Regional Ministerial Task Force





SUBJECTS:  Regional Ministerial Taskforce, Regional Communications 

FIONA WYLLIE: The taskforce is going to look at ways to improve the lives of rural, regional and remote Australians, and the Labor spokesperson for Regional Australia, Stephen Jones, doesn’t believe enough is being done to support those of us who live outside the city limits. He joins me now, good afternoon.


STEPHEN JONES: Good afternoon, good to be with you, Fiona.


WYLLIE: Surely it’s a good thing to have Ministers across a range of portfolios actually paying direct attention to regional issues?


JONES: Absolutely, that’s what the whole of Government should do, we don’t need a special task force. Look, I’m not critical in the broad sense, but the Government’s been in power for close to four and a half years now, they could be governing every day in the interests of regional Australia, and that’s what they should have been doing from day one.


WYLLIE: So what would Labor do to ensure regional Australia was considered when policy decisions were made?


JONES: There’s a couple of things I’d particularly like to focus on. One is communications, because when I get out around the regions, and I live in a regional area South of Wollongong – people are talking about their internet services; their phone services; and the need for affordable, reliable broadband; and they aren’t getting it. They feel like they have been delegated to a second-rate NBN service, and they’re complaining about how they don’t get the same mobile phone service that people in the cities take for granted. We need Government intervention in all of these areas, and we need to ensure we are spending money, and that we’re spending it properly.


WYLLIE: Well, over the weekend, NBN Co flagged an expansion in the number of engineers and architects overseeing the Sky Muster satellites. We’ve heard of course from our listeners and seen stories around these services, that they have improved since they’ve had access to the NBN and Sky Muster, but how can you ensure we successfully connect everyone in this vast land to the modern world?


JONES: A couple of things – The thing is, Sky Muster is the platform that’s a last resort, we should be ensuring nobody is on the Sky Muster system that we cannot otherwise connect either by wireless or by fibre-optic cable right through to their premises, because that’s going to be the platform that delivers them the best service. Not only now, but well into the future, and the more of Australia that we get onto those two platforms, the less people who are choking up the satellite service, we can ensure those people who are on Sky Muster are getting the best service available through that satellite, and it’s not over provisioned for people that don’t need to be on it.


WYLLIE: What sort of feedback are you getting, and obviously you’re not going to give the Government a leg up in what you tell us, but, you know, are people being very frustrated by their services currently in areas you’ve been visiting?


JONES: Massive frustration, and you don’t have to take my word for it, you only need to look at the big increase you’ve seen in complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. The top 10 postcodes for NBN complaints were from regional Australia. A quarter of all your complaints to the IO in the last report came from regional Australia – a 6 per cent increase. So we know that there are increasing frustrations about cost, about reliability, about fault, about service delivery from both the wholesalers and the retailers, and they’re saying, “Enough is enough. We can’t run our businesses, we can’t run our schools, we can’t run our household, unless we get we’re getting these services sorted.”


WYLLIE: Well it seems to me that with the introduction of digital, firstly with phones, people were very upset that they didn’t get as good reception like they did with the CDMA, and with our televisions going from analogue to digital, you know, if the clouds go in, the show goes out, and at least with the old storms it might get a bit ghostly, but you can still hear the audio – you could follow the story – now it just –


JONES: It sounds like I’m talking to my mum! She says the same thing to me whenever we’re talking about -


WYLLIE: Where are we improving? That’s what I’m asking. I know it is fabulous now, the whole world’s out there for us to get if we can connect…


JONES: Look, there’s no doubt that the range of connection options today is better than it was 40 years ago. But what we’re saying is, as technology gets better, and as services get better across the board, that we shouldn’t be leaving regional and rural Australia out of the picture. So in terms of broadband services, they’re absolutely critical, because even Government services now are almost by default online. You can’t even get the same access over the phone, and you used to be able to pay your bills and get some information. Whether it’s a Government service, a bank or anyone else online, if you haven’t got the same quality of services out in the bush, you’re falling further and further behind the eight ball.


WYLLIE: What would you do differently?


JONES: I’d be ensuring that we rolled the NBN out through proper fibre-optic cable and that we weren’t relying on old degraded copper –


WYLLIE: Yeah – but even if you got in, they’re not going to turn that around now. They’re not going to spend all that extra money?


JONES: No, but we could ensure that from today that we are rolling fibre-optic cable out from all of those new homes and premises. And do you know why I say that Fiona? Because we know the NBN themselves have the technology. We know that they’ve made the decision to roll fibre to the front door to around 700,000 customers in mainly inner city premises throughout the country, in Brisbane and Sydney and Melbourne. If they’ve made that decision, and if they’ve said  they can do it on an affordable basis on just about the same price as using fibre to the node, why can’t they do it in rural and regional Australia? And the answer is they can, and they should.


WYLLIE: Stephen Jones there, Labor’s Spokesperson for Regional Affairs, joining us here on ABC Radio NSW.