Sky News with Kieran Gilbert > Mitch Fifield, Liberal Senator for Victoria

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42 Florence Street
MENTONE VIC 3194

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28-November-2017

Sky News with Kieran Gilbert
Sky Studio Canberra
28 November 2017
8:30am

& OE

KIERAN GILBERT:

Good morning and welcome to the program. We've got lots to discuss this morning with the Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield. He joins me here in the studio.  Minister thanks for your time. Before a Senate Committee last night, Stephen Parry, former President confided in you about his citizenship question. Let's just go back through a bit of this. Did you ever tell him to keep quiet? 

FIFIELD:

No Kieran, it's the responsibility of each individual Senator to be satisfied about their personal circumstances and I encouraged him to do so.

GILBERT:

In hindsight, should you have told him to be public about that? Because he pursued it but he wasn't upfront like others were, Fiona Nash and so on?

FIFIELD:

Kieran it's up to each individual Senator to satisfy themselves about their circumstances. That's something that only an individual Senator can do, and then to take the action that they deem appropriate. We've seen two Senators since that time, Senator Lambie and Senator Kakoschke-Moore, do the same thing.

GILBERT:

You didn't feel it was your place to tell the President of the Senate that he should go public about it, or... what was your thinking on that?

FIFIELD:

It was a matter of his personal responsibility about which he hadn't reached a concluded view to my knowledge. And this is a matter for each individual Senator.

GILBERT:

But the way it unfolded, it was just a bit ugly for the Prime Minister wasn't it? Should you have at least told the PM? Because he didn't know about it until the Tuesday when it came out.

FIFIELD:

Kieran no Senator or Member can outsource or transfer their responsibility to be satisfied about their circumstances. It's a responsibility that is individual and personal. 

GILBERT:

But you're a member of the Turnbull Cabinet, do you have a responsibility to the Prime Minister to say “look, it looks like we've got another debacle on our hands”.

FIFIELD:

Kieran I've covered all these matters comprehensively last night in the Senate Committee. I've made a statement to the Senate in the context of the High Court referral debate. And I've answered every question that's been asked in Question Time. It's a concluded matter.

GILBERT:

All right, let's move onto the HFC cable with the NBN. It's not delivering the broadband that the Prime Minister said it would. Was it a mistake to keep this HFC going?

FIFIELD:

No absolutely not. And it is one of the reasons why the NBN will be completed by 2020, which is still the case, which is six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under our predecessors.  And it's still going to be completed at tens of billions of dollars less.

GILBERT:

So the HFC, which for our viewers, many of them would know, but this is the cable that provides pay TV services designed for Foxtel and pay TV services. Is it up to the task of high speed broadband?

FIFIELD:

Absolutely. And there are hundreds of thousands of Australians who, in the pre NBN world, are already accessing fast broadband over the HFC pay TV cables. And in fact, in the United States, most people who have broadband access it over the HFC pay TV cables. So it's a good product. People will be able to get…

GILBERT:

Why the delay then? For nine months?

FIFIELD:

Kieran with each of the technology types that we're rolling out, whether it be fibre to the node, satellite, or fixed-wireless, in the early rollout period there are some issues to work through. That's the case with HFC. The issues are very fixable. They will be solved. And what NBN has decided is…

GILBERT:

Still cheaper, still faster, you maintain?

FIFIELD:

Absolutely. You can get 100mbps.  You'll be able to potentially get gigabit speeds on the HFC.

GILBERT:

So why are some customers saying they're getting slower speeds? You've heard that complaint from some NBN customers saying they're getting slower speeds after they get the NBN installed.

FIFIELD:

When it comes to HFC there are two issues.  One is that there is some interference in terms of the spectrum that's used and the cable is shared with Telstra and Foxtel. And NBN have solutions for that. There's also an issue of the joints, the taps as they're called, between the cable in the street and the cable that goes to your house. Some of those need to be replaced. So this can all be fixed.

GILBERT:

Will Telstra have to pay? Because you bought the HFC system for over a billion dollars from them.

FIFIELD:

Actually it was the previous Labor Government that paid Telstra billions of dollars to just shut down the HFC network and to not have it available at all. What we did, for not one extra dollar, was to negotiate to have access to that pre-existing communications infrastructure.

GILBERT:

So it didn’t cost anymore?

FIFIELD:

Not one dollar more to access that communications infrastructure. What Labor wanted to do, and what they did, was they paid Telstra to shut it down. And then Labor were going to build a whole new network essentially over the top of what was there.

GILBERT:

So would you characterise this as, as a teething problem basically, using our legacy technology to bring in the high speed broadband?

FIFIELD:

It’s absolutely a teething problem. The multi technology mix approach that we’re taking, to use the technology that makes sense in an area, to see the NBN rolled out fastest and at lowest cost, still makes sense. We’ll still see the NBN finished a darn sight sooner than our predecessors approach. And at a lot less cost. But, in terms of the HFC issue, those people who are not yet on the NBN network in those areas with HFC, they will continue to have access, in the pre NBN network, to fast broadband over the HFC connection.

GILBERT:

Let’s finish on a couple of other matters. The banking inquiry, it looks like a Commission of Inquiry will be pursued by the Nationals, potentially with their party room support now. We’ve got another individual in the lower house, Llew O’Brien joining George Christensen in saying they are going to cross the floor, so the numbers are already there. Why not just take control of this now? Why doesn’t Mr Turnbull just say, OK look, the numbers are there, we’re going to run this Commission of Inquiry and be done with it.

FIFIELD:

We don’t think that there’s a need for a Royal Commission. What’s we’ve been focused on are practical measures to hold banks to account and to deliver for consumers. Which is why we’ve given more money to ASIC and more powers. It’s why we’ve got a one stop shop for complaints. It’s why we now have the bank’s CEOs coming before the House Economics Committee.

GILBERT:

But you’ve convinced. You might convince me or our viewers.  But you haven’t convinced Mr Christensen or Mr O’Brien or Senator O’Sullivan. These people, the Nationals, they’re your own colleagues. They want to go ahead with it.

FIFIELD:

The important thing is that we deliver practical outcomes for consumers.  Which we’re doing. And that we deliver enhanced accountability for bank executives. Which we’re doing.

GILBERT:

You’ve been around this place for a long time though, as a staff member and so on. Do you, how damaging would it be to a Turnbull government if you had the Nats split up off this issue?

FIFIELD:

We have our policy, which is to not support a Banking Royal Commission. To focus on practical measures. Individual backbench colleagues are always at liberty to put forward their own views and their own propositions.

GILBERT:

What if the Nats split off from the party room though?

FIFIELD:

Look we are a Coalition. We work well together as a Liberal and National team. And that will continue.

GILBERT:

Even if they do vote differently on this matter?

FIFIELD:

Look it’s your job to hypothesise and to to look at different scenarios. But what we’re focused on in the Senate this week is getting the marriage legislation through so that that can be available for the House of Representatives next week. And that’s what our focus is.

GILBERT:

It might be hypothetical but it looks like Barnaby Joyce on front page of The Australian today, national broadsheet, saying, we could do this.  We could get up the National Party backing this policy. A very fundamental difference to your party.

FIFIELD:

Each party room is there so that individual colleagues can put a view forward if they have it.

GILBERT:

Would it be damaging for the Government more broadly do you think?

FIFIELD:

As I say, we’re focused squarely on the business before us. Which is to transact the marriage legislation. That which the public voted for. That’s our first order of business.

GILBERT:

On the Hottest 100.  You’d be a fan of that wouldn’t you? You like your music don’t you?

FIFIELD:

Absolutely, as I know you would be too Kieran.

GILBERT:

Would you say we could hear a boycott announcement on Australia Day?

FIFIELD:

Kieran the ABC should just leave the Hottest 100 alone. The ABC and Triple J should not seek to politicise Australia Day. By removing the Hottest 100 from Australia Day, because there are a few people who don’t think Australia Day should celebrated on the 26th of January, the ABC and Triple J are politically intervening…

GILBERT:

But they did a voluntary non-binding survey. Let’s not forget about that.

FIFIELD:

The ABC has a broader responsibility to the whole community, not just to one particular market segment. And Kieran there are some days in this gig as Minister where I slap my forehead and I say what were they guys thinking?

GILBERT:

We’re out of time thanks.

FIFIELD:

Thanks Kieran.

[ends]