STEPHEN JONES MP, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS: I’m Stephen Jones, Shadow Minister for Regional Communications and I’m delighted to be in Newcastle with Sharon Claydon and Gordon and Melanie Allerton and their great business.
If people want to know why we are so concerned about the mess that Malcolm Turnbull has made of the National Broadband Network, they need look no further than this photo. If you want why we say that the Fibre-To-The-Node is a second-rate, dangerous proposition for the people of Newcastle and the businesses in this region - talk to Gordon and Mel and find out about their story. About how their business has been virtually closed down for several weeks because of the mess that Malcolm Turnbull has made of the NBN. It all stems to photos like this. Fibre-To-The-Node, when you've got a degraded, copper network between the node and the houses and the businesses, means t hat you are guaranteed to have service outages and problems with telecommunications and your internet services. Now if you are a household and you are trying to help your kids do their study after school or if you are a student - it's bad enough. But if you are a business and you are relying on your customers to contact you via the internet or the telephone then every day your phone system isn't working you are losing money. This is not an academic argument, this is a mess and Malcolm Turnbull needs to own up to it.
JOURNALIST: Could you briefly outline your experiences at this business?
GORDON ALLERTON, DIRECTOR, OPPOSITE LOCK NEWCASTLE: The main reason that we've got this problem is that 50 day outages in 16 months. That was broken up into the whole of Christmas 2014, with no compensation and no answers as to what was wrong with the service although we do know that it is an NBN, Optus and Telstra rated. We had another outage in March of this year; we've just gone through from the 1st to the 20th of May with no service at all. It appears that Optus themselves their business centre in Newcastle was a lame duck, nothing was done. It wasn’t until I contacted the media and Sharon Claydon's office the day before that anything was done. It still took three weeks for it to be fixed. The photos before show that Fibre-To-The-Node does not work in older areas of Newcastle and something else needs to be arranged. We are continually concerned that we have three outages in 16 months , we need a long-term solution. We believe that this area should be Fibre-To-The-Premises.
JOURNALIST: So just to clarify, your troubles started before you actually tried to connect to the NBN?
MEL ALLERTON, DIRECTOR, OPPOSITE LOCK NEWCASTLE: We haven't tried to connect to the NBN. Our main reason was that I knew there would be issues, particularly with the cable and I was waiting for the rest of the people around me to go. The trouble is that every time someone goes on the NBN they pinch our line and that is what takes all six of our telephone lines out.
JOURNALIST: So you’ve had three periods where your telephone lines have been out because someone else has been connecting to the NBN. And those periods have ranged from?
MEL ALLERTON: Four days is the shortest up to I think it was 25 in December and January.
JOURNALIST: And when you complain, was that dealt with by your service provider or NBN Co.?
MEL ALLERTON: Well no one will take ownership that is the problem. NBN isn't under TIO's jurisdiction, so there is no way that you can make a complaint to NBN or about NBN to anyone.
JOURNALIST: So you have tried to make a complaint -
MEL ALLERTON: I have. I am still waiting, the only way I could find to make a complaint to NBN was via email. That was sent off after the March one and I’m still yet to hear back from them.
JOURNALIST: So what are these photos you are showing us here?
MEL ALLERTON: These photos are the pit that we have outside our building. It's actually just outside the Baptist church down there. In May when they were trying to rectify the problem, they had the pits open and I took the photos down there. I knew that this area has been terrible for telephony for 30 years and they put off fixing it because the NBN was coming but the NBN is coming and it's not fixed. I really believe that Mr Turnbull has been trying to fast-track to every house and business but they've forgotten about all the problems that will ensue by doing it. That's where we have been caught up.
JOURNALIST: Do you know how much this has cost your business?
MEL ALLERTON: Yeah, I'm not going to say! It's not -
JOURNALIST: Any indication?
GORDON ALLERTON: I think over the outages when you think we bought this business in September 2014 we had no phones between the 12th of December and the 6th of January. Optus refused to do anything over that Christmas period even though it was our busiest period because it was demarcation between them and Telstra. They would not go into the pit. When the Telstra came on the 6th of January, it took him two minutes to fix the problem. So if the Government thinks that they are looking after small business with telecommunications systems that we now have it is laughable. It is all spin and I think Australia's future if we are reliant on the NBN is a very sad thing to do.
GORDON ALLERTON: Look we love the business, we have very good franchise with a great company, and very good loyal customers. But in saying that over that period we had to send staff home because the workshop didn’t have enough work on, I think in total the cost over that period was between $50,000 and $100,000 over the three outages and Optus last week offered us a pittance and we got a call last night from the Ombudsman saying we want to put this to bed because you’ve been paid some money. We haven’t been paid anything. All the way through they were telling me, Optus was telling me, they were telling Sharon, they had given us a timeframe, they had given us explanations, none of that was true.
JOURNALIST: Are you holding off from connecting to the NBN?
MEL ALLERTON: Well, I don’t have a choice, as does everyone, by the 17th of August next year, I have been told that is the day that I need to sign up to the network. That raises some other concerns for us because back to base alarms won’t work without a dial tone and NBN doesn’t have a dial tone. I don’t know how people with vital calls and the like will go either. If you go on to the NBN site through all the terms and conditions and all their bits and pieces and in very fine print on about page 140 it says if you have a vital call you should let NBN know.
SHARON CLAYDON MP: It’s deeply distressing, it’s also incredibly frustrating because it’s not as though the Government wasn’t warned about this, repeatedly and you’ve just heard the story from Gordon and Mel the economic impact it’s having, and business reputation is at stake, but importantly that very human cost, for them as managers of staff and people with a strong clientele base feeling like they could not service them properly. So it’s really distressing, I was so astonished yesterday when the now Minister for Communications came to this region to suggest that business people in this region could expect a good experience and should be excited about coming of the NBN, when we know full well that what is in store is second-rate copper NBN in the first place. Inherent with all the problems that we know already.
This is one of many, many businesses that have come to me really distressed about the lack of cooperation that they’re getting. They’re being pushed from NBN to one service provider after the other. Just imagine the complete loss of the telecommunication system; these are businesses, some trying to compete in a global economy, without an internet service. Without a telephone service. I have a surgeon who lost their telephone lines when it is the twenty-four hour line for patients post-surgery to ring post-surgery to ring and get health care. I’ve had two businesses on either side of each other at different times having lost both, all telephone services and internet services at peak times. So a florist losing their telecommunications service during Valentine’s Day is the death knell for those people. Sadly the story you’re hearing today is one that is being repeated and repeated and repeated and it’s do ing great damage to small business in particular, but really for anybody who is trying to compete in a global and digital world now.
We were promised that the NBN…the Government fought us tooth and nail about delivering Fibre-To-The-Premise. We knew that was the right way but they said no they knew better they had another multi-technology mode that they could roll out that would be cheaper. Well, it’s now double the cost they said it was going to be so that was a lie. They said it was going to be rolled out quicker. Well that timeframe has now been doubled too and we’ll be waiting until 2020 for the rollout so that’s not true. So none of these reasons for giving us second rate copper network are actually substantiated. All we’re getting now the spin about why it’s too late. They’ve purchased enough copper to go to Beijing and back to replace the copper. I mean, how insane is that, this is 21st Century infrastructure, relying on 19th Century technology. That’s why Stephen and Jason Clare have been h ere multiple times to really understand the inadequacies of the current rollout.
Our region was held up to be a kind of pilot trial. Well, if Australia has anything to learn from that it is take stock because it has been diabolical for many, many both businesses and homes in this region and sadly the Government has nothing on offer as a remedy. There isn’t one. The Minister was here yesterday saying “It’s going to be a great experience, people should get excited, and this is going to be wonderful.” It is shameless for them to stand up and tell people like Gordon and Mel they’ve got nothing to worry about; this is the best they can deliver.
JOURNALIST: Does that suggest the Government isn’t listening, if that’s the kind of comments the Minister is making?
CLAYDON: The Prime Minister was the Minister responsible for rolling out this mess. It lies squarely at his feet. He doesn’t want to have a bar of it, I understand that. But he’s got to park his embarrassment and put that aside and get on with some reality and that is this is a mess, it’s a debacle and it needs fixing up. You can’t have this experience repeated all around Australia. If they are to learn something from this, they really need to swallow their pride, it is a false economic argument to pitch that their fibre-to-the-node was the best way to go anyway. I think they just need to take some skin on that and say we got it wrong. We got it really wrong and we need fibre-to-the-premise, that’s what is required in the 21st Century.
JOURNALIST: What will Labor do to remedy this situation?
STEPHEN JONES: When we announce our policies very, very soon they will be informed by the experience of Gordon and Mel and businesses like these around the country. We cannot be rolling out a second-rate system, when this is an investment you’ll make once in a hundred years. So, we’ll be making our announcements very, very soon, they’ll be informed by experiences like businesses in the Newcastle area.
JOURNALIST: How soon is very soon?
STEPHEN JONES: Very, very soon. We have said that we think Malcolm Turnbull’s roll out of a second rate system is wrong for our country, somebody is going to have to come along at some stage over the next 30 years and connect the businesses from the node to the premises. We should do it right the first time.
JOURNALIST: If you do get rid of FTTN, where will that leave people who already have that inferior connection?
STEPHEN JONES: It’s going to take a while to undo Malcolm’s mess. There are contracts that have been signed and it’s very, very difficult for the Commonwealth Government to dishonour or breach those contracts. So it’s going to be difficult to undo Malcolm’s mess but when we make our announcements very, very soon you can be guaranteed that it will be a better service for all Australians.
JOURNALIST: And those people who are already hooked up won’t be left behind, can you make a guarantee on that?
STEPHEN JONES: We’ll be making our announcements very, very soon.
SHARON CLAYDON: We’ve been very critical of the digital divide that now exists in Australia and indeed you are standing in a very classic location now, where here we are, Maitland Road in Islington, Fibre-To-The-Node, go less than two kilometres down the road you will come across the only area that was hooked up under our Government that has fibre-to-the premise around Mayfield where 2600 households in this electorate are the lucky people who have the real NBN. I’m not getting these complaints from those people, so you stand here where up the road you have the real NBN and here Mel and Gordon are being asked to just suck it up and make do with 19th century copper network.
STEPHEN JONES: So this is going to have to be remediated, even under Malcolm Turnbull, this is going to have to be remediated, it’s going to cost a lot of money to do that. That’s why we say why didn’t you do it right the first time? We’re going to have to spend millions of dollars remediating a system like this and we just say that doesn’t make sense.
JOURNALIST: What’s your response to Minister Fifield’s comments yesterday?
STEPHEN JONES: Yesterday, I understand Minister Fifield said all they’re going through is some teething problems. Minister these aren’t teething problems, they’re design problems. Anybody could have told you this would have occurred.
JOURNALIST: Just on the timing of your visit, obviously the Minister was here yesterday, is it just a coincidence that you’re up here the day after?
STEPHEN JONES: I think the Minister is very, very concerned about the response they’re getting from people here in the Hunter Valley about the lack of internet services, the paucity of internet services and mobile phone black spots in the district. The problem is they shouldn’t have left it until four weeks before Election Day. Sharon has been campaigning around this issue since she first came into Parliament in 2013. This is not my first visit up here to talk to Sharon about these things and it won’t be my last.
JOURNALIST: Minister Fifield made some comments too about the Mobile Black Spot Funding Program intimating that Labor hadn’t committed to funding those if it gets into Government. Can you clarify that issue?
STEPHEN JONES: Labor supports the action that the Government has taken around the third round of the Mobile Black Spot program. We do make the point that it’s not enough just to announce that you’re going to do something. Only 21 of the 500 towers that they funded in Round One have been switched on and we’re now hearing announcements about Round Three. Labor will again make announcements about our mobile policy very, very soon and it will be no worse than what the Government has announced.
JOURNALIST: So you support it in principle?
STEPHEN JONES: We have said that we support the Government’s Round One, Round Two and Round Three. We will look at some of the principles that they’ve used to identify particular regions and where they’ve rolled out or where they’ve funded mobile phone black spots. It looks for all the world like they’ve put them in Coalition seats as opposed to other seats. I use the seat of McEwen in Victoria as an example. They have had a serious natural disaster every second year for the last decade and yet they got just a handful of mobile black spots in Round One. This is exactly the sort of area that should be having their mobile black spots funded because of those emergency and safety reasons. The only reason they didn’t is because it’s held by Labor’s Rob Mitchell.
SHARON CLAYDON: I’ve got to say it’s pretty disingenuous of the Minister, I can only assume he missed his email, perhaps his internet connection was failing him, where Labor did commit to that additional funding for Round Three of the Mobile Black Spot Program. He would know full well from my discussions with Government over the last three years that they have continuously refused to look at the issues around the Fern Bay, Fullerton Cove, Williamtown patch and they’ve come back saying that Fern Bay isn’t eligible for assistance on the Mobile Black Spot Program because it’s too close to Newcastle but it’s just a couple of hundred metres up the road when we suddenly hit the seat of Paterson, those areas were eligible. So I did have a lot to say about the way in which this Government has nominated and made eligible what communities are getting and making the cut and not making the cut. Stephen is a bsolutely right; they’re so ridiculously skewed towards Liberal and National Party seats. We don’t have trouble with the program at all. What we do have trouble with is the conditions and the criteria that the Government uses for its selection process.
JOURNALIST: Looking at funding in general then if come July and the Liberal Government is elected; obviously the Hunter is very safe Labor with only one Liberal seat. If it stays the way it is with majority Labor members here how can you guarantee, how can you try and get commitment for funding and things here in the future if we are such a safe Labor area?
STEPHEN JONES: Malcolm Turnbull wants to be the Prime Minister of all Australia and not just the Prime Minister of Liberal and National Party seats. Newcastle as NSW’s second largest city deserves the sort of attention NSW’s second largest city should have.
SHARON CLAYDON: It would be absolutely shame on Malcolm Turnbull if he were to be a Prime Minister that thought it was ok for him to behave in such a partisan way, to treat the people of Australia in such a manner would be unspeakable and unforgivable.
STEPHEN JONES: Anyway, we don’t think it’s going to happen!
SHARON CLAYDON: Absolutely not!
STEPHEN JONES: We think Bill Shorten will be Prime Minister of Australia.
JOURNALIST: We don’t have details of Labor’s package on the NBN yet but will that follow the same timetable?
STEPHEN JONES: No, it will be better. Malcolm Turnbull promised every house in Australia would be connected by the end of 2016. We’re halfway through 2016 and that hasn’t happened. We won’t be making commitments to roll out timelines that cannot be achieved.
JOURNALIST: They’re saying 2020 do you think that is achievable?
STEPHEN JONES: I don’t think that is achievable, I don’t think the Government can achieve and the reason why I don’t think the Government can achieve what they’re proposing is this – they are going to have to go back and remediate all of that rotten copper network from the node to the premises and that’s going to delay the roll out process extraordinarily.