Interview with Greg Jennett – ABC Capital Hill – Monday 29 February 2016


SUBJECT/S: Malcolm Turnbull’s NBN plan in crisis

GREG JENNETT: Labor’s Communications Spokesman Jason Clare has an altogether different interpretation of the NBN data. He’s seeing blow-outs across the board and he blames the former Communications Minister who’s now the Prime Minister.

Jason Clare, if we look at the NBN and consider that it’s a recipe and method process, with statistics out today that give us great insights into the recipe and the method, but it’s what’s on the plate that matters most, isn’t it? And NBN tell us they’re tracking towards delivery on that.

JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Greg you don’t get headlines much worse than this. Turnbull’s NBN plan in crisis. Malcolm Turnbull had one job, pretty much one job for the last two and a half years and that was to build the NBN and he’s made an absolute mess of it.

The cost of this project has doubled under Malcolm Turnbull and the time it’s going to take has more than doubled and this leaked document today reveals things are worse than expected.

JENNETT: What are you measuring against when you say “more than doubled”? Against the Coalition’s election promise or against the NBN’s publicly stated targets?

CLARE: Against election promises. In April before the last election Malcolm Turnbull said he could build the NBN for $29.5 billion. That’s blown out to up to $56, so almost doubled and he promised everyone would have access to the NBN this year – 2016. In fact, that’s not going to happen. It’s less than 15 per cent of the country has access to the NBN now.

JENNETT: Although that was revised subsequently, wasn’t it?

CLARE: As soon as they came to office they conducted a Strategic Review and they said oops, won’t be able to do that. So the NBN has blown out to the end of the decade and this report here shows they’re struggling to get their second rate fibre-to-the-node or copper network to work as quickly as expected.

JENNETT: The people who are actually building this, the NBN Co their chart shows they have targets out to the right and that they’re tracking towards them in the middle across a range of areas. Against their own publicly stated targets they reckon they’ll get there by the end of this financial year.

CLARE: This is an internal NBN document which they never wanted to release, which shows they’re two-thirds behind where they want to be on rolling out fibre-to-the-node and the problem they’ve got is they’re way behind with design and way behind with connecting it to the electricity network.

In other parts of the country where they’ve started to roll out fibre-to-the-node it’s not working properly. They’ve switched it on and people are getting slower speeds than they were getting under ADSL. That’s why I say this is a mess and a massive failure on Malcolm Turnbull’s watch.

JENNETT: You’re holding a former Communications Minister to account for delays in power utilities, connecting to the node boxes?

CLARE: By any objective analysis Malcolm Turnbull was a failure as Communications Minister. He made a raft of promises and he’s broken most. He was great at talking. Malcolm Turnbull is a fantastic talker, but he’s not great at delivery. We see that with the NBN in crisis now and unfortunately we’re starting to see that with him as Prime Minister, as well.

JENNETT: We could see Jason Clare as Communications Minister within six months. What do you do to re-baseline, re-measure all this and redo the targets if not the project itself?

CLARE: Unfortunately we’re now starting to see how big a mess Malcolm Turnbull has made of the NBN. It was a big mistake by Malcolm Turnbull to think he could easily switch from 21st century fibre back to the old copper network. The cost of fixing the copper by the way has blown out by 1,000 per cent, as well.

What we’ve said is that we will roll out more fibre. That’s our approach, but we can’t click our fingers the day after the election and rip out all the nodes and fix this mess in an instant. It’s going to take a while to fix the mess that Malcolm Turnbull has made of the NBN.

JENNETT: While you take the time to reconsider that, do you allow the NBN team to continue with the build they’re currently working on?

CLARE: We’ll have more to say about our election policy closer to the election, but what’s clear from this headline and from this leaked document is that Malcolm Turnbull has stuffed this up. He’s made a big mistake in switching from fibre to copper. The cost has doubled, the time it’s going to take has doubled and this leaked document shows it’s worse than we ever expected.

JENNETT: Do you think the total cost of this project will blow out over the stated goal that the Prime Minister has put down?

CLARE: It’s already blown out. It started at $29.5 billion under Malcolm Turnbull, he said “trust me, I’m a merchant banker I can do this to $29.5 billion”. Then it blew out three months later to $41 billion and now its blown out to up to $56 billion. The longer it takes to build the NBN the slower the revenue comes in. When you see stories like this that says it’s taking longer than expected it fills me with dread. This is the roll-out program for the NBN that says next year they’re suddenly going to connect half the country to the NBN. It’s a ramp-up that Evil Knievel couldn’t jump. I don’t think they’ll make this considering they are struggling to meet these targets here right now.

JENNETT: That’s the ramp that you as Communications Minister would have to be overseeing NBN Co riding on?

CLARE: This is all the mess that Malcolm Turnbull has made that we would have to fix up.

JENNETT: The $56 billion number, is that the upper limit as far as you’re concerned?

CLARE: That’s the upper limit that Malcolm Turnbull has set for it now. We will need to dig into this into more detail to see just how bad this is. They’re saying the NBN will cost anywhere between $46 billion and $56 billion now. We wait for the Government’s Corporate Plan.

JENNETT: But on the trajectories that you see, you think those limits could be tested, gone through?

CLARE: I’ve no reason to doubt it’s not $56 billion, we don’t have a leaked document telling it’s blown out there. We have a leaked document saying they’re struggling to meet their own roll-out targets.

JENNETT: Jason Clare, thank you.

CLARE: Thank you.