Interview with Polly Mcgee – ABC Drive Northern Tasmania – Wednesday 8 April 2015






SUBJECT/S: NBN in Tasmania

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: [Audio missing] …the general feeling that I’ve got after talking to people across the state is that the NBN is still rolling out too slow. There’s something like less than 200 homes a week being added to the NBN and unfortunately the latest information that we’ve got is that about half the state is getting fibre to the home and about half the state is going to miss out. About half of Tasmania is going to get the second rate, slower NBN that relies on the copper system instead of optic fibre – so that’s not good news.

POLLY MCGEE: Mr Clare how did we get to here, from back in the day when we were going to be the flagship state, in part of the rollout we were going to have fibre to every premises, we were going to be the thought part of the nation with a huge economy based on knowledge and now we are limping along barely able to get connected?

CLARE: Unfortunately there was an election, Labor lost the last election and the Liberal Government under Tony Abbott said that they weren’t going to go ahead with the NBN that involved getting fibre to every home and business across the country, or at least 93 per cent of them. Instead they wanted a system that relies on the old copper network and that means for around about 40 or 50 per cent of Tasmanians, instead of getting the first rate system, the twenty-first century technology that involves optic fibre to the home, instead people are going to be left to rely on the old copper system.     

MCGEE: Shadow Minister the Labor Party was in Government for quite a significant period of time where the rollout of the NBN slowed significantly, some of that surely is within your responsibility too, it can’t be all the Liberal Party. The NBN problems had started for Tasmania in my memory some time before the Liberal’s got into power.

CLARE: The rollout was too slow and I have said that a number of times. Everybody you ask about the NBN will say it is the right project for Australia, it’s what countries like New Zealand through to Singapore, Japan, South Korea they are all doing it because they know it’s the sort of technology that we are going to need to be a competitive economy and create jobs in the future.

The problem we have is that the rollout was too slow, this Government has promised to speed it up and they haven’t sped it up. It’s still rolling out too slow and unfortunately what they are now going to roll out is a second rate system instead of the type of technology we are going to need in the future.  

MCGEE: Jason Clare a year is a long time in technology and certainly we have been discussing this week on Drive the rise and rise of downloading videos, Netflix now in Australia, 33 per cent of iiNet’s traffic is download of high definition video. How is Labor going to potentially fix this because copper is simply not going to be adequate to be able to do the contemporary work we need to do using these systems? What’s your policy for that?

CLARE: Netflix is a terrific example of that, you’ve seen only in a couple of weeks people taking to it and other products like Netflix such as Stan and Presto, people are taking to it like a duck to water, they want to be able to get what they want to watch when they want to watch it and they want that to be available to them cheaply.

The NBN is not just about that. A terrific example about what it will provide is health services. The cost of our health system is going up and up as we get older and older. The NBN is going to provide ways which we can ensure that people spend less time in hospital and can be monitored from home or other ways where people can be monitored and prevent them from getting sick and having to go to hospital in the first place. The health benefits, whether it’s a doctor being able to talk to you online or whether it’s being able to get you out of hospital sooner, it’s going to be enormous.

As you say copper is not up to it, we are going to need fibre not just for speed but also for reliability. Anybody who has got a landline at home knows that when it rains normally the phone doesn’t operate as well as it does when it’s not raining and if you’ve got a system like that, it’s really not going to do what you need in the future.

MCGEE: So how would Labor reverse the policy of only using the copper? How does your party intend to get us back, let’s say if you get in at the next election

CLARE: That’s a good question, so what we are doing in Opposition is putting together policies now, across a whole range of areas one of which is the NBN. We are talking to the experts in this area about the sort of policy we need to develop for the next election.

What everybody says is that fibre is the end game, whether you build it in one stage, which Labor was going to do or two stages which the Liberals are now doing because they say eventually we are going to need fibre. Whether you believe you need it now or in the future, everybody understands that you need fibre, the question is when do you do it and that’s what we are looking at now as we develop our policies for the next election. 

MCGEE: Shadow Minister Tasmanian businesses are suffering from the slowness of the rollout as well and the reduced capacity. Does the Opposition support the idea of fibre basement for multi-property dwellings which would certainly be of benefit in Hobart, and in Launceston and Burnie to businesses? 

CLARE: That’s one of the things that the Government is doing now, not for businesses but for apartment blocks. It’s something that they have just announced and are rolling out, so that’s specific to apartment blocks. The Government has also said that they will prioritise business and business areas. This is very important and I encourage them to do this and I wish them well because the quicker we get fibre to businesses the better, but if businesses are going to be left with a slower copper system that’s not going to help them, it’s just going to discourage businesses from coming to Tasmania or setting up in different parts of Tasmania.

Think about it like this, if you’ve got one town with fibre and one town with copper and you’re a business that relies on technology and most do to a greater or lesser extent, where are you going to set up? You are going to set up where the fibre is and unfortunately for many places in Tasmania whether it’s in Devonport or Burnie or right across the country there are going to be places that have got a second rate system and that will discourage businesses from coming there to set up.        

MCGEE: And certainly there was a period in time in policy where there was a lot of discussion around Tasmania as the ideal place for a knowledge led economy to be stimulated, we have the perfect climate, we have some of the perfect spaces to put things in like big data farms, for companies like Microsoft and Google – is the Opposition talking to those kind of businesses and encouraging them to come to places like Tasmania to create new economies for this state?   

CLARE: I do. I talk to them all the time. When I was in Hobart last night I was talking to people who are leaders in the ICT industry in Tasmania, we were talking about just that. But also one of the other things we need in order for this industry to thrive in Tasmania, one of these things is more skilled workers. The jobs of the future are going to require these sorts of skills and the businesses in Tasmania, whether it’s Hobart in the south or Launceston in the north, if you can’t find enough skilled workers with the science skills, the tech skills, the engineering and math skills they need for their businesses and we need to make some fundamental changes to the way in which we educate our children if we are going to have the skills that we need.

Let me give you an example, in England they have just started teaching children as young as kids in kindergarten to code because they know coding is going to be as important as learning English in the future and if we can give our kids those sorts of skills then we give the children in Tasmania the chance they need to get the jobs that are going to exist in the future and create the businesses that will thrive in the future.