Interview with Patricia Karavelas – ABC Radio National – Thursday 4 February 2016


SUBJECT/S: Turnbull’s role in ABC ‘gagging’ NBN reports

PATRICIA KARVELAS: The NBN was back in the spotlight in Canberra today during the final Question Time of the first week of Parliament, but it wasn’t about the roll out time table or the viability of the copper wires at least not directly. Jason Clare is the Shadow Communications Minister. Welcome back to RN Drive and Happy New Year.


KARVELAS: So this relates to the recent resignation of ABC Technology Editor Nick Ross who claims he was gagged by the ABC over his criticism of the coalition’s NBN policy. The Opposition put a question to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Question Time. What were you getting at? Why did you raise this issue?

CLARE: We asked him a series of questions relating to a record of the taped conversation between Nick Ross and his manager that surfaced I think two weeks ago, and the record of that conversation indicates that an article that that journalist had written wasn’t published before the last election because of concerns of upsetting quote un-quote “the Turnbull camp”. I asked the Prime Minister whether he or anyone in his current office or his former office had ever contacted ABC management, in relation to stories that Nick Ross had written that were critical of the NBN, and he confirmed that he had.

KARVELAS: Isn’t it the usual political process for politicians even on the Labor side, certainly calls have been made by politicians to media organisations complaining about coverage. It’s not unusual is it?

CLARE: No, I’ve complained myself from time to time where I thought something was wrong, and if you think something is wrong, you can complain. What’s happened here though, is it appears that inside the ABC, a decision has been made not to publish an article because they are concerned about upsetting” the Turnbull camp”, so it begs the question Patricia, what exactly did the Prime Minister say to ABC management, who did he say it to and when did he say it? He didn’t answer those questions and given all of the concern that the Liberal Party and the National Party always has about the bias of the ABC, they complain that the ABC is biased against them, when suddenly you’ve got this story appearing that suggests that the ABC have acted in a biased way in favour of the Coalition, I think it’s legitimate to ask questions about it.

KARVELAS: Malcolm Turnbull said in Question Time “I’ve never said anything in private that I haven’t said publically”. If he didn’t say anything privately that he didn’t say publically, and he was saying a lot of these things publically and his criticism of the ABC coverage of the NBN have been on the public record, what are you implying that happened that shouldn’t have happened ?

CLARE: All I’m doing is asking questions. It’s legitimate for the Opposition to ask questions about this matter, it’s on the public record here that an article wasn’t published before the election because of concerns inside the ABC about quote un-quote upsetting “the Turnbull camp”. We’re told that Malcolm Turnbull did have conversations with people inside the ABC expressing his concern about articles published by this journalist. I think it’s fair enough to dig into it in a bit more detail and find out who he spoke to and what did he say and when did he say it.

Now remember Patricia last year when there were concerns about Q and A, Prime Minister Abbott at that time got very angry about what was happening on Q and A. Minister Turnbull then Minister for Communications ordered an investigation into it. There were a series of investigations, one inside the ABC and one commissioned independently by Malcolm Turnbull as Minister. So I asked him a second question I said given that you’ve conducted inquiries into the ABC before in relation to Q and A why don’t you conduct and independent inquiry into this as well, to clear the air. He refused to answer that question.

KARVELAS: Just to clarify, are you asking about Malcolm Turnbull’s conduct before the 2013 election, after the election as Communications Minister or since then as Prime Minister?

CLARE: No, this is before. This relates to a conversation that took place between a journalist and a manager in the ABC before the election in relation to an article.

KARVELAS: Do you have concerns about that conversation being taped illegally?

CLARE: I don’t think it should have been taped. It’s up to the police to decide whether it is legal or illegal I’m not going to endorse the taping of those conversations.

KARVELAS: There are laws aren’t there around taping conversations without consent.

CLARE: There are indeed. The point though is that it was taped. There is a transcript of it. It’s on the public record and I think it is legitimate now to ask questions about what’s in that transcript.

Particularly given this Patricia – the great irony is that this article that wasn’t published until after the election, which was critical of Malcolm Turnbull’s proposed changes to the NBN have largely been borne out. The mess that has been created in the last two and a half years where the cost of the NBN has doubled, where the time it will take to build has more than doubled, where the cost of fixing up the old copper to make this second-rate NBN work has blown-out by 1000 percent, a lot of that was predicted before the last election, including by this journalist.

KARVELAS: On RN Drive, my guest is Jason Clare, the Shadow Minister of Communications who has raised questions with Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, today about his conversations with the ABC, 0418 226 576 is our number. What kind of inquiry are you asking for? What would the terms of reference be, so to speak? What kind of inquiry is necessary for this sort of incident?

CLARE: Well look, one that clears the air. What Malcolm Turnbull did when he had concerns about Q and A.

KARVELAS: What would clear the air?

CLARE: When he had concerns about Q and A he asked the head of the Department of Communications to conduct an independent inquiry into this. I think he could do exactly the same thing here, commission the Secretary of the Department of Communications to conduct an independent examination of this. I think it would be in the interests of the ABC and frankly it would be in the interests of Malcolm Turnbull to do this as well. Otherwise, people are going to ask questions about how did it come to pass that Malcolm Turnbull has contacted the ABC, expressed concerns about the reporting on his second-rate NBN by a journalist and then a tape-recorded conversation between a journalist and a manager includes a line that says we can’t publish this because of concerns about upsetting the “Turnbull camp”. It hangs like a cloud and I think that it needs to be cleaned up.

KARVELAS: So what are you suggesting generally in relation to politicians making inquiries of media organisations in relation to bias because as you conceded I’ve been around a long time and I have had many calls made to my editors suggesting that they weren’t happy, politician’s weren’t happy with my reporting. It’s fairly common in my experience that it would happen. All politicians try it on, isn’t that just the way that the political system works?

CLARE: Well I think it’s a waste of time, complaining about journalism, particularly bias.

KARVELAS: Sure it might be a waste of time but is it corrupt?

CLARE: The problem here with complaining about bias is that it is very subjective. There is a difference though if you think something is wrong. I’ve had personal experience where I’ve been interviewed where something is being put to me which has been extremely serious, that was wrong. I made a complaint about it and subsequently received an apology. But where you think something is biased, I think that you are wasting your time complaining. What’s happened here though is a complaint has been made and now you’ve got a manager telling a journalist that something won’t be published because of concerns about upsetting the “Turnbull camp”. I think we need to understand exactly what has happened here.

KARVELAS: I’m wondering are you going to keep pursuing this issue because the Prime Minister made it clear that he was not going to call an inquiry or really give the answers that you are clearly looking for. Are you going to keep pursuing this?

CLARE: I’m not going to flag our direction in Question Time or anywhere else, but what I will say is this, I think it has become very, very clear over the last two and a half years that all of the changes that Malcolm Turnbull has made to the NBN have become a mess.

As I said the cost has doubled, he promised it would be $29.5 billion to build his second rate, slower NBN, it’s blown out to up to $56 billion. I think that deserves more scrutiny and proper scrutiny by the Australian media and we need to shine a light on that.

He said that he would be able to build it this year, everybody listening today if you are still buffering it is Malcolm Turnbull’s fault. He said that the NBN would be available to you this year. It is now going to be before the end of the decade before everyone gets the NBN.

As I said this task of trying to make the old copper network work, connecting fibre to copper, the cost of fixing that copper has blown out by a 1000 percent. If you are in the private sector and you were given a task and you blew your budget by more than 1000 percent you’d probably be sacked. Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t been sacked, he’s been promoted and I think it is very important in this election year that we shine a light on Malcolm Turnbull’s failings.

He says one thing and does another, whether it is on same sex marriage, on the Republic, on climate change, but just as importantly in the one job he had for the last two and a half years to build the NBN. He said he could do it cheaply, he said he could do it quickly, and he has failed on every front.

KARVELAS: Jason Clare thank you for joining us.

CLARE: Thanks Patricia.