Coalition’s failed NBN and New England by-election





SUBJECTS:   Coalition’s failed NBN and New England by-election

DAVID EWINGS, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR NEW ENGLAND: We’re in Tamworth today continuing our campaign in the New England by-election and it’s a real pleasure to have Stephen Jones - the Shadow Minister for Regional Communications. Our focus today is the NBN and hasn’t it been an absolute schmozzle . We’ve got fibre in Armidale and, yet, in Tamworth we’ve got something entirely different.   It’s a total joke. It looks like the man who allegedly invented the internet has broken the internet.

Regional communities need to be better connected to the wider world and that’s part of closing the gap between the city and county. It’s not all about watching Netflix.  The NBN is crucial for communications with health services and with businesses that are ever increasingly needing to transmit files of larger size to potential customers everywhere.

Regional areas deserve a proper, first world communications system but what we’ve got under this Coalition government is something entirely different.

Now the Government promised that the NBN would be fully rolled out by 2016 and they’ve failed on that count. You may also recall that Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull said that their version of the NBN would be half the price and they’ve failed on those counts as well. So it’s a real problem in the country and a real pleasure on the other hand to have Stephen Jones put his shoulder to the wheel for the Labor campaign in New England. 

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL SERVICES, TERRITORIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT: It’s a real pleasure to be here in Tamworth with Labor’s Candidate, David Ewings. Nowhere defines the digital divide within the area of New England more than Tamworth when you contrast it to the situation in Armidale. In Armidale - first class broadband rolled out under Labor, fibre to every premises in the town . Here in Tamworth, we are in the middle of rolling out last century’s technology which isn’t even fit for the needs of today’s businesses and today’s households.

Over the last month we’ve had the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman release its latest report. 160 per cent increase in the number of consumer complaints about Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce’s NBN. This is the NBN that Barnaby Joyce championed. This is the NBN that Barnaby Joyce is trying to force upon the voters of Tamwroth. It’s not fit for the present, let alone the future.

Our data consumption is doubling every two years. The network that Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce are rolling out at the moment is not fit for our existing demands yet we’re expected to have this well into the future. Well it’s not good enough.  The voters of Tamworth have the opportunity in this by election to send a very clear message to Malcolm Turnbull that the NBN that you’re foisting upon our community is not good enough and we demand better. 

JOURNALIST: What would you like to see done, I guess. How can we reverse this or fix it?

JONES: It’s going to be very difficult to unscramble Malcolm Turnbull and Barnaby Joyce’s egg. But there are at least three things we can do. 

We can say stop the rollout of the copper technology and revert to fibre. We know that it’s the only future proof solution. We can also, through the government, be saying we’ve got to stop the dodgy contracting that’s going on which means people have got bodgy work being done in their homes and businesses that is leaving people without  reliable phone and internet services for weeks and weeks on end.

The NSW Business Chamber is reporting minimum average losses of around $9000 per business over the last 12 months. This is going to send businesses out the door backwards. It’s not good enough. So, better technology, knock off the dodgy contracting.

We’ve also got to go harder on the phone companies who’ve been caught red handed selling products that they cannot or will not deliver. Telstra has put its hand up to pay back 42,000 of its customers. Optus, Vodafone and TPG, in fact all of the 70 Retail Service Providers need to be leant on to do exactly the same thing. The government has been asleep at the wheel. Barnaby Joyce and Malcolm Turnbull have been so busy covering up their old mistakes they are not focusing on the needs of local households.

Finally we need a tough cop on the beat. The TIO is not fit for purpose. We need a tough cop on the beat which is willing to go into bat for business and consumers when things go wrong, take their side on it and whether it’s the phone company or the NBN we don’t care, we’re not playing the NBN ping pong, we want the phones fixed and the internet working so businesses and households can get on with doing what they need to do.    

JOURNALIST: You’ve got a forum tonight, what are you expecting from that?

JONES: I’m expecting a lot of interest from the people of Tamworth. Around the country when I’ve been holding forums in regional Australia, the stories are the same. Businesses and households saying they we cannot do our basics, our kids can’t do their  homework, our businesses are losing thousands of dollars because our services are unreliable. We want the NBN that we were promised. We shouldn’t be spending $50 billion on a new network only to have the service worse than the one it replaced.   

JOURNALIST: David, what are you hearing on the ground particularly in places like Armidale where they’ve got fibre to the premise and other places like Tamworth or other places across the region that don’t?

EWINGS: As Stephen said, there’s a real contrast there. You really don’t hear too much complaint from Armidale although there are still parts that, under this Coalition Government, that still haven’t been connected and I believe the Acacia Park business district is one example. You might recall from last year, we were in Glen Innes talking to the Lane family who own a lapidary business. That was quite an amazing little enterprise they had going there but they wanted to expand and with most of their customers coming from overseas and really struggling to communicate in a general nature with their customers.  So, it’s not only about Tamworth but Tamworth is the biggest regional centre in our electorate so there has to be some focus here and some accountability for the government in doing such a bad job of rolling this out. Which as Stephen’s said is a technology that isn’t even keeping up with today’s standards, let alone the future. 

JONES: Can I say something else about this.  You’ve got Barnaby running around the country saying we’ve got to decentralise jobs out of Sydney into places like Tamworth and Armidale, but the first agency that he’s managed to get a few jobs on, they had to do their work out of McDonalds because the NBN, and the network and internet wasn’t fit for purpose. How are we going to get businesses, how are we going to get jobs into this region if the broadband isn’t up to the job? 

JOURNALIST:   How’s the campaign been so far David, have you been getting much support?

EWINGS:   Yeah, we’ve been working very, very hard.  I would be confident in saying that we are probably running the hardest campaign out of all the candidates.

We are working every day, 12 hours a day, travelling around the electorate, doing our press conferences, talking with our Shadows, taking them out into the community, talking with the businesses and community groups and the residents to find out exactly what their concerns are and to find out what they think can be done better – and they’re telling us that a lot of things can be done better.  So we’re getting a real head of steam, I’m feeling very positive about it, we’ve had a lot of support from our volunteers and we’re having a lot of those community groups and local councillors,  for example, getting on board and wanting have meetings.We will continue to do that over the next two weeks.  So we are working extremely hard but it’s a real privilege and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

JOURNALIST: You’ve had a couple of Shadows coming up this week… and will we expect Bill Shorten next week?

EWINGS:  Bill is always welcome in New England but other developments have come up as well in the last few weeks that you’d be aware of and Bill’s always welcome in New England. We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.  Hopefully we can get a visit.

JOURNALIST:  The Chamber cancelled its debate after Mr Joyce pulled out – what are your thoughts on that?

EWINGS: I’m really disappointed about that. It was a great opportunity for other candidates, obviously myself included to put forward the Labor message. And to debate those ideas and I think it’s typical of Barnaby Joyce that he backs away  from those debates.

He’s backed away from the debates in the past with our Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon, and he’s just not interested.

It just backs up what I’ve said right from the word go -  that Barnaby Joyce takes this electorate for granted.  I mean you’re not even going to show up for a business council forum or any other forum for that matter and I’m also disappointed that the Business Council would cancel it - I’ve got to say. 

Is this just about Barnaby Joyce?  There are another 16 candidates here that have got valid ideas that they want to put to the community – things they want to thrash out.

Is this forum merely so that the business community can hear what Barnaby Joyce has got to say – perhaps they don’t want to hear Labor’s views and my views about slashing penalty rates being harmful for the communities and local businesses.  Maybe they’re not interested in hearing about $65 billion worth of tax cuts going to big businesses that pay hardly any tax at all, further hurting our broader community  So I’m absolutely devastated that they would cancel this forum and it only goes to show how hard it is, for someone like me, representing the Labor party, to get out here and get the message out and put out those more positive ideas.  How hard up here it is to get across when those kinds of organisations won’t give you a fair hearing. 

JONES:  I’ve got to say down south we were shocked when we heard Barnaby Joyce had pulled the pin on the debate.   Who’s ever seen Barnaby Joyce short of a word to say? 

And yet he’s running from a fair dinkum debate with the local candidates that he reckons he’s better than.  Like come on be fair dinkum Barnaby.  Stump up, sit down and have a debate with these people and prove that your ideas are better than the ideas that David is putting forward for a better broadband, better ideas for regional development and better ideas for the workers of Tamworth and the New England district.