2GB Sydney Live with Ben Fordham > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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23-October-2017

2GB Sydney Live with Ben Fordham

23 October 2017

4:20pm

BEN FORDHAM:

Well the Prime Minister has described the National Broadband Network as a train wreck of a project. Malcolm Turnbull says it was a big mistake to set up a new government company nbnco to roll out the NBN. He says there’s a question mark over whether taxpayers will ever see a return from the project, and predictably, he’s put the blame squarely on Labor and predictably Labor is blaming the Coalition and the Government.

On the line the federal Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.

Mitch Fifield, good afternoon.

FIFIELD:

Good afternoon Ben.

FORDHAM:

A train wreck, it’s not encouraging language for the NBN from the Prime Minister?

FIFIELD:

Well, what we inherited was absolutely a failed project. Our predecessors spent the best part of about $6.5 billion over four years and connected a grand total of 51,000 people. You had contractors who’d downed tools in four states. Essentially the project had ground to a halt. So we’ve turned that around substantially where the NBN is now available to more than half the country. It’ll be three quarters by the middle of next year. Done and dusted 2020. And the good news Ben is that is six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under Labor and at about $30 billion less cost.

FORDHAM:

So under the Coalition, many, many more people have signed up for the NBN which means there are many more people who are unimpressed with the results?

FIFIELD:

Well we do have a good take up on the NBN, but you’re right Ben there are a number of people who aren’t having the experience that we would all hope that they would. And there are a couple of reasons for that. One is the experience actually migrating on to the network has sometimes been an issue. I guess just to put that in perspective, this is really a one in 100 year event where everyone is moving across to a new network. There’s been some big effort put in to improving that experience. The other sort of issue that we tend to have is people who don’t have the expectations met that they have when it comes to speeds. And there can be some straightforward reasons for that. One is, and this is a common one. The retailers have sent them the wrong modem. They’ve got the wrong bit of gear. But equally important is retailers have to make sure that they purchase from NBN the capacity that they need to service their customers.

FORDHAM:

And that doesn’t seem to be happening and that’s why you’ve got a lot of people who are promised upload and download speeds that are sky high and in reality they’re not getting anywhere near that. What about the argument that Labor wanted a rolled gold system in place. They wanted fibre to the home and when the Coalition downgraded that to fibre to the node, that that’s when the rot set in.

FIFIELD:

We’re essentially doing what they do in the United States and what they do in Europe. Which is you use a range of technologies. You don’t take a theological approach to this. You use the technology that makes sense in a given area to see the NBN rolled out fastest and at lowest cost. And we saw in the papers this morning that with Labor’s full fibre to the premise approach that there are some residences where it was costing $91,000 to connect a single residence. Now that’s one of the reasons why Labor’s approach would have cost about $30 billion more. But here’s the kicker Ben, when the project costs that much more Labor’s plan was for consumers to pay that. So Labor’s own model, Labor’s own approach would have seen consumers paying about $500 extra a year for their broadband.

FORDHAM:

What happens now because this thing needs rescuing? But when you hear the kind of language coming out of the federal government today about train wrecks and mistakes it doesn’t sound like you guys want to rescue it, but you’ve got no choice do you?

FIFIELD:

We absolutely want to rescue it. That’s why we fundamentally changed the rollout approach compared to Labor. It’s why we’ve now got NBN available to half the nation. But there are some important things we’ve done to make sure that customers get the experience they deserve. One is, we have given the ACCC money, as the consumer cop on the beat, so they can embed 4000 probes in people’s premises. And the ACCC will publicly report on the speeds people are actually getting by retailer. The other thing is that the ACCC have given very clear guidance to the retailers as to how they should advertise. And if retailers don’t follow that, the ACCC will come down on them like a ton of bricks.

FORDHAM:

And if people are still unhappy, just ring the Communications Minister’s office.

FIFIELD:

As always Ben. And I know you won’t hesitate.

FORDHAM:

Well they ring us all of the time, we’ve become a bit of an Ombudsman as my colleague Ray Hadley said this morning in regards to the NBN because the moment we mention it we just get flooded with calls. Anyway, it’s a mess and we’ve got to untangle it. Thanks for your time.

FIFIELD:

Thanks Ben.

[ends]