Interview with Graham Richardson and Peter Reith – Sky News – Tuesday 5 August 2014






SUBJECT/S: NBN; Conflict in Gaza; National Security.

GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Welcome back. Thanks for your company here on Richo and Jones with Peter Reith and now with Jason Clare, Shadow Minister for Communications. Welcome Jason.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Thanks very much Graham, good to be here.

RICHARDSON: Now can we start off, because today is obviously a good day to have you here – I don’t think I knew about it when I asked you to come on the show but obviously today the criticism off Labor’s role in the setting up of the NBN, if you like the chaotic nature of how it all came to being in an eleven week period and I heard Stephen Conroy today making his comments. Do Labor bear a responsibility for a botched job in introducing the NBN?

CLARE: I think the NBN, as conceived by the Labor Party is the right project. We got flogged in the last election but not many people voted for Tony Abbott because of their NBN model, their second rate model.

RICHARDSON: There was never a poll that showed that your NBN model was less popular than the then Opposition’s.

CLARE: Overwhelmingly people want the NBN, they want fibre to their home. The major criticism that I’ve made since I’ve received this portfolio is that it just rolled out too slow and it’s still rolling out too slow.

People are sick of the arguments, sick of the politics. The point Graeme Samuel made today and I think it was a pretty accurate one was that this report is in large part political payback. Malcolm Turnbull, Stephen Conroy have got a lot of personal enmity between them and they are fighting over, there’s a history war here on the NBN. I’m not interested in that. People aren’t really interested in that or the excuses, they just want the fibre to their home. We’ve got to build the thing, build the bloody thing quicker than it’s being built now.

PETER REITH: How can you say that, look Bill Scales is a pretty decent bloke, head of the Productivity Commission. He’s asked to do a report, it’s an audit and he’s completely slashed the Labor Party for their incompetence for setting up a business that could never actually achieve the outcome. You couldn’t get a more blackening of Labor’s reputation and here we have frontbenchers from the Labor Party saying let’s talk to the future and how popular it will be etc. I would have thought the Australia, surely the Australian taxpayer is entitled to be very unhappy about how this thing is being managed.

CLARE: I’d say a couple of things. First if the Government is serious about the report they will implement the recommendations in the report. The report says if you are going to do a big project then it needs to be fully costed by the Productivity Commission or Infrastructure Australia.

REITH: That’s fair enough but I’m talking about the past and what happened and how badly managed this thing has been done.

CLARE: I’ve made the point that my major criticism of the project is it’s just rolled out too slow and it’s still being rolled out too slow.

REITH: But that’s not what Bill Scales says, he doesn’t say it was too slow.

RICHARDSON: I think Bill Scales does say it was too slow. He says it was too slow because it was badly organised in the first place. For instance, the question is, why would you try in 11 weeks to do so much when most people would say it would take you 12 months. Why try to do so much in 11 weeks?

CLARE: Graham we had 12 years of nothing happening. 12 years of nothing happening under the former Liberal Government. Under the Labor Government we opted to try and roll out with the support of Telstra, they opted not to bid in the first place. Then Cabinet Committees looked at another option. Cabinet decided on another option. But it’s not just Cabinet or Cabinet Committees acting in isolation. There was an Expert Panel who examined this. McKinsey and KPMG did an Implementation Study that found that if you build the NBN as conceived by the former Government that it would deliver a return on investment.

Often people are talking about costs, it’s important to make the point here that this would deliver a return to taxpayers. This is like building a railway track and then you charge to use the railway track and would deliver money back to taxpayers but on top of that then a business plan was developed and it found that this would in fact deliver a return to investment, ticked off by Treasury, Finance and independent accountants as well. So I don’t think it’s fair to say that this was all done in a hurry because the facts don’t bear that out.

REITH: Can I put it to you, hope you don’t mind me saying this, you are one of the better people on the frontbench on the other side, on Labor’s side –

RICHARDSON: I hear a but.

REITH: No it’s not a but, but – you got me. But seriously the thing has been botched and wouldn’t it be just better for the Labor Party, senior people to say look we are not going to go back over the thing but we acknowledge that there are quite a lot of problems with the NBN and we’d also probably acknowledge that setting up a Government company to do this was probably not the best thing to do this either. If you did that you’d give yourself a clean start which quite frankly I think when you are in Opposition there are things you need to dump and that’s one of them. Rather than trying to hang onto a situation, even if the polls at one stage showed that people liked the idea of the NBN, I’ll tell you what at the end of it they are certainly not going to.

CLARE: Peter I’ve been critical where I think it’s due but I’d also make two points. First, you ask all the experts in this area and they’ll say where this all ends, the end game is fibre to people’s homes or fibre to their business. The real debate is do you do it in one stage or do you do it in two stages. We opted for one, this Government had opted for two. I suspect it’s going to take a future government to come down and finish it off.

The second point is what is the Government’s role here? I’d argue that this is a natural monopoly. It’s like electricity wires and poles, there’s no point having two companies running down the street or Government and a private sector company running down the street delivering the same infrastructure. You develop a natural monopoly and Malcolm Turnbull’s called it that, a natural monopoly, and then you allow private companies to compete on that and they’re the internet service providers that provide services to the Australian people.

Now if you adopt a private sector only model you get what has happened in the United States. Google is doing this in Kansas, in Missouri, and what they are doing is they are providing fibre to people’s homes to richer suburbs where more people are signing up and the poorer suburbs are either the last to get it or they miss out. That’s the problem when you go down a route like that. You get a Swiss cheese approach.

REITH: Well it’s not just where things are at the moment with the technology the other thing that worries me is, I was just looking for my phone actually. I was going to pull my phone out and say look at my phone and what is it. Well actually I do a lot of stuff on Wi-Fi and you’re not into Wi-Fi are you? The Government’s not into Wi-Fi and the fact is in the next 10 years or 15 years or 20 years the world is going to change again and again and again. I mean only three or five years ago we had 1G, then we had 2G, 3G now we are onto 4G.

RICHARDSON: If you follow that argument then you wouldn’t be doing what Turnbull’s doing.

REITH: I’d do it by the private sector. It would be a hell of a lot cheaper and it’s not going to cost the taxpayer.

RICHARDSON: I want to get onto the cost because obviously the cost blowouts must concern you and it’s hard for Labor to say whoops we didn’t know that was going to happen. Shouldn’t you have known it was going to happen? Shouldn’t there have been a proper costing. One thing that is really hard to defend is the costing.

CLARE: I’ll make three points here. First the taxpayer investment under the Labor model is $30.4 billion, the taxpayer investment under the Liberal model is $29.5 billion. So that’s less than a billion dollars between the two.

The second point I’d make is that government gets a return on its investment. As I said it makes money out of this project.

The third point I’d make is this, if you compare this project, $40 billion to build an NBN versus the Paid Parental Leave Scheme, $50 billion over a decade to give money to people to have children, which one Graham do you think would deliver a bigger productivity benefit or participation benefit to the economy, NBN or Paid Parental Leave? I know which one I think it will be, it would be NBN.

RICHARDSON: I don’t think anyone is going to support Paid Parental Leave, not even Peter, if he was really going to support it, he’d come out and bucket it too far but he won’t support it either.

CLARE: It’s an important point, we are putting the microscope, as we should, on the NBN, it’s a big investment but it’s going to return money to the taxpayer. But Paid Parental Leave isn’t subject to the same sort of independent analysis or cross examination.

RICHARDSON: The other thing that concerns me, it’s now been going on for five years or six years or something, we’ve been going round and round the track here for a long time, it just looks so sloppy. The beginning of this scheme, the way it was hatched and the way the delivery started it just looks so sloppy and that’s not going to be registered as a great credit for your former government. I know you weren’t responsible personally.

CLARE: I worked in the infrastructure industry for five years before I got involved in politics, before I was elected to Parliament and I worked on the M7 project the big motorway that Transurban built in Western Sydney and so I bring to this portfolio a bit of experience in infrastructure. One thing you learn there is that you get better the more you do it. I suspect in ten, twenty years’ time people will look back at this and wonder what all the fight was about because you’ll wonder what you did without the NBN. Sure there are early problems, they need to be fixed, and we need to improve the construction model. Part of the early problems I suspect had to do with the early fights with Telstra and then Telstra not being involved for a long time.

RICHARDSON: That held it up for a long time because there was the drama with Telstra forever.

REITH: No one is going to be looking back in fifteen years. They are going to be looking back at the next election and saying hang on, how many people have got this thing and how much does it cost?

CLARE: Peter that’s a good point. Can I just draw your attention to one of the commitments Tony Abbott made at the last election? He said everyone will have the NBN by the next election. He said that everyone will have 25 megabits per second available to them by the next election. The day Holden announced they were pulling out of Australia was the day Malcolm Turnbull went into the Parliament and said sorry we are not going to be able to meet that commitment.

Come election time I’ll be reminding everyone, Bill Shorten will be reminding everyone that they made a promise that they are not delivering, that you are not getting the NBN by Election Day.

RICHARDSON: We are going to have to leave it there and just contemplate when we come back the first question is going to be, was it right, was it proper to have this off budget? It strikes me when you’ve got all these billions and I think taxpayers are entitled to be able to look at the budget and say where is it and if you have a good look it’s very hard to find. We’ll be back in just a moment, that’s a promise.

Commercial break

RICHARDSON: Welcome back to Richo and Reith, I may as well just say it for the last time, it’s just so tragic. Now Jason we were talking about accounting rules is that really the reason why you don’t have this on budget.

CLARE: I think it is. I think it’s because it actually delivers a return over time so it’s an investment rather than a cost which is the reason it’s off budget.

RICHARDSON: Let’s hope, there’s some conjecture whether it delivers that or not. Now I want to turn to something completely different. I had a fairly big argument with Andrew Bolt on radio yesterday because of a column he wrote yesterday but it’s not just him there’s a number of commentators basically saying that Labor is changing its position and I note the resolution at the NSW Party Conference 10 days ago. But it’s changing its position because of Muslim votes in Western Sydney, this is obviously on Israel and Gaza. Now you’ve got an electorate with a lot of Muslim voters, I am not sure whether you are the most or the second most or whatever. How many Muslim voters in your electorate? And what’s the percentage?

CLARE: My electorate is very multicultural about fifty percent are born overseas. I’d say probably about –

RICHARDSON: By the way this is Blaxland, which is Paul Keating’s electorate.

CLARE: So I think probably about 30 per cent of my electorate would be Asian background, about 30 per cent Middle Eastern background I’d say, and about maybe 20 per cent Muslim.

RICHARDSON: 20 per cent Muslim. That’s a heavy percentage. Now can I ask you what your position is on what’s been happening in Gaza? I note there’s a pull out today.

CLARE: I think people on both sides have been let down by their leaders. In Gaza you’ve got Hamas using schools and hospitals to fire rockets at Israel. I’ve been to Sderot, a place in Israel where they’ve been under attack and they are doing it knowing that Israel is going to respond and their own people are going to be killed and they’ll acquire sympathy as a result. So that’s atrocious behaviour.

On the other side of the coin you’ve got Israel that is acting disproportionately. You look at the front page of the Economist this week and they are saying that Israel are winning the battle but losing the war.

RICHARDSON: They are certainly losing the propaganda war.

CLARE: Well you can’t have a democracy that has a military strategy that involves killing thousands of innocent people and lots of kids and that’s what’s happening at the moment. They’ve lost the support of the UN and the US has been critical as well.

I’m not an optimist here, they’ve been fighting over this land since the days of Richard the Lionheart. Ever since Israel was created they’ve literally been fighting on and off.

RICHARDSON: I don’t have any great idea how to fix it either. The two-state solution has to be at the very heart of the solution.

CLARE: It does but you’ve made the point I think recently that the majority of the Israeli Cabinet doesn’t want a two-state solution. When I was in Israel a couple of years ago I scoured for information on this and unfortunately found that a lot of people preferred the status quo.

This shouldn’t be beyond people, if you can do it at Northern Ireland you could do it here. It just seems like it’s all too hard. You’ve got a place like Jerusalem, which is the epicentre of Christendom and Judaism, it has the third holiest mosque in all the world so you can understand why all the monotheistic faiths are all converging on this space but surely it’s in the interest of all the world, including Australia to try and resolve this between two states behind two secure borders and we should use our time remaining on the National Security Council to try and push for a restart of the peace process.

REITH: Are we seeing a bit of a shift do you think in the policy position of Labor on this because you’ve got quite differing views, perhaps not publicly obvious but some of the Victorian members have perhaps a slightly nuanced position compared to others in New South Wales. Are we looking at a possible shift do you think?

CLARE: I said National Security Council, I should have said Security Council before sorry.

RICHARDSON: We knew what you meant.

CLARE: The policy has been the same for a very long time, which is, we want a two-state solution that’s a bipartisan position. I think when Bob Carr was Foreign Minister he pushed hard to make it clearer that settlements, all settlements, are illegal under international law and that we thought it was the right thing for the Palestinian Authority to be given observer status at the UN.

I personally believe that’s the right thing to do. You’ve got to push harder if you are going to get the two parties to come together. Otherwise you are going to have the extremists on both sides of this, whether it’s Hamas or the people who don’t want a two-state solution in Israel continuing to run policy in that part of the world, which is not what the people of those two countries want.

RICHARDSON: I made the point on Friday that there were 24,000 settlers in 1983, there are over 300,000 just on 400,000 now.

CLARE: With the expectation there will be 500,000 to 600,000 over the next decade.

REITH: It is a very hard situation. I don’t know what the answer is and I’m not sure we are going to see the answer in our lifetime the way things are going but Hamas, there’s no two ways about it they might get a truce now but they’ll be digging again.

RICHARDSON: The Rockets will still go on, whether it’s in six months or a year.

REITH: I don’t know what people expect from the Israeli’s when they’ve got rockets coming at them.

RICHARDSON: I think he hit the nail on the head, it’s the proportionality of the response. I take the view it’s got nothing to do with any Muslims voting in your seat, when I wrote my column on Friday it was because I’d seen babies wrapped in white shawls being buried and that’s to me incredibly upsetting and there’s nearly four hundred children killed and I can’t just sit back and say too bad, it’s tough luck. It’s more than tough luck. We’ve got to find a way to stop that happening.

CLARE: Let me just, and we are not going to solve it here tonight, but let me end by giving a bit more perspective on my electorate. This is an important issue but it’s not the number one issue that comes through my door or that people ring about every day. It’s what you’d expect, it’s the domestic issues, jobs and education and health and at the last election the big issue amongst the Muslim community as well as the Lebanese Christian community was aged care.

The community is getting older they want aged care where the nurse or the doctor speaks Arabic, where they can get the food that they want because when we get older, if you come to Australia from another country you lose your English very quickly and you want aged care just like the Italian community, the Greek community, the Chinese and this was a massive issue and it was an issue that dominated a lot of attention in the community in the lead up to the election.

RICHARDSON: Could I just ask you about the Muslim community in your electorate then, last question on the issue, do you think there are a great many people there who believe in Jihad and all the rest of it. That we see these extremists and all the rest of it who go out Hezbollah, who have the demonstrations, I don’t think they are the average person, are they?

CLARE: No, no, no. It’s the one percenters, it’s the minority and the real problems exist not in the congregations at the mosques but it’s the people that congregate around the small prayer rooms where you are more likely to get extremist views. I am one of those people who worry about what’s happening with people leaving Australia to go overseas. We saw after Afghanistan and the Mujahedeen that that created the rise of Al Qaeda and then JI in Indonesia. I worry about Australia’s going overseas but I also worry very much about Indonesians going over to Syria and Iraq and being radicalised and what that might mean for Australia and the safety of Australians in the decades to come.

REITH: Can we just keep that going though because we’ve had the Government announce its legislative changes and I mean, do you have a first reaction to those proposals?

RICHARDSON: These are the proposals to keep information for a couple of years isn’t it?

CLARE: There’s a couple.

REITH: I was going to go on the other stuff about it’s a criminal offence to go to some part of Syria or wherever.

RICHARDSON: Oh that part.

CLARE: There’s a whole bunch and most of them seem pretty sensible on their face. Mark Dreyfus and Bill Shorten today said we’ll look at the detail of the legislation. I come at this first as a former Home Affairs Minister who wants to make sure that our national security agencies have got the powers and resources they need to keep our people safe. We need to do this in a very mature, bipartisan way but we need to look at the detail of the legislation.

RICHARDSON: Do you support the reversal of the onus of proof though? If I go to Iraq how do I prove I am not a terrorist? How do I prove I wasn’t fighting?

REITH: Don’t go to Iraq mate.

RICHARDSON: There are a lot of Iraq’s here who have got relatives in Baghdad or Basra and they want to go back and see them. How do you say to them, you can’t go? This is a really difficult problem. I’ve never supported the reverse of the onus of proof because you can’t prove you are innocent.

REITH: The Labor Party has introduced a whole lot of reversal of onus.

RICHARDSON: I know and I don’t support any of it.

REITH: And I’ve written saying I don’t agree with it but I’d have to say though, this is a particular situation and I do like the measured response attitude I’d have to say. I think basically the Government’s doing, they’ve got a set of proposals, I think basically in principal they should be supported but I think it’s also important that we have a proper discussion about it.

CLARE: I think that’s right.

REITH: You don’t want a system where we are so concerned about whatever these fellas might get up to that we start changing Australian law in a way which we would not otherwise would.

RICHARDSON: But we don’t want people coming back here holding severed heads in photographs.

REITH: We need to tread carefully with a basic proposition which is we are going to do absolutely everything to keep these loonies out.

CLARE: Tony Abbott made a good point today, he said on these issues the two major parties work constructively together. They’ve offered a briefing to the Opposition, we’ll sit down with the officials to get more information on the legislation over the course of the next few days and weeks and we’ve also said there needs to be proper public consultation because it’s only through that process that you find out where the problems are like you’ve potentially identified.

RICHARDSON: Okay we are going to have to leave it there. Jason thank you very much. I know we spent a lot of time talking about things that weren’t in your portfolio but these are huge issues and I think they concern every single Australian so I’m delighted we had the opportunity. Thanks very much, I hope we get the opportunity to do it again.