Interview with Chris Wisbey – 936 ABC Hobart – Wednesday 9 March 2016


SUBJECT/S: NBN on the West Coast of Tasmania

CHRIS WISBEY: Now last night there was a forum held in Queenstown with government officials and NBN representatives and among them was the Federal Shadow Minister for Communications Jason Clare, who joins us now. Minister, good morning to you.


WISBEY: Who was at that forum last night?

CLARE: More people than I’d ever seen at an NBN forum. People don’t turn up to hear politicians talk unless they’re usually pretty angry and last night at the Town Hall in Queenstown it was chock-a-block. There were people from Queenstown, and Roseberry and other surrounding towns that were angry that the Government has made the decision to give them the satellite version of the NBN rather than the fibre version of the NBN that they’ve been promised for the last few years.

WISBEY: It’s interesting there is so much interest in the delivery of NBN on the West Coast, just to get people to travel considerable distances, I dare say that it might have been an interesting night weather wise on the West Coast as well. Now can we just sort of spell out the technicalities here, the difference without getting into too much detail, but the difference between satellite delivery and fibre to the node delivery.

CLARE: Well I think the two big differences are speed and reliability. If you’ve got an optic fibre cable that goes all the way to your business or to your home, then you can download and upload things much quicker then you can with a satellite. Also the reliability of the service is much more as well. You don’t have the risk that it’s going to drop out because of thunderstorms or clouds or things like that. So for people here in Western Tassie who are struggling a bit after the closure of the copper mine, who understand that optic fibre is a bit like building a road or railway into a town and is the key to creating jobs, they’re worried they’re getting dudded here because instead of getting what the rest of the country is getting, or at least what some parts of the rest of the country is getting, they’re getting the slowest version of the NBN.

WISBEY: I would have thought that they are most of regional Tasmania is having satellite delivery at the moment. Is there something exceptional about the topography of the West Coast which makes it not efficacious over there?

CLARE: Well it was always the plan to build a fibre link down here, it was the plan under the Labor Government’s version of the NBN. The current Government was elected and they decided to give half of Tasmania fibre and half of it the copper NBN. On their plans it was still their intention to build a fibre spur down here in Western Tassie. Then in the middle of last year in July, they suddenly changed their plans and said no Western Tassie will get the satellite only. That was at the same time that the cost of this project blew out from 41 billion to 56. What seems to have happened is that with the cost blowing out they’ve decided to dud Western Tasmania.

WISBEY: The Federal Government is on the record saying that it would cost 30 million dollars alone to connect West Coast houses and businesses to the NBN via fibre to node. Is that a justifiable expense?

CLARE: Well think about jobs that this would create here in Western Tasmania but think about the jobs that the NBN would create right across the country. The whole idea of the NBN of course is that people in the cities pay a little bit more so that people in rural and remote parts of Australia pay a bit less so that everybody gets access to this important technology.

That’s why we said when we were in Government that we would build a fibre spur down here to help create jobs and to also make sure that you’ve got the education and health services that we are going to need in the 21st century. Fibre is a little bit like electricity, when it was first connected to homes it was just to turn the light on and now it’s connected to everything in the home and everything in the business and I think the NBN is going to be exactly the same.

WISBEY: So this would be fibre to the node then using the existing copper network from those nodes to the houses?

CLARE: Well that’s what’s happening in places like Devonport and Burnie now. So the original Labor plan was fibre all the way to your front door and then when Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull got in they ditched that and said no a second-rate version of that is enough, we will take fibre to about half a kilometre to your home and then use the existing copper network which is slower and when it rains it doesn’t work as well. So that’s what Burnie and Devonport are getting. But here on the West Coast, they’re not even getting that because they’ve decided that instead of a fixed line down here, they’ll rely on satellites.

WISBEY: The satellite infrastructure, hasn’t that already started being rolled out there?

CLARE: That’s right. One of the things that we did while Labor was in government was commission the construction of two satellites. The first is in orbit now and I’m not criticising the satellites, they’re designed for people that live in remote parts of Australia. They’re not designed though for towns the size of Queenstown. Queenstown will be the biggest town in Australia to operate the NBN off satellites. The first satellite is up in orbit, the second one goes up in space later this year.

My criticism is that it was always the plan, the people of Queenstown and Western Tasmania, expected that they were getting fibre down here. Now without any notification, without being told that this was going to happen, bang, a decision was made in July last year that no you’re not getting the real NBN, you’re getting a satellite version instead.

WISBEY: So the West Coast could end up in a better position than much of regional Tasmania?

CLARE: Well it depends upon what’s your definition of better. In terms of all your different types of access to the NBN, fibre is the fastest and the best, the satellite provides the slowest and the least reliable service. So if you think that’s good then Western Tasmania is doing well but I think most people in the Town Hall last night were pretty damn angry that they thought they were getting fibre, now they’re not and the local member bore the brunt of that last night, Brett Whiteley, who I think is in no uncertainty about how angry the town is that they’ve been dudded.

WISBEY: There’s speculation that the election is about to be called, Braddon is a swinging seat; it’s a good platform to take into an election.

CLARE: Well you know politicians usually aren’t afraid of other politicians but they are afraid of making their own voters angry and there were a lot of angry voters last night. If the election is in July, there’s speculation now that it could be on 2 July, then there’s a real opportunity for the people of Braddon, particularly the people of Queenstown to show how they feel and make it very, very clear that this government has done the wrong thing, put the pressure on them to reverse the decision or tell them if you’re going to give us the satellite instead of the fibre promise, then we will throw you out.

WISBEY: Shadow Federal Communications Minister, Jason Clare, from the West Coast, thank you very much for talking to us.

CLARE: Good on you Chris. Thank you very much.