:  Deputy Prime Minister, the…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   I’m happy to take any questions, except for one thing, by the way. No questions about last Saturday’s football game, as a South Sydney loyalist, it was – the Cowboys did very well.

QUESTION:  Ewan Jones last week he noted the problems that have – there have been with this NBN, and the asbestos issues and contractors pulling out. He described it as a cataclysmic event looming on Townsville. Does he have a point?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, no, he doesn’t have a point. What he has is a consistently negative attitude, and I think people are sick and tired of the old politics of negativity, of coming along to a launch, standing at the back, standing at the sidelines, and not participating, not engaging, not being positive about the future. Australians are better than that. They don’t want – if the Cowboys had someone as an 18th man on their bench, who never ever got to run onto the field, even when the props – and they are very good props, Matt Scott and Tamou, got tired, the 18th man isn’t a player. Ewan Jones is to the seat of Herbert what the 18th man is to the North Queensland Cowboys. A bit interesting, you know they’re there, but they don’t actually get to play a role. What we need is someone who will play a role, can run onto the field and make a difference. Cathy O’Toole will do that.

QUESTION:  Do you think Peter Beattie has what it takes to win over Forde?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   I think Peter Beattie is an outstanding candidate. He is a great communicator, he is an experienced parliamentarian and at a press conference yesterday when I was asked that, I asked the journalist said, name the current Member for Forde. No one could. I don’t know if anyone here can. No one can. That says something about the impact that the Member for Forde has had. He is there, he sits there, he sits wherever Tony Abbott sits, which is usually in the no column because what we’ve had from the Opposition is relentless negativity under Tony Abbott’s leadership.

I will say this for Malcolm Turnbull or for Brendan Nelson or for John Howard, at least they were prepared from time to time, not always, to engage and be positive. All that we have from Tony Abbott and his whole team is negativity and, and the fact that Peter Beattie is running against someone who none of you even, though it’s been in the newspapers for the last 24 hours, can name who he is, says a lot about his contribution.

QUESTION:  [Indistinct] remain positive about the situation when the country is millions of dollars in debt and spending money on broadband while Cathy has said herself we’ve had hundreds of job losses from Townsville?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   That’s nonsense. What we have is the NBN is an investment. I went through it before. It is an investment that will produce a return, a return to the Government, a return of 7% to the Government was what was found in terms of the investment, and that’s not just the Government or the NBN Co, the company saying it, that’s through audited by one of the big four accountancy firms in Australia who have ticked off on all the work that NBN Co has done.

What we have in Australia is almost a million jobs have been created. We have relatively low unemployment which remained steady yesterday, we have low inflation, we have low interest rates and we have a triple-A credit rating. What the Opposition have is a situation whereby they have to make at least $70 billion of cuts to infrastructure, to health, to education, and in order to do that, we know that they are considering increasing the GST and putting it on food and other essential services. That’s the Opposition plan.

QUESTION:  Deputy Prime Minister, you make references to the health services and the NBN and the advantage it is would have. I’ve tried to get a Skype consultation with a medical professional and they said you can’t get the Medicare rebate unless you’re in the room with that person. Is that something you’d consider looking at?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   We will look at all of those issues. Certainly in terms of – as the NBN comes on, what will happen is there will be adjustments to the digital world that we live in. That requires adjustments from government, from businesses, from the community. If you think about the way that society has been transformed, during the campaign of three years ago I wasn’t on Twitter.

Twitter was not an element, social media wasn’t an element in the campaign. Have a look at the way that that technology is transforming the campaign and the way that it’s conducted today. Have a look at the breadth of digital platforms that are there, in this campaign. It has moved very quickly and it will continue to provide tremendous opportunities that are only limited by our imagination.

QUESTION:  I think Peter Beattie would’ve been trending yesterday – any more former Queensland pollies that you’ve got lined up?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   I think we now have all the candidates in the field, and Peter Beattie, of course, was a fantastic inclusion to Kevin Rudd’s Labor team. I like Peter a lot. I’ve known him for a very long time. One of the things about Peter is that he’s so frank and honest in the way that he communicates.

The fact that he was prepared to put up his hand, I think, should be welcomed by all Australians, regardless of what way they vote. Whether they’re Labor, Coalition, LNP, Green, we should welcome the fact that someone with his experience is prepared to put up his hand and say he wants to serve the nation. And, of course, he particularly wants to serve Queenslanders.

QUESTION:  Can I just get your thoughts on Malcolm Turnbull’s comments about him thinking that his policy would be of a greater threat to Murdoch’s interests? What’s your response to that?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Look, Malcolm – I think people had a look at what is being said in terms of the coverage that those publications are having. I think that says a lot about where those particular media organisations stand. They’re allowed to. We live in a situation whereby we have a free media. That’s a good thing. But people should have a look at the media and think for themselves, rather than be told what to do. That is what Australians will do.

With regard to Malcolm Turnbull’s fraud-band plan, as it was labelled by one of his own Coalition senators, what it is is an inadequate service. It is, in terms of doing it once, doing it right – Malcolm has acknowledged and said: don’t worry about the fact that this is already outdated because we can do it again and spend more money down the track to retrofit fibre later on. It really is a plan that is not up to scratch. And I’ll – – –

QUESTION:  Sorry, just got one from my colleague, who’ll kill me if I don’t do it, so…

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Yes, okay. One more – you’ll have the last one. I say this. If you went in – Malcolm Turnbull’s plan is this. Investment of $29.5 billion gets you 25 megabits per second. Our plan, investment – $30.4 billion gets you 1000 megabits per second.

If you went into one of the local cafés here on the Strand or in the city, and they offered you a deal that you could take up whenever you like – they said to you, if you give us $29, we’ll let you have 25 cups of coffee. But if you give us $30, we’ll give you 1000 cups of coffee. What sort of mug would take the $29 deal?

This is just farcical, because the $29 deal – you know that you’d have to upgrade pretty quickly. So 40 times faster is what we are offering for the equivalent difference in government investment of 30.4 billion compared to 29.5. And you’ve got the last question.

QUESTION:  Thank you very much. Ian Macfarlane yesterday said the Liberal Government won’t back the CopperString project to Mount Isa unless a good case is put up for it in the feasibility study expected later this year. Is that disappointing to see, about committing to northern Australia’s energy needs?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   Well, the CopperString project I’ve examined over a long period of time. It’s been a strong case put, particularly by the Member for Kennedy, to give credit where credit’s due. Bob Katter has been out there arguing pretty strong for this project. And I addressed a conference in Mount Isa, along with the 10 local government areas who are involved in the MITEZ, the Mount Isa to Townsville economic zone.

What this project is, in terms of energy, a long provision, is a good project in terms of jobs, a good project in terms of renewable energy, and I think it has great promise. The problem that the Coalition have got is that they’ve already made $70 billion worth of promises. They won’t say where any of the money is going to come from.

So they’re boxed into a corner of having to make cuts to infrastructure, cuts to education and cuts to health. I was asked a question before about the NBN. You’ll notice, in the last election campaign, the Coalition said that the NBN Co being off-budget, because it’s an investment that will produce a return, was not real and it should be on-budget. When they announced their policy, they’ve now agreed with us. They’ve basically said they were talking nonsense three years ago.

So this is a critical issue. That’s where the Opposition find themselves. If they are elected, they won’t be in a position to support infrastructure. Indeed, they’ll do

what they did last time. They’ll do what the Newman Government has done. They’ll say we’re having this commission of audit, which is really a commission of cuts, and what we’ll say is cuts to infrastructure, cuts to education and cuts to health.

Thanks very much.