RN Drive with Jonathan Green
10 July 2017
E & OE
It is our biggest ever
infrastructure project, it’s incredibly important; the National Broadband
Network reaching a key milestone. Earlier today that rollout passed the halfway
mark. Now more than 50 per cent of your homes and businesses can now access high-speed
broadband, or at any rate, the nbn. That rollout has had its share of
disappointed customers. Now, critics claim that it will leave Australia as a
broadband backwater; I suspect the Minister will have a different tale to tell.
Mitch Fifield is the Minister for Communications, Minster welcome.
Good to with you, Jonathan.
That job half-done, but Australia
still has worse internet than – or many – countries. Why do we still have
slower internet than Estonia?
Well, when you look at surveys
such as the AKAMAI survey, which is often cited, and the CHOICE survey, the
overwhelming majority of people who are part of that survey are actually on the
pre-nbn network. That’s why we’re embarking upon this important project, is
because we recognise that what Australians have had isn’t good enough. That
they want better, and that’s also why we’ve chosen a path which will see the
nbn rolled out six to eight years sooner than would’ve been the case under our
And yet that CHOICE survey you
cite, I mean one of the things they’ve found is that poor connections weren’t
solved, or sometimes exacerbated by the arrival of the nbn.
Well the nbn is a work in
progress, it’s reached the halfway mark. By the middle of next year it’ll be 75
per cent concluded, and it’ll be all done and dusted by 2020. Now obviously
with a project of this magnitude, there will be people who will have
experiences that aren’t all that we would want them to be. nbn say they’re
getting things right the first time, on about nine out of ten occasions. We
want that to improve, we want that to be better. And nbn is learning as it goes
and continually improving its processes. As I might say are the retail service
providers, who are the people that customers interface with.
That’s a tricky conjunction is it
not? The retailers and the nbn Co. And there’s some evidence in the take-up,
that what’s being offered is not attracting the public. The public can get
equivalent or better speed with ADSL –they’re not making the jump to nbn.
Well Australians are making the
jump to the nbn. At the moment – as you pointed out – we currently have nbn
available to half the nation, 5.7 million premises. About 2.4 million people
have taken that up so far. And you might ask, why the disparity? Part of the
reason is that there’s an 18 month migration window; which is allowed, so once
the nbn comes to your street, you’ve got 18 months to shift across, to check
out the retail service providers, work out the deal that’s right for you, and
then to migrate.
What happens after the 18 months
if you don’t take that up?
Well you have to migrate after 18
months, because this network is replacing that which is currently there. And
what nbn is finding is about 75 per cent of people who have the nbn available
after that 18 month period, are migrating. Now you might say, why only 75 per
cent? Well, you’ve got to recognise that even on the pre-nbn network, not
everyone is hooked-up to a fixed line service. That there’s several million
people who just don’t have a fixed line service. So that 75 per cent figure, is
about where the numbers are in terms of people being connected to the existing
fixed line service.
You’d hope it would give a better
service, and I mean I guess is this the thing, that you’re yes, you’re doing
this cheap, you’re doing this quicker. But are you in fact doing it as well as
the original nbn plan.
Well the interesting thing, when
you talk speed, which I think is what you’re alluding to, is that 83 per cent
of people are opting for speed packages of 25 megabits-per-second or less. Now
that doesn’t vary much between the fibre-to-the-node part of the network, or
the fibre-to-the-premise part of the network. What that tells us is that the
nbn is providing the speeds that people need.
Not if it’s on copper, which is
kind of interesting isn’t it? And nbn Co. is in fact running new copper to
homes, the copper in the ground is so degraded; they bought 15,000 kilometres
of copper cabling.
Well where copper needs to be
replaced nbn will do that. But one of
the virtues of this multi technology approach that we have is that the mandate
for nbn is don’t take a theological approach, as our predecessors did, take a
technology agnostic approach. Use the
technology that makes sense in a given area, that will see the nbn rolled out
fastest, and at lower cost.
So fibre to the home is
theological or simple future proof?
Well fibre to the premise was the
approach of our predecessors. Now that
would have seen Australians wait an extra six to eight years for the nbn to be
completed. It would have seen the project cost an extra $30 billion. When we came into government one of the big
complaints that we heard was from people who were being connected to fibre to
the premise, who were complaining that their front yards where being dug up,
and holes drilled through their walls.
With the approach that we are taking that doesn’t happen.
Back in April you said this was the
year of the customer in this delivery, and some of those customer experiences
are less than satisfactory you would have to say. Here is an example that has been quoted in
the press of a Sharon Eyre from Maroubra in Sydney. She had a fault that affected her phone line
and her internet. She has been without a
reliable internet connection ever since.
Telstra and the nbn are arguing over who will fix it. She has had up to nine technicians, 82
emails, phone calls to the nbn. All she
wants is her connection fixed and well, this is the key issue, someone to take
responsibility for the problem.
Well it’s a shared
responsibility. Nbn is the wholesale
network provider, and retail service
providers have the interface with the customers. They sell the product to the customers. Now that is essentially the same model that
we had in the pre nbn world with Telstra wholesale. When people talk to Telstra, they are not
talking to Telstra wholesale, they are talking to Telstra retail, or they are
talking to another retailer, who then liaises with the Telstra wholesale
network. It is essentially the same
model that we had before. But look I
don’t want to diminish an adverse experience that anyone has had, because…
There seem to be quite a lot of
them according to that Choice survey.
Well it doesn’t matter if the
stats show that is a minority. If you
are having a bad experience as an individual, or as a business, quite rightly
you just want it fixed. But I think it
is important to bear in mind, and get some perspective on the project. What we
are essentially trying to do over the space of six or eight years, is what it
took the PMG, Telecom and Telstra the best part of 100 years to do. And that is
to connect and entire Nation to the network.
We are talking about 11 million premises and even if only a small
proportion of those have issues, then you are talking about big numbers. We
want to learn, we want to improve. We
want to make sure that peoples experience is a good one.
As is inevitable Mitch Fifield,
with any conversation with a member of the Federal Cabinet we move to same sex
marriage. Isn’t that a problem that
inevitably these conversations gravitate there?
Well we took a very clear policy
to the last election, which was that there would be a plebiscite to put this
issue in the hands of the Australian people.
We took that as a policy at the election. We won the election. But regrettably Bill Shorten did not respect
that mandate. And Bill Shorten stopped
that legislation in the Parliament.
Well your colleagues don't respect
that mandate either. Your colleague Dean
Smith has confirmed today that he is drafting a private members bill, he wants
Parliament to consider it this year.
Well this issue would have been
completed done and dusted already. We
would have had the plebiscite if Bill Shorten has supported the legislation in
You will tell that to Dean Smith?
Well that's our position. And it
is a statement of fact.
What will you say to Dean
Smith? He wants to have a private
members bill in Parliament this year.
Look colleagues are always at
liberty to raise any proposition that they want. But Bill Shorten opposed the legislation to
give effect to a plebiscite and that’s peculiar because Bill Shorten himself
previously advocated for a plebiscite…
That’s history Mitch Fifield. I think Bill Shorten will support Dean
Smith’s private members bill.
Well Bill Shorten could have
facilitated this matter being already dealt with if he had supported our
Why are you taking us back to
that. That is unresolved, and you know,
this continues to occur and recur and it divides the impression and the message
of the government. And Dean Smith is
surely offering you a way out here. A
private members bill, a conscience vote, get the thing passed, have it done,
settled and out of the public conversation.
Look a number of Australians have
strong views on this issue, on both sides of the debate. Which is why we thought it was appropriate to
take to the Australian people, at an election, a policy to have a plebiscite. Now we won the election. We wanted to have the plebiscite, but Bill
Shorten stopped that. So we wouldn't be talking about this today if Bill
Shorten had facilitated the plebiscite.
We already would have had the vote.
It would have been done and dusted.
You were out strongly today Mitch
Fifield on media reform suggesting the Labor obstinacy around your proposals could cost jobs.
Well there are things that we can
do to help the viability of Australian media organisations. We have got a package in my media reform
bill. And if you are opposing things that will help the viability of Australian
media, and help to ensure that we have strong Australian media voices, then if
those media organisations find themselves in difficulty, you would have to take
Is that the total determinate of
what should happen in media policy. I
mean for example do questions of public interest arise if the Murdoch business
takes control of Channel Ten?
Well I am proprietor agnostic when
it comes to media. As you would hope and
expect a Communications Minister would be.
What we want to do is to give Australian media some more options when it
comes to the dance partners they can have and how they can configure
themselves. Media organisations are in a
much better position than politicians to know what it is that their businesses
need to be viable. And what every
Australian media organisation is telling us.
And that is Seven, Nine,Ten, Win, Prime, Southern Cross Austereo,
Fairfax, News Limited, Commercial Radio Australia and Free TV, what all of them
are telling us is that they want this package passed as a whole.
That is good for the
proprietors, it what about the
Australian people? It is all very well
to be proprietor agnostic and talk about choice for proprietors. But when Australian media consumers are faced
with y0 or 80 percent of their media controlled by one family, what happens to
We will still have some important
diversity protections. We will be maintaining
what is called the five-four or the voices rule, which says that you have got
to have five independent media voices in metro areas, and four independent
media voices in the regions. We will be maintaining the two to a market radio
rule which says that a crowd can't have more than two radio licences in a
market. We will be maintaining the one
to a market TV rule, which says that a crowd can't have more than one TV
licence in a market. We will still have
the ACCC ruler to be run over any proposition.
So they are important protections for diversity. But what I worry about when it comes to the
issue of diversity is if Australian media organisations fail because they
haven't had the opportunity to configure themselves in ways to support their
viability, then that is bad for diversity.
I want to have strong Australian media voices.
You have heard speaking of which
Chris Uhlmann’s take on Donald Trump?
Well I did catch a bit of that,
He is one of your men, you must be
Well you know Chris is an
important member of the Canberra gallery.
Thank you Mitch Fifield. Thanks for your time.
Thanks indeed Jonathan.