Interview with David Lipson – Sky News AM Agenda – Wednesday 26 February 2014





SUBJECT/S: NBN; Qantas; Manus Island; Drought assistance; ABC cuts.

DAVID LIPSON: You’re watching AM Agenda, I’m David Lipson and joining me here in the Canberra studio is the Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare. Thanks for your time.


LIPSON: Out of Senate Estimates hearings yesterday we have heard that $7 billion has been ploughed into the NBN, the National Broadband Network, and just 3 percent of the rollout completed. Why is that?

CLARE: Well the NBN is a very important project and I’ve said repeatedly that the key challenge here is we’ve got to speed up the construction of it. It’s too slow and we’ve got to fix it. Under the Labor Government, our policy was fibre to the premises for 93 per cent of Australians. The Liberal Party has got a different approach. They want to give fibre to the premises to a small amount of Australians and different models to other Australians. They also promised before the election that everyone would get access to the NBN by the end of 2016, so by the next election everyone would get 25 megabits per second. Last year, in December, they broke that promise and that’s no longer going to happen. The key challenge here I think is we’ve got to speed up the rollout of the NBN. We’ve got to fix that and build it, not break it which is what this Government’s doing.

LIPSON: Well the Government’s saying they are going to speed it up. Do you take any responsibility as the former government for the fact that only 3 per cent of it has been completed? Most of that was during your term.

CLARE: It’s too slow and it’s got to be built more quickly. I worked in the construction industry for five years before I went into Parliament and one of the things I learnt there is the more you do it, the more you build, the quicker you get at it, the better you get at it, the more efficient and productive you are. I think they are getting better at rolling out the NBN but it’s still too low, it’s still too slow and they need to speed that up.

LIPSON: Not a single end user customer of the gigabit per second service. That was something that Julia Gillard and others in Labor talked up a lot at the time, this gigabit service. Was that overcooked?

CLARE: Well David, there weren’t a lot of cars on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1930’s either but there are a lot now. I was in the United States over Christmas and went to Kansas and had a look at what Google is doing. They’re rolling out a fibre service to all of Kansas City and they’re providing everybody with one product which is a gigabit service. Now Google’s not a charity, they’re a big multi-billion dollar business and they’re providing this service because they think there is going to be a future demand for it. What the NBN needs to be about is building for the future, setting us up for the future, not just for the next 5 years.

LIPSON: Ok, turning to the drought and assistance that will be fleshed out, details later on this morning. Labor has welcomed the debt guarantee element of this but as a representative of a city electorate, what do you tell your voters as to why farmers should get this money and sometimes assistance for manufacturing and others, it doesn’t come through?

CLARE: The issue here is inconsistency. The people in my electorate in Western Sydney care just as much about the people in the bush as the people in the bush. They know that farmers are doing it really tough and they need emergency assistance. You bet they do and I am glad the Government is going to announce it today. I think what they are going to announce is ostensibly what we have been calling for the last month so the sooner we get that out the door and help our farmers the better. The problem is the Government is not helping workers in my electorate who are suffering because they are turning their back on them.

LIPSON: So the debt and the –

CLARE: Low interest loans and interest free loans –

LIPSON: That’s fully supported by Labor. Does it go far enough? Because Bob Katter for one, on Sky last night, says that $280 million isn’t enough, it’s not going to get there?

CLARE: Well, I think you said David a little bit earlier that it builds on top of what we’ve already done. It’s necessary, we support that. We’ve been calling for it for a month. It’s taken a while for the Government to act but now that they’re announcing it we are going to back it.

LIPSON: We just heard Jamie Briggs suggesting that Labor should get out of the way when it comes to helping Qantas. Two areas he’s pointing to. One, getting rid of the carbon tax which would lower the bills for Qantas, the second one being the Qantas sales act which Qantas itself is calling for and loudly. Why is Labor blocking this in the Senate?

CLARE: There are two different positions between the parties. The Liberal Party want to amend the Qantas Sale Act to allow it to be majority foreign owned. We don’t agree with that. We think that Qantas should be majority owned by Australians and there are two real reasons for that. Eight out of ten of the major airlines in the world are owned or have an interest of a foreign government in them. If you change the Qantas Sale Act so that it could be majority foreign owned, Qantas would be owned by another country so we don’t think that’s the right thing.

LIPSON: Why not, just first of all, is it purely just the aesthetics of it? That we would rather own it in Australia, what are the actual reasons?

CLARE: Well let me answer that, but also the other reason why we don’t need to make that change to the Qantas Sales Act is that there is currently a threshold of 50 per cent foreign ownership, it’s only at 39 per cent so there’s no issue there. There are other parts of the Qantas Sale Act that set caps at 25 per cent and 35 per cent for individuals and corporations. Happy to look at that but we don’t think that 50 per cent is a threshold that has been breached yet or needs to be breached.

LIPSON: Yeah but it probably hasn’t been breached because they are not able to breach it. If –

CLARE: It’s at 38 or 39 per cent –

LIPSON: Sure, but you wouldn’t necessarily go all the way up to 49 if you were thinking about investing when you can’t go beyond that. There’s no point if you can’t get control of the company.

CLARE: Not necessarily. Once you get a stake of a reasonable size you get a position on the board so don’t get distracted by that. The other thing the Prime Minister has said is he wants a level playing field for Qantas. Now there are provisions in that Act that determine maintenance being done in Australia and regional services so if the words being used “a level playing field” are really code for sending maintenance jobs overseas or reducing regional flights to different parts of Australia then job cuts and service cuts to regional Australia are other things that we would not support.

LIPSON: But are job cuts better than the whole company going caput?

CLARE: We want Qantas to thrive and grow into the future, you bet we do. It’s are an important Australian company and there are different ways to support it but we don’t think the way to support it is to sell it to another country or to see massive job cuts by making changes to the Qantas Sale Act.

LIPSON: Just finally, we heard evidence given yesterday by the ABC in relation to its services and in light of suggestions that its funding may be cut after a review. Now the guarantee couldn’t be given by the ABC that it would maintain or quarantine any particular services. What are your thoughts on that?

CLARE: Well this is a bit of a concern because the ABC said if their budget is cut in May then they could not rule out cutting regional radio services. Now ABC regional radio provides important local news and sport, emergency broadcasts when there is flood or fire and so forth so the risk of big cuts to ABC regional radio is a real worry so I’m calling on my National Party colleagues who I am sure are watching this now to grow a spine and stand up to the Prime Minister and tell the razor gang that’s putting the budget together, don’t cut the ABC budget because it will potentially lead to cuts to ABC regional radio.

LIPSON: Is it a bit early to be sending that message though because at this point it’s just a review and certainly no regional services have been cut.

CLARE: David, now’s the time. The budget is being put together now. Down in the Cabinet room ERC is meeting and they are deciding where they are going to cut. Now the Prime Minister has said no cuts to the ABC as well as no cuts to education, health, SBS, no changes to the pension. If he cuts the ABC’s budget then he has broken his promise, it will tag him as a liar and now’s the time for National Party MPs to say don’t do this because it will lead to cuts to local services in my community.

LIPSON: Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare thanks very much.

CLARE: Thanks David.