SUBJECTS: NBN Rollout in Regional Australia
JOURNALIST: There’s been much talk about the NBN. This is one of Australia’s biggest infrastructure projects in history and we know there was a difference in policy at the last election about whether it should be fibre-to-the-home or fibre-to-the-node and how much this is going to cost. Well it’s in the tens of billions of dollars and we have seen reports, anecdotally at least, of problems up and down the east coast and right across Australia.
Joining me now is the Shadow Minister for Regional Services, Stephen Jones, from Sydney. Stephen Jones, I know that you have been conducting mobile offices and, at risk of giving you a free kick; how bad are the reports about the NBN?
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL SERVICES, TERRITORIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Well Laura, whenever you mention the NBN it’s like throwing a cracker into a henhouse. People just go off. They’ve all got a bad story to tell and frankly, it is difficult to find a lot people who are happy about their transition to the NBN, the speeds they are getting or what they are paying.
In fact, most people I’m talking to are saying how did we spend $50 billion on an infrastructure project only to have our internet speeds and service go backwards.
JOURNALIST: Labor’s policy was to have fibre to the home, that would have cost tens of billions more. Are you still maintaining that is the best plan?
JONES: We do maintain that if we had have done it right, with fibre, the first time then a hell of a lot of the problems we are experiencing now would not have occurred. We can’t rewind the clock. We don’t need to rehash a lot of those old debates. What we can say is that the Government has a mess on its hands.
Consumer complaints are through the roof. A 53 per cent increase in complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. You’ve got business chambers around the country saying this is costing our members money and time. From Mackay to Rockhampton and down to Victoria, I’ve been conducting meetings with business and households and they are all telling the same story.
The Government needs to get off its hands and do something about the real-life problems that consumers and businesses are facing because of their mess.
JOURNALIST: What do you propose the Government does here? This is in the hands of the NBN which is at-arms-length from government. This is a massive infrastructure project, do you accept that there was always going to be some teething problems?
JONES: Absolutely. This is the largest infrastructure project that this country will engage on this century. There was always going to be some teething problems but there is also some very avoidable mistakes being made.
Dodgy work being done at the initial connection process, that was avoidable and predictable. If you have so many layers of subcontracting and not enough training and expertise going in at the front end. Avoidable, predictable and something that they have got to get back on track.
Using the right technology in the right place. Avoidable, predictable and they have got to get that back on track.
But what do you do when you have got a mess, when you have a business or a consumer with a dispute, and they can’t get it resolved. You need to have a dispute resolution process that doesn’t involve barristers at 30 paces or a local MP putting out a press release and creating a media storm for a customer to get some attention.
We put together 23 hard-hitting recommendations in a report which was published last Friday. It’s disappointing that the Government hasn’t immediately picked them up. It’s not just a Labor report – it’s not very often that you get the Greens, One Nation, independents and Labor all on the one page. And I might say, a couple of National MPs, all on the one page saying we’ve got big problems and here are some of the solutions. For god’s sake, do something about it.
JOURNALIST: Stephen Jones, thanks so much for your time. That is certainly an issue that is going to come up in the upcoming Queensland election and the upcoming Federal one too.
JONES: Good to be with you.