Ministers for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

Drive with Alicia Loxley, 774 ABC Melbourne

10 July 2017

5:30PM

Subjects: nbn, polls, Liberal Party, same-sex marriage

E & OE

Loxley:
You might have heard the nbn is celebrating a bit of a milestone today. We are being told that those charged with rolling it out have hit the half way mark. So more than one in two Aussies now have the nbn and Communications Minister Mitch Fifield joins me now on the line. G'day Minister.

Fifield:
G'day Alicia.

Loxley:
You are half way there.

Fifield:
Half way there. It will be all done and dusted by 2020 which is six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under our predecessors. So it is good news.

Loxley:
It is fair to say that it hasn't been all smooth sailing though isn' it?

Fifield:
Look this is a massive project. It is a complex project. We are essentially trying to do in six or eight years what it took the PMG, Telecom and Telstra 100 years to do. And that is to connect every premises in the Nation to a new communications network. So yes there will be people who have an experience that isn't all that we would want it to be. But the overwhelming experience of people on the nbn to date has been a good one.

Loxley:
I just wanted to ask you about a Choice survey which disputes that. It found that 62 percent of Australian consumers experienced internet problems over the last six months. And nbn users reported they faced slow speeds an dropouts 76 percent of the time. Your response to that?

Fifield:
Well the majority of people who would have been surveyed by Choice and who were surveyed by other surveyors, such as ACAMI, would be people who are on the pre nbn network. It is one of the reasons why we are wanting to roll the nbn out as fast as we can, is because we recognise that the pre nbn network isn't what people want. In terms of those who are already on the nbn, nbn tell us that they get connection right the first time on nine out of ten occasions. Now obviously we want nbn to do better than that, they are learning as they go and continually improving.

Loxley:
The multi technology approach that you are using with the existing copper network that's continuing to draw criticism. Do you think that's been the right approach. To speed it up, I know that sped up the process, but in hindsight now it's causing problems for some users. Do you think that was the right idea.

Fifield:
Look I think that the multi technology mix approach is absolutely the right one. And the mandate for nbn is to use the technology that makes sense in a given area, that will see the nbn rolled out fastest and at lowest cost. And as a result of taking that approach, as I mentioned, nbn will be completed by 2020, six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under our predecessors. It will also be completed about $30 billion less cost. And when we came into office in 2013 everyone was telling us they want the nbn sooner rather than later, so this approach allows us to do that. But also it doesn't prevent upgrade paths in the future as and when they become necessary.

Loxley:
Well detractors have been saying that the network will have to be ripped up and replaced in the next decade because you have gone down that multi technology path.

Fifield:
Well look that's not right. Already with the nbn network if you are talking fixed wireless nbn has worked out how they can increase speeds on that from 50mbps to 100mbps. With the HFC pay TV cable network which we are also using nbn is working right now on ways of increasing speed there. With fibre to the node there will be upgrade paths in the future. I think it's important to recognise that nbn is providing what Australians need. Something of the order of 83% of people who are on the nbn are opting for packages of 25mbps or less, and that really doesn't vary very much whether you are talking fibre to the node or if you are talking fibre to the premise. You really get the full economic benefits once the whole Nation has it, and we want them to have it as soon as possible.

Loxley:
I wanted to ask you about the latest newspoll it spells more trouble for you government doesn't it?

Fifield:
Well Alicia your very adept at analysing polls and commenting on them.

Loxley:
I don't know about that I just read the figures and it seems like it wasn't good news for the government.

Fifield:
Look you and your journalistic colleagues, your stock and trade is to look at the polls and talk about them, and that is appropriate. My job is to focus on rolling out the nbn and delivering media reform. That's what's occupying me.

Loxley:
OK but it is 15 in a row now so you are sort of edging closer to that benchmark that Malcom Turnbull made for challenging for the leadership.

Fifield:
Look we don't focus on the polls.  What we focus on is doing the people's business and this is a government that is working. This is a Parliament that is working. You know just putting my hat on as the Manager of Government Business in the Senate we've got 165 pieces of legislation through this Parliament, 36 in the last sitting forthright alone. And we have been ticking off one by one the major items of our agenda. Bringing back the Australian Building and Construction Commission. Legislating protection for CFA volunteers in Victoria. Setting up a Registered Organisations Commission. Legislating the important education reforms that Simon Birmingham has been overseeing. Legislating the Omnibus Savings Bill to put the budget back on a path to balance. So these are the things that we are focussing on and we have been achieving.

Loxley:
I'm speaking to Communications Minister Mitch Fifield. Minister I wanted to ask you, some of your colleagues in the last week have spoken about your previous leaders comments, and that the only person that is helping is Bill Shorten. In this mornings news poll we see that he has closed the gap to just eight points as preferred Prime Minister. Do you think there is a correlation there between Tony Abbott's comments and the Labor party's rise in the latest news poll.

Fifield:
Well I urge all of my colleagues to focus on the job at hand. And that is giving effect to our agenda, if we do that then when it comes to the next election hopefully the voting public will look to favourably upon us.

Loxley:
Another topic I wanted to ask you about is same sex marriage. Liberal Senator Dean Smith is drafting a bill to allow any two people to marry, I think the words he used in The Sunday Times in WA was 'the time is now' describing the issue as an embarrassment to the Nation. What do you think about that.

Fifield:
Well this is an issue that people feel strongly about on both sides of the debate and because of that we took to the last election a policy that was to put this in the hands of the Australian public. To have a plebiscite so that they could have their say. We won the last election, we had a mandate to do that but unfortunately Bill Shorten decided to block the plebiscite legislation in the Parliament.

I think that he should have respected the mandate that we had. And I think it is peculiar because Bill Shorten himself has previously been an advocate for a plebiscite on this issue.

Loxley:
It is pretty strong language isn't it to use as a Liberal Senator 'it's an embarrassment to the Nation' it's increasingly looking like you are a party bitterly divided on this issue.

Fifield:
Well we have a plan, we have a policy, we took it to the election and that was for a plebiscite. We could have had this issue done and dusted already if Bill Shorten hadn't stood in the way of a plebiscite.

Loxley:
Mitch Fifield thanks so much for your time and congratulations on reaching that magic half waypoint for the nbn.

Fifield:
Thanks very much Alicia.

Loxley:
Mitch Fifield Communications Minister.

[ENDS]

Back to top