RN Drive with Jonathan Green > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

CONTACT SENATOR FIFIELD

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MENTONE VIC 3194

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11-July-2017

 

RN Drive with Jonathan Green
Radio National
10 July 2017

6:05PM

 

E & OE

GREEN:

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. 

FIFIELD:

Good to with you, Jonathan.

GREEN:

That job half-done, but Australia still has worse internet than – or many – countries. Why do we still have slower internet than Estonia?

FIFIELD:

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 predecessors.

GREEN:

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.

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

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.

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

What happens after the 18 months if you don’t take that up?

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

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.

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

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.

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

So fibre to the home is theological or simple future proof?

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

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.

FIFIELD:

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…

GREEN:

There seem to be quite a lot of them according to that Choice survey.

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

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?

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

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.

FIFIELD:

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 the Parliament.

GREEN:

You will tell that to Dean Smith?

FIFIELD:

Well that's our position. And it is a statement of fact.

GREEN:

What will you say to Dean Smith?  He wants to have a private members bill in Parliament this year.

FIFIELD:

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…

GREEN:

That’s history Mitch Fifield.  I think Bill Shorten will support Dean Smith’s private members bill.

FIFIELD:

Well Bill Shorten could have facilitated this matter being already dealt with if he had supported our plebiscite bill.

GREEN:

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.

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

You were out strongly today Mitch Fifield on media reform suggesting the Labor obstinacy  around your proposals could cost jobs.

FIFIELD:

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 some responsibility.

GREEN:

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?

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

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 choice then?

FIFIELD:

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.

GREEN:

You have heard speaking of which Chris Uhlmann’s take on Donald Trump?

FIFIELD:

Well I did catch a bit of that, yes indeed.

GREEN:

He is one of your men, you must be proud.

FIFIELD:

Well you know Chris is an important member of the Canberra gallery.

GREEN:

Thank you Mitch Fifield.  Thanks for your time.

FIFIELD:

Thanks indeed Jonathan.

[ENDS]