Interview with Greg Jennett – ABCNews24 – Tuesday 25 August 2015







SUBJECT/S: NBN multi-billion dollar budget blowout; Q&A; Income tax cuts

GREG JENNETT: Jason Clare, the NBN encounters continual cost estimate blowouts, the latest puts it at up to $56 billion. Is it reasonable to assume that a Labor Government would deliver this network at an even higher price given your commitment and preference for fibre?

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well, Greg, this is Malcolm Turnbull’s mess. He’s got no-one else to blame but himself for this. He has been in office now for two years. Before the last election, he promised he could build the NBN for $29.5 billion. It’s now blown out to almost double that. $56 billion. He’s got to take responsibility for his own actions.

The reason that this has blown out so much is because the rollout of his second rate version of the NBN – fibre to the node and HFC – is way behind schedule, way behind the assumptions and the targets he set for it.

JENNETT: There was a lot of attention a couple of years ago on what Malcolm Turnbull in Opposition might do in coming to Government and inheriting this project, so it’s probably valid to explore the same questions with you.

What would be the timeline and the priorities that you would set on day one as Minister for assessing and altering course on this project?

CLARE: Well, I guess the first point I’d make is Malcolm Turnbull scarified the former Labor Government about the NBN and he should be held to account for his own failures here. The cost of the NBN, a second rate version of the NBN, has doubled and this is extremely serious and he should be held responsible for it.

What we are doing now is developing our own policy that we will take to the next election. We will announce it closer to the next election but at the moment we are working with telcos and experts in this area to make sure we put in place the best possible policy to set us up for the future.

JENNETT: But would that have a higher fibre content from what we are currently calling the node through to the premises?

CLARE: We are working on the policy now, Greg. I’m not going to announce it on your program. But I have made the point that all of the experts that I talk to in this area say fibre is the end game. The question is whether you build a fibre network in one stage or two.

Under Labor we were going to build a fibre network in one stage. This government’s decided to build it in two stages, so the question is not if you need it, it is when you’ll need it and how do you build it? Unfortunately what we’ve got under Tony Abbott is a Prime Minister who has said this is just a $50 billion video entertainment system and a Minister in Malcolm Turnbull who promised he could build it for $29.5 billion and now it’s blown out by almost double that. This Government needs to be held responsible for that. They’ve doubled the deficit. Now they’ve almost doubled the cost of the NBN.

JENNETT: If Labor were to be building in two stages, would it be reasonable to presume that it takes longer to get to the finishing line, something beyond 2020?

CLARE: Greg, one of the problems with this report that was released yesterday is that the model that sits behind it wasn’t released. In order to answer questions like that, you need to see the fundamental assumptions that underpin all of the things in that report. The Government hasn’t released that. One of the things I will be asking the Minister for, in the interests of good public policy development, is to see the model and see the assumptions that underpin that report released yesterday.

JENNETT: Aren’t your hands tied as an incoming government, were that to happen, because of many of the agreements for payments to Optus and to Telstra that are locked in? It is going to be difficult to backtrack from those.

CLARE: It is certainly true that it is difficult to unscramble an egg. This Government has decided to build a second rate version of the NBN using Telstra’s old copper network that John Howard sold last century. The report released yesterday made the point that the Government and NBN still don’t know what the quality of the copper network is. So they still don’t know how bad it is, they still don’t know how much work will be needed, how much money will need to be spent to upgrade it as well. There is the dilemma. There’s the problem. The Government has set us on a path of building a second rate NBN when countries like Japan, like South Korea, like Singapore, even our neighbours across the ditch in New Zealand, are building fibre networks to set up their countries for the future.

JENNETT: You say that you are talking to industry and to advisers. By what time should people expect you to come out with a fully-formed policy for the NBN?

CLARE: Well before the election Greg but it’s important that we get our policy right. This document here provides us with some information but we need a lot more information. That’s why I said we need the model and the assumptions that underpin all of the work that NBN Co and that the Government’s done.

JENNETT: Do you have confidence in Bill Morrow and the NBN Co management team?

CLARE: I think Bill Morrow is doing as good a job as he can building a second rate version of the NBN.

JENNETT: On another matter in your Communications portfolio, the ABC’s Q&A program published an offensive Twitter handle and Malcolm Turnbull has been in contact with the ABC. Are you satisfied that program does have or will soon have adequate supervision to prevent further errors?

CLARE: It was an offensive Tweet. I think anybody that saw that program or who has seen it since would think it is offensive and that it should not have been broadcast. I understand that Mark Scott has rung the Prime Minister and apologised, that’s the right thing to do. It is important that steps are taken to make sure that something like that never happens again.

JENNETT: Just finally on another news matter of the day, we heard Bill Shorten at an event which you were present at say “No-one is ever against income tax cuts but you have to say how you’d pay for them”. Does that mean Labor is for income tax cuts and possibly as early as at the next election?

CLARE: What it means is what Bill said. If you are going to cut taxes, you have to find a way to pay for it. No-one would say no to a tax cut but how is the Government going to pay for it? Presumably one of the options they are looking at is jacking up the GST. Joe Hockey has got form here. Every time he has touched taxes, he has increased them. Whether it is increasing petrol tax, increasing income tax for high income earners or trying to create a new tax to go to the doctor. When you look at this government from one end to the other on economic management or economic mismanagement, debt is up, the deficit is up, unemployment is up and as revealed yesterday the cost of their second rate NBN is up as well.

JENNETT: Jason Clare in Brisbane, thank you.

CLARE: Thanks Greg.