THURSDAY, 26 JULY 2018
SUBJECT/S: By-elections, NBN, 5G
TOM CONNELL: Hello and welcome to the program. We are just two days to go until these five by-elections. Realistically now we are looking at two of them in the main – Longman and Braddon.
What will happen, I don’t think anyone knows right now. There are plenty of predictions out there. More factors than most in these; some local factors and of course, some federal ones as well. A lot of visits to both by Bill Shorten compared to Malcolm Turnbull.
Joining me for more on this is Stephen Jones, Labor frontbenchers.
Stephen Jones, thanks for your time today. I know that Bill Shorten has been keen to play Labor as the underdog but he has had by far the most visits to Braddon and Longman compared to the PM. Labor has made the most commitments in terms of money. You are trying your best here, so if you do come up short there are going to be questions asked aren’t there?
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS, REGIONAL SERVICES, TERRITORIES AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT: Well I don’t think we are going to come up short. I’ve been on the ground in both Braddon and Longman and we are running great campaigns with great candidates and great policies. But we know they are going to be tight. We have been saying that for some time.
They are going to be tight but I’m pretty confident we are going to hold on in both of them.
CONNELL: So you’re a bit more confident than your leader, Stephen Jones, who keeps saying Labor is the underdog?
JONES: Look I think we are going to win and the reason I think we are going to win is that I’ve campaigned alongside Susan Lamb; I’ve campaigned alongside Justine Keay. They are great candidates who are talking about the issues that matter.
Down in Braddon, I’ve been talking with Justine and the community about improving their telecommunications infrastructure. Sorting out the problems with the NBN. These issues are really resonating. Getting a jobs package in place.
Up in Longman – addressing the direct needs of people around healthcare systems. These are the things that people are talking about and care about on the ground. And for those reasons, Tom, I think all the fundamentals are right.
We have the right policies and the right candidates on the ground doing the right things. I think we are going to win but we know it’s going to be close.
CONNELL: Alright, well we always like a bit of positive, bold talk. We’ll note that prognostication down, Stephen Jones, and move on to the NBN in your portfolio area. A report by Standard and Poor’s is pretty damning of the project. I’m sure you and your Labor colleagues would say well, so are we as well. But one of the things they say is that if you want to fix the pricing issue, write it off. Write the project off. Stop pretending it is going to make money. Is that an option on the table for Labor?
JONES: Look what we have here in the S&P report is the first authoritative, independent report which is a damning indictment on what Malcolm Turnbull did to the NBN project. He told people he could do it faster, better and cheaper by relying on the old copper technology. Here we have Standard and Poor’s saying not only were you wrong but that is fundamentally damaging the capacity of the NBN to make money into the future, particularly when you look at competition coming from 5G.
So we have a big problem and it’s now time for the Government to come clean. They have been trying to kick this issue into the long grass for a long time now but it’s time for the Minister, for the Prime Minister to get a full independent look at what’s going on in the NBN. They cannot now deny that the decisions they have made are having no impact on the viability of the project and the business because clearly they are.
CONNELL: Well Labor has spoken a lot about how important this is for the economy. So, that question again comes to mind. Would you consider writing this off; no longer considering it off the books. You would have a hit to the Budget of maybe $15 or $20 billion or so but have suddenly, cheaper internet for the economy, for individuals, for businesses. Is that an option Labor is looking at?
JONES: Yeah, look, it is very difficult for us to make that call without all of the information. Over the last couple of weeks we have seen more and more information come out revealing problems which we didn’t know about in the NBN network. Congestion, for example, in the fixed wire network. More and more problems coming to light in the old copper-based network.
Without a thorough-going audit about what’s going on in this place, it is going to be difficult for us to make that call. We do know and what Standard and Poor’s has revealed is that there is a fundamental problem in the underlying business case as a result of the decisions made by Malcolm Turnbull when he was the Communications Minister. We call on the Government to be much more transparent and the NBN board to be much more transparent so we can make those sorts of decisions. Decisions you have rightly said might need to be contemplated but we can’t do that without all the information available to us. There is no reason now for the Government to be continuing to kick this into the long grass.
Come clean. Have an independent analysis of the NBN business case so that we can all be in a better position about what decisions need to be made.
CONNELL: So as a principle then – I understand you would want to get more information from what you are saying – but as a principle, Labor is open to that if you look at this project and it is going to be particularly bad for the economy then the Federal Government might need to take a hit. That is something you are open to?
JONES: Well as a principle we know that there is a fundamental problem with the business that has gone down a track on relying on old technology. The multi-technology mix which is now out of date even as the project is being rolled out. At a time when we have 5G technology coming in, mobile networks investing heavily in parallel systems and technology, particularly in the urban and CBD areas. This is a fundamental threat to the NBN business case and if you haven’t got a reliable system which is able to deliver the speeds that customers want and businesses want, it’s not going to be in the game. We know that there is a fundamental problem with the NBN business case. It is why, again, we are calling on the Government to come clean on these basic issues.
CONNELL: Alright, we shall see where all of that goes. You mention 5G and I’m interested in your thoughts on the auction for this bid. This bidding process that is going on at the moment. And I suppose in the interest of disclosure you were one of the MPs who took a trip to China to have a look at Huawei. One of several MPs of course who took the opportunity to have that trip with Huawei. Do you think that this company for what you saw deserves a chance to be part of the bidding process or are the security risks too real?
JONES: Look I had a look at what they were doing up in China, particularly in the Huawei business which is one of the leaders in wireless technology. There is no doubt that they have got some technology and some great expertise. But that lies quite separately to the national security considerations which we have to look at. And Labor, as the Government, will take advice from our national security agency and, Tom, you will forgive me for not going into the details of what that advice may or may not go to.
Yes, they do the technology well. There is no doubt about that; everyone in the industry acknowledges that but we have to take into consideration….
CONNELL: That’s an interesting question going forward isn’t because China, like in a lot of things, will do this well and you’d imagine they will do it cheaply and I’m assuming from what you are saying there, you cannot possibly compromise at all on national security.
JONES: It has to be a primary consideration, Tom. There is no doubt about it. And if the Government is acting responsibly on this, they will take the same issues into consideration. We will balance up the capacities of companies such as Huawei and other manufacturers by the way - it is not just them; there are lots of other manufacturers in the field as well – what they can bring to the table in terms of their capacity and expertise. But what the risks and downsides in all of them are, a responsible Government will balance all of those things up.
CONNELL: Right. Out of time. Thanks for your time today, Stephen Jones.