SUBJECTS: JSC Report on the NBN

JOURNALIST: How would you describe what the Committee’s report is calling for to reform the NBN?

STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL SERVICES, TERRITORIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Well we’ve spent 12 months travelling the length and breath of the country and the story, the evidence, that we have been getting from businesses and households is that the rollout is not going well. There are problems with the initial installation, problems with unreliability in the network and massive problems about how you get your problems fixed.

We have 23 hard-hitting recommendations about how to get this project back on track. From the initial installation, the technology being used, how to resolve customer complaints and how to get more teeth into the ombudsman process so that when something does go wrong, you know you’ve got a tough cop there who is going to help sort those problems out. 

JOURNALIST: Inaudible 

JONES: The TIO was an organisation set up in the last century for the problems of the last century. We’ve got a new environment with a separation between the NBN and the retailers. We have everyone being converted to the NBN. We have a massive rollout going on. One of the most basic problems, is that the TIO doesn’t even have the power to compel the NBN to turn up and resolve disputes when the NBN, is itself, at fault. Now that’s got to be a no-brainer about fixing that issue.

Then beefing up the resources and beefing up the capacity of the TIO to be a really strong consumer advocate. A really strong cop on the beat who can resolve those problems when they happen and that includes dragging the NBN to the table. 

JOURNALIST: How have the Coalition members of the committee responded to that element?

JONES: Look, very disappointed that the Government members haven’t adopted all of the 23 recommendations. They all knit together but they are part of an important whole. It’s very disappointing that the Government members haven’t picked up these recommendations.

Can I also make some key points.

We have recommended that the NBN go away and look at the cost and practicality of using FTTC as the technology for the remainder of the rollout. We haven’t made that recommendation lightly. We believe that the majority of the problems people are experiencing are in the copper part of the network and we don’t want to repeat more of the problems of the past.

Secondly, there is a huge gap in terms of consumer rights. We’ve got the old customer service guarantee and the Universal Service Obligation which was set up for the copper-based phone system. We need a new set of rights which provide absolute guarantees and remedies for end-users in the NBN environment. I’m surprised the Government hasn’t moved on this already. 

JOURNALIST: Now in terms of installation, you note that a lot of the issues… inaudible… do you have concerns, or does the report highlight concerns, about the quality of the installations and the subcontractors being used?

JONES: There have been lots of examples presented to the Committee about dodgy installations. Also, some important evidence about the very nature of the chain of contracting – you’ve got contractors subcontracting to subcontractors then subcontracting to other subcontractors. There could be three or four or five links in the chain between the NBN and the person who is doing the work. We think this is part of the problem.

In the old days, a Telstra technician or a Telecom technician would have had years of training. They appear to be pushing people through in a few weeks, or a month at the most, to do some quite complex work.

JOURNALIST: How do you resolve the current problems? 

JONES: We obviously need to look at all the workforce problems. We looked at what they are doing in New Zealand, where they have a much more active handover between the company that is rolling out the NBN and the retailers, the phone companies.

And in fact, their equivalent of the NBN does not leave the premises unless they can guarantee that a service is connected and working. If that recommendation alone was picked up then we would solve a lot of problems with the current NBN “ping pong” where the NBN says that this service is working fine, they leave; and a retailer turns up a couple of weeks later and they say well I’m sorry, but I can’t connect you because we’ve got no signal here.

JOURNALIST: One last question, responding to what the Coalition has told me so far. They feel, fundamentally, that Labor is just trying to criticise the use of mixed-technology. Isn’t it fair to say that if we kept up with Labor’s FTTP model then the costs would be far greater than what they are and people would be having no NBN, at all; as opposed to this infrastructure network that they are getting and enjoying?

JONES: A lot of the evidence to the Committee was saying what’s the point of spending $50 billion if the service we are getting is not as good as the network that they are replacing. A lot of people are saying that.

We believe that if you do the right installation with the right technology, you’ll save money over the long run.

I do want to make this point, we don’t want to get ourselves caught in the game that the Government seems to be playing – picking sides between the NBN and the phone companies.

We want the system to work. We want industry to work together to ensure that we get a decent NBN rolled out for the best price which is going to deliver an affordable, reliable service to end users. Hasn’t that got to be the main game?

JOURNALIST: Great, that’s it.

JONES: Thanks.