Interview with David Speers – Sky News PM Agenda – Thursday 31 October 2013






Subjects: NBN.

David Speers: We are joined by the Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare. Thank you for your time. I want to get to the pace of the rollout momentarily but firstly on the Chinese company Huawei, do you think it should be allowed to participate in the rollout?

Jason Clare: Well I was one of the national security ministers for three years and through that time I always took the view that government should take the advice of our national security agencies seriously. That’s what we did. And that’s what this government needs to do.

My view is over the last few weeks we have seen a pretty poor start by this government. Last week Malcolm Turnbull said that they would review this decision, this week Joe Hockey’s come over the top and said no, that’s not going to happen and George Brandis said that as well.

It looks pretty humiliating for Malcolm Turnbull to be rolled by Joe Hockey, and what we are seeing here, like we have seen with the car industry, are divisions emerging in the Liberal Party, in the Coalition, with Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop on one side and Joe Hockey and George Brandis on the other.

David Speers: On the decision itself, are there aspects of the NBN that aren’t security sensitive that could in fact involve Huawei?

Jason Clare: Well, I won’t go into the details of the advice that national security agencies provided to me or provided to the former Government. You wouldn’t expect me to do that, other than to say this: we accepted and implemented the advice of our national security agencies. That’s what responsible governments do, and that’s what this government should do as well. If Mr Turnbull hasn’t received a national security briefing on this issue by the agencies since coming to government, then he should do that. The leader of the opposition Bill Shorten has asked for a briefing as well and a time hasn’t been organised by the government for that briefing yet but I would hope that that occurs shortly.

David Speers: I think Malcolm Turnbull has accepted this now, but when we look around the world Huawei is involved or has been involved in the national broadband network or the version thereof in the UK, well it is one of the world’s largest and most successful telcos. It does look a little odd, you must accept, from the Chinese point of view that Australia is saying no.

Jason Clare: Well you have to treat the advice of our national security agencies very seriously. What we are seeing here is that people like the Trade Minister Andrew Robb who said he thinks Huawei has a big future in Australia, obviously sees the trade benefits of having a big company invest in Australia. But we can never let trade come ahead of our national security interests. And the strong advice, the clear advice from our national security agencies, is that we adopt this approach, that’s what we did as a government and I’m glad to see that albeit lately after suggestions of a review of this decision, George Brandis and Joe Hockey have come over the top and said that’s not going to happen.

David Speers: On the rollout itself, there has been a sharp slowdown in the fibre rollout. Do you accept this has largely been due to flow on effects from the suspension that was put in place when asbestos was found in some of the pits?

Jason Clare: I think what we are seeing here is review paralysis. Go back three months and I think you made the point that we saw 20,000 homes in existing areas passed by fibre, another 20,000 homes in August, and another 20,000 homes in September. And then in the month or so since the election we saw that drop to 2,000 homes. Companies are telling me, companies are telling the government, that no new work has been issued to them since the election. They are saying this is killing their businesses and that they are at risk of having to put people off. Now reviews are good, it’s important to do that work, but it shouldn’t slow down the rollout of the NBN. We need to speed it up.

David Speers: But the question was do you accept this has a fair bit to do with the flow-on from that suspension of activity while the asbestos issues were dealt with?

Jason Clare: The NBN Co I think today said that was part of it, but they also said that they had suspended new work to construction companies. So there are two parts to this. Construction companies are telling me that without new work it’s putting their businesses under stress, and they are at risk of having to put people off. We need to speed up the rollout of the NBN across Australia, not slow it down. These construction companies are the first victims of the cuts to the NBN under this new Coalition Government and what we found out this week is there is another 500 million homes and businesses that might miss out on fibre to the home that quite legitimately expected they were going to get fibre all the way to their home because Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott said they would honour existing contracts.

David Speers: On that 500,000 you mentioned according to the minister they were listed by Labor under construction when in fact they weren’t. They were in the planning stage if…

Jason Clare: This is where contracts had been issued, where network design was being done, where rodding and roping was being done. And remember this David, in Opposition Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott said they would honour existing contracts. Contracts have been issued here, these 500,000 homes and businesses were right to expect that those contracts would be honoured. This is a broken promise. 500,000 broken promises here and Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott need to make it clear whether these 500,000 homes and businesses will get fibre to the home or the second rate fibre to the node that they are promising the rest of the country.

David Speers: We will have to leave it there. Thanks for joining us.