Interview with Graham Richardson – Sky News – Wednesday 5 February 2014







GRAHAM RICHARDSON: Thanks for staying with us, in the studio with me tonight is Jason Clare, Shadow Minister for Communications – Jason good evening.


RICHARDSON: There’s a whole lot of things that I want to take you through but I want you to take me through something first. There are a lot of people who say to me, what’s really going on with the NBN? So many chops and changes since the Coalition were elected and Malcolm Turnbull got the job. Where do you think it’s up to now? Where is the Government going on this?

CLARE: It’s a good question. I think the NBN is dead. We don’t really have a National Broadband Network anymore. An IT journalist wrote today that all we’ve really got is a bunch of different technologies rolling out in different parts of the country. We said when we were in government that we’d deliver fibre to 93% of homes across the country. Other homes would get fixed wireless or satellite to provide broadband to their home. Now, depending on where you live, you’ll either get fibre to your home or you’ll get fibre to a box in the street. You’ll have to rely on the old copper network that runs to your home that runs the phone network.

RICHARDSON: But that slows you down.

CLARE: That’s right. That’s a lot slower than the fibre that we were going to deliver. Then for some people they won’t even get that. They will get broadband through the COAX cable that runs down the street, that runs the Pay TV system, Foxtel. Then other people will get satellite. Other people will get fixed wireless. So it’s really a hotchpotch of different technologies. It’s why people like the head of Microsoft in Australia have said the Government’s made the wrong decision and they should reverse it and go back to the model that we created, the National Broadband Network.

RICHARDSON: I can’t find too many people in the industry who think that Malcolm Turnbull is going down the right path but there was a lot of criticism of the Conroy model, if I can put it that way, that it just under scoped the whole thing and the costs were always going to be greater than what you announced. What’s your comeback to that?

CLARE: First this is the right project. It’s what will set Australia up for the future to compete with countries in our region. There have been some problems with construction – too slow. So we’ve got to speed up construction. We’ve still got a problem. The Government hasn’t speed up the construction of the NBN. We need to get it rolled out as quick as we can.

The Government promised before the election that they would deliver the NBN to everybody by 2016 and that was a lower grade, a second rate version of the NBN. Last year they said we can’t do that so it’s going to be even slower. They’ve said they can’t meet their promise to give everybody the second rate NBN by 2016.

RICHARDSON: Now it seems to be there’s a third and fourth rate NBN available in some homes.

CLARE: It’s not even an NBN anymore Graham, it’s a whole bunch of different broadband networks and it’s pot luck, depending on where you live, you’ll either get the first rate system, the second rate system or the third rate system.

RICHARDSON: I don’t want to be too critical but in a government that you were a member of, a cabinet minister in, it wasn’t going too well. The Government lost pretty badly, but the NBN remains stubbornly popular. For all the bagging it got, I never saw a poll where less than 60% of people didn’t still support it being built.

CLARE: That’s right. We didn’t lose the election because of this issue. People get it, they understand how important the NBN is. In fact I’d argue that people voted for the Coalition in spite of their policy on this. That doesn’t mean they were happy in December when they got told that the Liberal Party were breaking their promise to deliver a second rate version of the NBN.

You expect politicians, when they make a promise before the election, particularly Tony Abbott, who has run around the country for the last three years crying out about broken promises, to honour promises when he becomes Prime Minister. At his first press conference as Prime Minister he said, ‘I don’t intend on making promises I won’t keep’ but he’s been breaking promises one after another. This is a big one. This is the sort of infrastructure which will set us up for the future and wrong decisions now, we’re going to pay for them for the next few decades.

RICHARDSON: I suppose the big question is what do the people in our region do? I mean, what are the emerging economies like Korea doing? What’s Thailand doing? Are they adopting similar?

CLARE: South Korea, Japan, Singapore, even New Zealand are doing what we proposed, fibre-to-the-home. Even Malcolm Turnbull will tell you this. He’ll say that the end game is fibre all the way to the home. The question that you have to ask is do you build it in one stage or two. My argument, Labor’s argument is build it now otherwise you’re going to have to come back and finish the job later, it’ll cost more, it’ll be more difficult to do and there will be lost productivity because you’ve built it in two stages rather than one.

It’s like, for Sydney viewers they’ll know the M5 East, two tunnels in each direction, it was clogged when it opened. Barry O’Farrell has now made the right decision and said we are going to expand it. It’s what they call WestConnex but it’ll be ten years before that choke point is fixed. Build it now and set us up for the future.

RICHARDSON: Build it and they will come as the saying goes. Can we move on then to the ABC, which would be part of your portfolio if you were the Minister. Now this furore that’s developed over the statements of the burnt fingers on these asylum seekers, I had a look again at the original footage that the ABC bought, the more I looked at it, the angrier I got because in the end you couldn’t run the report they ran on the basis of the evidence they had. Labor has always tended to stick up for the ABC, I’m just wondering are you defending their coverage on that?

CLARE: No I’m not. I said yesterday, if you make a mistake you have to apologise. It’s not the first time the ABC has made a mistake, a couple of years ago when I was the Minister for Home Affairs I had serious allegations put to me, which I was able to prove were wrong and the ABC afterwards apologised. That’s the way you do it. Journalists are going to get some things right and get some things wrong but if you make a mistake fess up, put your hand up and apologise.

I think on this issue though, it’s been made more difficult because there’s unnecessary secrecy here. John Curtin provided more information to the Australian people during World War II then we are getting about this. It would have been a lot easier if the military were able to say, we’ve checked the video footage, this is wrong and been able to provide that information to the Australian public rather than all the secrecy.

RICHARDSON: Is there any video footage? One of the things the ABC, in the second report, said the Australian sailors had cameras, so there should be footage of this but I’ve never seen any. Does any exist?

CLARE: I don’t know. I had the privilege of working with our military for three years as the Minister for Defence Materiel and then Home Affairs and I’ve only got enormous respect for the men and women in our military and in Customs. When I heard these allegations, just like you, I was extraordinarily suspicious. I just couldn’t believe it. I’m sure that if given the opportunity by the Government, the military would be able to say, look we’ve had a look at the allegations and their false.

RICHARDSON: Why would the Government let them do that? Let’s say I’m the government, wouldn’t I be saying to myself well we may as well have the ABC, if we accept the Coalition is pretty much anti-ABC and most of them are whether they want to admit it or not, most of them are. Why not then get the Navy to come out and say here’s the footage and therefore this allegation is a crock from start to finish.

CLARE: Graham they have painted themselves into a corner because they have said we can’t tell you about anything if it happens on the water. This happened on the water so we can’t tell you. I was Minister for Home Affairs for about two years. In all of that time I never had anybody of any rank, in the navy, in the air force, in the army, no one in Customs ever tell me that the information that we were providing was helping people smugglers and we shouldn’t put the information out there. This is a crock and it has put the Government into a corner that means it can’t provide this information when it wants to.

RICHARDSON: I think the whole secrecy thing is becoming quite extraordinary. Getting back to the basic question of the ABC though, do you support this efficiency audit if that’s what it is?

CLARE: I’ve got no problem with efficiency audits. All government departments can be more efficient and you’ve got to find ways to make them more efficient but the rub here is, Tony Abbott before the election said there’d be no cuts to the ABC. So if the audit leads to cuts then he has broken a promise that means he’s lied to the Australian people.

So what I’m saying here is, if you find efficiencies in the ABC, terrific but reinvest them in more services for the Australian people in the ABC and SBS. If you just use this as an excuse to do what a lot of Liberals want to do, which is to take the knife out and cut away at the ABC then it will go to the integrity of the Prime Minister because he said before the election, ‘no cuts to the ABC’. If they cut it, it’s a broken promise. It means you can’t believe what the Prime Minister says.

RICHARDSON: Let’s look at the Labor Government’s record on this, when it came to setting that international service up and Sky News, the place we’re sitting in, the people I work for, they win and yet the Labor Government just took it off them.

CLARE: This goes to the question of whether it’s going to continue to exist at all, the Australian Network and Peter Van Onselen wrote a piece about this on the weekend about it being a mistake if it goes all together. It’s a form of soft diplomacy, sending Australia’s message, Australia’s voice and a bit of information about Australia’s culture to our region. If that was to go, I think would be a grave error and if it was to be taken off the ABC then it’s a cut. It’s a broken promise.

RICHARDSON: It should never have gone to the ABC. The Labor Government made a very serious error here. Don’t have tenders if you’re not going to award the winner the prize.

CLARE: Jim Spigelman spoke a bit about this late last year. The issue here though, is if it gets cut does it mean that the Prime Minister’s broken his word and the answer to that is yes.

RICHARDSON: Unfortunately for him he’s got to make lots of cuts and he basically promised he wouldn’t cut anything. We’ll have plenty of fun with that. Last question, what about the talk of mergers with the ABC and SBS, are we going to look at a merger between the two?

CLARE: I don’t think that will happen because there are enough people in the Liberal Party who would be worried that merging the ABC and SBS would just mean a bigger ABC. So I don’t think that’s going to happen. Malcolm Turnbull said he doesn’t think that’s the right model and I think he’s right on that. Malcolm and I disagree on a lot of things but I agree that the ABC and SBS should remain separate entities.

RICHARDSON: Ok, Jason Clare thank you very much for your time I appreciate it.

CLARE: Thanks mate.