Interview with David Speers – Sky News PM Agenda – Thursday 3 April 2014






SUBJECT / S: National Broadband Network; GST; Australian Labor Party

DAVID SPEERS: Head West, that’s what most senior politicians have been doing this week as the campaign enters its final stages ahead of Saturday’s Senate election. Jason Clare, the Labor frontbencher, the Shadow Minister for Communications has arrived there as well to throw his weight behind the Labor campaign there in these final days. Thanks for joining us.


SPEERS: Can I start, before we get to the Western Australia campaign, with just a few portfolio questions in relation to Communications? Malcolm Turnbull, the Minister, today announced another $15 million will be spent to subsidise up to 9,000 people, mostly in rural and remote areas to access the NBN because of what he says was the train wreck left by Labor for those using interim satellite service. Did Labor leave these rural customers in the lurch?

CLARE: David as a Minister you’ve got a choice, you can either whinge and complain about things or you can step in and fix things and get things done. Malcolm Turnbull has been whinging about this for now six or seven months. I’m glad that he’s done this and he’s finally taken these steps. I think what this shows is that it’s easy to underestimate demand. When people get access to broadband they want more and more services.

SPEERS: Is that what happened because Labor’s plan left capacity for only 48,000 users, on this satellite service and there’s been a whole lot more than that.

CLARE: I think they underestimated demand and the same will be true of the NBN right across the country, that’s why you build it with fibre not with copper. You’ve got to build a network that’s going to meet the needs of Australians, not for five years but for the next century and that I think is the crucial mistake I think this government is making.

SPEERS: So let me be clear about your policy, Labor’s policy is still to connect as many homes as possible to fibre?

CLARE: You talk to most of the experts David and they’ll tell you fibre to the home is the end game. The question is do you build it in one stage or two. We’ve formed the view that you build it in one stage. It’s interesting to see yesterday that the head of NICTA, the Nation’s ICT research centre, said that’s the right solution, that’s the ‘obvious solution’ and if you are building a network for a return to on investment over the course of decades rather than a couple of years that’s what we should be doing. So our view is build it in one step, the Government has effectively said build it in two. It looks like it’s going to require a Labor Government before we get this right and finish the job.

SPEERS: If you are back in office in two and a half years you’ll get back to laying the fibre to the home beyond what the Coalition has done?

CLARE: As I said David, fibre is the end game. Ultimately for Australia to compete with other countries in our region like Japan, South Korea, that have got fibre to the home, if we’re going to compete on a level playing field, then fibre is what we are going to need. We’ll need to see how much this government has wrecked between now and the next election but if we’re going to compete with the rest of the world then Australians are going to need infrastructure to set them up, not for five years but for the next century.

SPEERS: There’d have to be some sort of review you’re signalling there to see where things are at, perhaps what demand would be for that and whether it would mean slower access or slower connections for many Australians.

CLARE: What’s clear is as people get access to infrastructure they want more and more services. Think about electricity, when every house in Australia got electricity, things like vacuum cleaners, air conditioners or television didn’t exist but as soon as the infrastructure was there then the innovation happened and people demanded more and more services. That’s what will happen with the NBN, when we wire up the whole country, new technology will become available, people will want more and more services and the risk we’ve got is that the short term approach that Tony Abbott has adopted means that we’ll be caught short and won’t be as competitive as we should be.

Tony Abbott said almost 12 months ago that the whole country would get access to the NBN by 2016 and as soon as he got elected he broke that promise. This weekend is an opportunity for the people of Western Australia, a pretty rare opportunity, to say hang on a second, you promised the NBN by 2016, that was a lie, you broke that promise. Now is an opportunity to send a message to Canberra that that’s not good enough and we are going to send a message by voting against the Liberal Party this weekend.

SPEERS: Let’s turn to some of these other issues in the mix, in the lead up to Saturday. The GST, particularly today, we know Labor is opposed to any increase or broadening of to the GST but what is Labor’s answer to the problems Martin Parkinson identified fall in productivity, fall in terms of trade, an ageing population, this is putting more pressure on the budget bottom line, what is the answer if it’s not the GST?

CLARE: Our position is very clear, we don’t think the GST is the answer. This has been our position for a very long time. What we saw over the course of the last 24 hours was the Liberal Party indicating that they think it is. Treasury Secretaries don’t make speeches like that –

SPEERS: The Treasury certainly has but Joe Hockey has said it’s not changed their position.

CLARE: What do you think David, Treasury Secretaries don’t make speeches like that unless they’ve got the permission of the Treasurer to do it. Joe Hockey has put this on the table to see how people react. I think it’s pretty clear.

SPEERS: Back to the question, if it’s not the GST, what’s the answer to these problems, these challenges that the head of Treasury who was there a long time when Labor was in Government, what’s the answer?

CLARE: Well it’s not the job of the Opposition to give the Government the answers. They’ve got a Commission of Audit report that’s sitting on Joe Hockey’s desk which he’s refusing to release until after Saturday because he’s afraid that if the people of Australia see it and more particularly if the people of Western Australia see this report they won’t vote for them on the weekend because it’s full of cuts.

SPEERS: Are you seriously saying it’s not the job of the Opposition to have policies, to have answers?

CLARE: No, no I’m not saying that David and I know you wouldn’t be putting words in my mouth. What I’m saying is –

SPEERS: No but what you’re saying is that it’s not your job to give the Government answers, I’m asking what you think might be the answer.

CLARE: It’s the job of the Opposition to build its policies in advance of the next election, it’s not the job of the Opposition to give the Government the answers. Joe Hockey’s responsibility here is to put forward a budget that builds the nation for the future. All we’ve seen in the last six months is him double the deficit and seen unemployment go up. It’s a bad start from this government and it’s going to get worse if they cut money from schools, cut money from hospitals, let alone the tax when you go to the doctor that’s being proposed by different members of the Liberal Party.

SPEERS: I’ll finally ask you about the issue of Labor Party reform, we’ve seen a number of people this week starting to build a case for the Labor Party to have a rethink about its ties to the trade union movement.

CLARE: The Labor Party was forged out of the union movement, and our job like the job of unions is to improve the lives of working people. But over the last 100 years things have changed a lot. Most people aren’t members of unions anymore and I think the party needs to change to reflect that. My view is that people who vote Labor should be able to be members of the Labor Party and the rules are structured in such a way that doesn’t allow that at the moment.

SPEERS: So you don’t have to be a union member in your view, you can just be a Labor Party member?

CLARE: The person who turns up on Election Day, and turn up hopefully at polling booths in WA this weekend, and grabs the Labor how-to-vote and says ‘that’s the one I want’ – they should be able to become members of the Labor Party whether they are union members or not. That’s my view, I think that’s part of a bigger reform. Those people, people who vote Labor, who cheer us on, who want us to win and govern the country, they should also have a chance to select Labor candidates. I’m talking about community pre-selections or primaries, the chance to decide who the Labor candidate is. I think it would make me a better Member of Parliament if I was selected not just by Labor Party members but by Labor Party voters in the hundreds and the thousands.

SPEERS: Interesting ideas to put in the mix there Jason Clare, thank you for joining us this afternoon.

CLARE: No worries, thanks David.