ABC AM with Michael Brissenden > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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24-August-2016

TRANSCRIPT

 

ABC AM with Michael Brissenden
Canberra Studio
8:14 am
24 August 2016

Subjects: AFP, NBN 

E & OE

 

BRISSENDEN:

Returning now to our earlier story about raids on the emails of Labor staffers. The Minister for Communications, Mitch Fifield, says Stephen Conroy, Senator Stephen Conroy has got the wrong end of the stick and Senator Fifield joins me in the Canberra studio, good morning.

FIFIELD:

Morning Michael.

BRISSENDEN:

Wrong end of the stick, how so?

FIFIELD:

Well look, absolutely, I couldn’t believe my ears when I was listening to early AM this morning. Everything that Stephen Conroy said was wrong.

Stephen Conroy said that the NBN is behind schedule and over budget. It’s not. NBN results for the financial year released last week demonstrated that NBN is now available to 3 million households. That there are 1.1 million Australians who have connected. It’s available to a quarter of the population. It will be completed by 2020. That’s 6 to 8 years sooner than would be the case under Labor. 30 billion dollars less cost. NBN was a failed project under Stephen Conroy. Contractors had downed tools in four states and only 51,000 people had actually hooked up to the NBN. So Stephen Conroy was completely wrong.

BRISSENDEN:

Why are they still so sensitive then about these leaks? Because clearly the AFP investigation is ongoing, the raids are continuing.

FIFIELD:

Look I think Stephen Conroy is just incredibly embarrassed about the contrast between the NBN under Malcolm Turnbull as Communications Minister and me, with his performance as Communications Minister.

Stephen Conroy is essentially saying that the Australian Federal Police don’t have integrity. That the Australian Federal Police are not operating independently. The facts are that there were, allegedly, documents that were commercial in confidence that had been stolen from NBN. NBN is perfectly within its rights to call the Federal Police to investigate this matter. Stephen Conroy has actually called for the Federal Police investigation to cease and desist. Now that is extraordinary. A Member of Parliament, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, seeking to intervene in a Federal Police investigation. He wants them to stop going about their duty. Our view is that the Federal Police are independent and they should be left alone to do their job.

BRISSENDEN:

Well one of the criticisms he points to is that the NBN is not a Commonwealth Public Authority, and doesn’t have the same sort of rights that Commonwealth Public Authorities have, and he says that NBN has asked for the similar sort of rights as part of this investigation, is that correct?

FIFIELD:

It’s not for Members of Parliament to determine what the jurisdiction of the Australian Federal Police is. The Australian Federal Police determine what is and what is not within their jurisdiction. The Australian Federal Police have accepted this investigation. They are undertaking it. But the really curious question and one that people might want to pose to Senator Conroy is: why is he so sensitive about the Federal Police going about their independent obligations?

BRISSENDEN:

Well he says it’s a question of legality, I think he said in the interview these raids are illegal. I mean does he have a case? I mean clearly the NBN Co is not a Public Commonwealth Public Authority.

FIFIELD:

I think it’s bizarre for a Member of Parliament to say that they should have the right to determine what is and what is not within the AFP’s jurisdiction. The AFP are best placed to know what is appropriate for them to investigate and what is not. I have complete confidence in the AFP and I think it’s outrageous that Stephen Conroy is continuing what he was doing in May, which is to seek to besmirch the reputation of the AFP.

BRISSENDEN:

He says he’s protecting whistle-blowers. He says it’s his duty to, you know, hold the government to account, all of that is true.

FIFIELD:

Look this is not an inquiry, an investigation, into whistle blowers. Whistle blowers are people…

BRISSENDEN:

Well that’s clearly why he’s asked for Parliamentary Privilege isn’t it?

FIFIELD:

Whistle blowers are people who seek to put information in the public domain, in the public interest, in relation to issues of safety, malfeasance, financial misadministration.

BRISSENDEN:

Holding government to account.

FIFIELD:

This is a case where NBN is alleging that there is theft of material which is commercial in confidence. And I think any organisation is within its rights to call in the appropriate authorities when they believe material has been stolen.

BRISSENDEN:

So the raids will continue?

FIFIELD:

I don’t know, because the AFP has complete independence of the Government. So I don’t know if the AFP is or is not conducting any operational activity today. That’s entirely a matter for the AFP. But the good news for your listeners, Michael, is that the NBN is on track. It’s on budget. They’re going to get it, the Australian people are going to get it much sooner than would be the case under Labor. And we have a good institution in the AFP. It’s independent and that independence should be respected.

BRISSENDEN:

OK, Mitch Fifield, we’ll leave it there.

FIFIELD:

Thanks.

[ends]