SUBJECTS: AFP raids, Turnbull’s NBN Crisis, High Court decision

JOURNALIST: Stephen Jones has kindly agreed to speak to us from Labor. He is their Shadow Minister for Regional Communications. Good afternoon.


JOURNALIST: Now Stephen, I have caught you on the hop. Let me explain to people – the Registered Organisations Commission, which was set up by this Government to regulate organisations like unions; they were asked to examine this donation from Bill Shorten’s union to GetUp! They have been asked by both Eric Abetz and Michaelia Cash. This AFP raid looks connected to that. What do you make of the police involvement in it?

JONES: I think it is extraordinary. It comes at the end of the $46 million Royal Commission by former High Court Judge, Dyson Heydon, which came up with diddly-squat. The other extraordinary thing is that today - at the very same time as this was occurring – we saw the head of the Australian Federal Police giving evidence to the Senate Estimates committee saying that the 117 job cuts that they have had, at the Australian Federal Police over the last 12 months, was impacting on their ability to chase down drug importers. And yet, they have the resources to do a raid, do a storm of the AWU headquarters over an incident that occurred ten years ago. I can only say, where are the priorities.

JOURNALIST: Are you saying that the AFP have got their priorities wrong?

JONES: Well I’m saying that the Government has got their priorities wrong because it is the Government that has requested that the AFP conduct these raids. That is quite clear. The Government has requested that the AFP conduct these raids. The AFP have complied but, at the same time as they have complied with that request, they are complaining that job cuts are impacting on their ability to conduct other operations. It really is a curious set of priorities that the Government has got.

JOURNALIST: Still if the AWU, when Bill Shorten was there, gave money to any group and broke their own rules. And we now have an organisation enforcing those rules; breaking the law is breaking the law. It should be investigated, shouldn’t it?

JONES: Look, I’d be startled if this goes anywhere. Let the investigation go on, I simply make the point that at the end of a $46 million Royal Commission – that came up with diddly-squat – you’ve got another raid being conducted on an union about incidents that occurred ten years ago. At the same time, the Federal Police are saying: we don’t have the resources to do our day job. I’ve got to say, I think most Australians would be scratching their heads and saying if you have a choice about chasing down the authorisation of a particular payment that occurred ten years ago to the organisation of GetUp! or chasing after drug importers and other criminals, then I know where my priorities would be.

JOURNALIST: You are saying that the AFP are following political priorities and not investigatory priorities.

JONES: Well it’s quite clear that a request has come from the Minister’s office to chase this issue down. I would be absolutely certain in saying that this issue, this raid, would not have occurred had the Minister’s office not said: we want you to go after Bill Shorten and his former union.

JOURNALIST: Ok. Quite sure that the raid would not have happened if a request had not come from the Minister. That is the verdict from the Shadow Minister, Stephen Jones. We did invite him to speak to us about the NBN.

JONES: Let’s get into that.

JOURNALIST: Shadow Minister for Regional Communications, Stephen Jones, let me play you a little bit of what the Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield, who’s key responsibility is oversight of the NBN, said. Here is what he told us yesterday.

SENATOR MITCH FIFIELD, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND THE ARTS [file]: Well the good news Raf is that our approach to the NBN will cost about $30 billion less than Labor’s approach. It will be finished a good six to eight years sooner than what would have been the case under their approach, as well.

JOURNALIST: Is the Communications Minister right, Stephen Jones? Cheaper, quicker under the Coalition?

JONES: The Coalition promised faster, cheaper, better and they are failing on all three of those claims. The big issue coming out of the last week has been the fact that the TIO has found the complaints about the NBN have gone through the roof. A 160 per cent increase. Poor technology, poorly installed, lack of market oversight and no cop on the beat which is helping customers find their way through the NBN ping-pong – these are the issues that we need to grasp. And for the Minister to say: nothing to see here and everything is going very, very well. Frankly, it beggars belief; and is at odds with the customers’ experience.

JOURNALIST: Just back to that promise though. The Coalition says they can do it better and cheaper but that they had to reset. They blame you for delivering them a mess. And they did have an impartial review of the NBN after the election and those people said there was significant problems. So, you didn’t leave them a perfect design; simply to be implemented.

JONES: Raf, it’s like the unlicensed builder that comes to your house and says don’t worry about going to that licensed builder. I can build your house or renovate your house cheaper, faster, quicker; the only problem is then the builder takes off and isn’t insured and the house falls down behind you. That is exactly the experience that people are having.

There is always going to be issues with Australia’s largest infrastructure project. There is always going to be issues. But some of the problems the customers are encountering are the ones that were entirely predictable. They could have been avoided with the right sort of decisions. The NBN CEO, himself, has conceded that a lot of the problems they are encountering would not have been encountered if we were using more fibre in the system instead of relying on the old copper network and the problems they have had with the installation of that.

JOURNALIST: Stephen Jones, as a way to understand what Labor would do differently; would you spend more on the NBN? You are not impressed with the technology being used. Would you replace it or spend more than being currently spent?

JONES: There’s a few things that need to be done here. Stop the roll out of the copper and use much more fibre; roll fibre into the front yard - fibre-to-the-Curb it is called. It is a proven technology that is available now. It might cost… the cost difference will actually be negligible. We are talking about $50 to $100 maximum per premises.

JOURNALIST: Stephen Jones, I’m not clear whether that is something that would be possible. Let’s assume that the election is a year and half from now. Would there be a drastic change to what is to roll out if you were to win that election? Could you actually implement that idea?

JONES: Yes, you can. Let’s be straight up. Yes, you can.

You can say anything that is not contracted, that is not being rolled out now, you can stop that and roll it out with fibre to the front yard. That is something that can be done. We are calling on the Government to make that decision now, so that we are not compounding the mistakes that are already being made. That is something that can and should happen.

JOURNALIST: Will it cost much more though? Why should we believe you when you say it won’t cost much more?

JONES: We believe that it will actually cost less because you get less technical problems, it costs less to maintain over the long term and you aren’t going to have to come back in 2020 to 2025 and upgrade the system. Let me explain.

JOURNALIST: Let’s not argue about the future because 20 years from now is pretty difficult to content with.

JONES: Well it’s not even 20 years’ time. It’s not even 20 years’ time. And it is important that you let me explain why that is the case. 

Over the last two years, Australia’s consumption of data has doubled. We now download 1 million terabytes of data a month. That’s as much as we were downloading two years ago – it’s about 500 hours of high definition video just for your listeners to get a concept around that. It is doubling every two years.

Our network at the moment cannot digest what we are currently downloading. So, from two years from now when the NBN is supposed to be complete; we are going to have a system which is not fit for current purposes, let alone what Australia is going to be demanding in two years’ time.  This is not my data, this is the ABS data on internet usage and we can see that over the last five years, every two years our data consumption is doubling.

If we aren’t building a network which is going to contemplate what we are going to need in five years’ time, let alone 30 years’ time, then we are throwing good money after bad.

JOURNALIST: The Prime Minister says that most people don’t want speeds above 25. Most people don’t want fantastically fast NBN. That they are not signing up for that product.

JONES: We know that this is actually not true. We know that a lot of the reason behind people taking a mid-level product is that they have no confidence in the fact that the NBN is going to be able to deliver those high speed products. And the evidence is backing that fear. The phone companies and the NBN are unable to, or unwilling to, deliver the speeds that people actually need.

Let me go back to the point that people are downloading twice as much data, this year, as they were two years ago and that trend is going to increase.

JOURNALIST: One more piece of breaking news to canvass with you Stephen Jones; we learn today that the High Court will deliver its decision at 2.15pm on Friday afternoon. If Barnaby Joyce is knocked out and has to go to a by-election, does Labor try and pass a no-confidence motion?

JONES: Well, I think if Barnaby Joyce is knocked out then there will be a by-election. You have also got a range of Cabinet Ministers who are going to be knocked out of their roles as well. These are Senators. You have got a Government in a very precarious position. I’m not going to pre-empt what the High Court is going to do on Friday.

What I will say is this. The Prime Minister should have stood these Ministers down. The Prime Minister and the Government are in an incredibly precarious position and they are making long term decisions…

JOURNALIST: Would Labor try and embarrass them with a vote on the floor of the House when the numbers are far more perilous?

JONES: Frankly, I think the Government is doing a good enough job of embarrassing itself. We will continue to challenge the legislation on the floor of the House and the Government on the floor of the House when we think it is in the public interest to do so. Let’s just see what the High Court does on Friday.

JOURNALIST: We will keep our eyes on it. Thanks for joining us.

JONES: Great. Good to be with you.