Minister for the Department of Communications and the Arts

Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield

Minister for Communications

A/g Minister for Regional Communications

Minister for the Arts

Manager of Government Business in the Senate

TODAY: Parliament House, Canberra

24 October 2017

6:20am

Subject: NBN.

E & OE

Karl Stefanovic:
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield joins me now. Communications Minister, good morning.

Fifield:
Good morning Karl.

Stefanovic:
This is a $50 billion disaster, do you feel any way responsible or are you just going to play the blame game this morning?

Fifield:
Well Karl it’s not a matter of playing the blame game, what we inherited from Labor was essentially a failed project.

Stefanovic:
Sounds like a blame game.

Fifield:
It was a failed project Karl. They’d spend about six and a half billion dollars over four years and connected a grand total of 51,000 people. We’ve turned it around. We’ve got it on track. NBN is now available to more than half the nation. It’ll be 75 per cent by the middle of next year. And it will be all done and dusted by 2020. And Karl the good news is, that’s a good six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under our predecessors.

Stefanovic:
Do you concede this morning we’ll never recoup the money spent on it?

Fifield:
Karl this is an incredibly expensive project. We’re talking about $49 billion. If we kept on the path of Labor it would have cost an extra $30 billion. It’s our intention after the project is completed to take it out of the Government’s hands and we’ll know at that stage what return the taxpayer ultimately gets.

Stefanovic:
It will never recoup the money spent on it?

Fifield:
Look Karl, it would be a hard thing for that to occur, but as I say, we’re not really going to know until the NBN is sold and we see what the taxpayer gets.

Stefanovic:
So we’ll never recoup the money spent on it, plus the technology will be outdated and ineffective. It’s a turkey.

Fifield:
Karl. What we are doing in Australia, choosing the technology that makes sense in an area to see NBN rolled out fastest and at lowest cost. It’s what’s done in the United States. It’s what’s done in Europe. Labor were pursuing an approach which really only happens in small city states like Singapore, like Hong Kong.

Stefanovic:
So you’re going to try and sell something that’s not commercially viable. It cannot be easy trying to sell a turkey.

Fifield:
Karl we are rolling out the NBN. Our absolute focus at the moemment is to get it completed and to make sure that we improve on the customer experience. After that’s done we’ll then turn our minds to the sale of NBN.

Stefanovic:
Alright. Let’s fast forward for a second here to 2020. You’re in a room full of investors, you now have 30 seconds on the floor to sell this great turkey. What is your pitch?

Fifield:
(Laughs) Karl, what I’d say is this is a national broadband network, we’re the first continent to have this sort of fast broadband network. It’s fit for purpose.

Stefanovic:
You don’t have me, what else?

Fifield:
It’s fit for purpose, and it’s over to the investors.

Stefanovic:
That’s your pitch?

Fifield:
Karl, I don’t have a room of investors before me at the moment. As I say, my focus is on getting the NBN completed by 2020.

Stefanovic:
How do you sell it? How do you sell it, it’s ineffective, it’s outdated already?

Fifield:
Karl, NBN is a fit for purpose network. There’s no network in the world that is set in stone. They always need upgrades and that will happen over time.

Stefanovic:
So you’re not going to be able to sell it? Who’s going to buy it?

Fifield:
Karl, there’s always investors for technology propositions, we are getting a rate of return on the NBN and when it comes time to sell, investors will look at the facts as they are at that time.

Stefanovic:
Okay, so you’ve no doubt that it’ll sell?

Fifield:
Karl, it’s our intention to sell it.

Stefanovic:
(Laughs) It means you don’t know?

Fifield:
Karl, we’ve got to finish building the NBN first.

Stefanovic:
Why don’t you just take the responsible approach here and say we’re writing off the $50 billion, let’s start again?

Fifield:
Karl, the value of the NBN is something that is determined by accounting standards. And when we get to that point of selling it, those sorts of assessments will be made.

Stefanovic:
See Australians just want hard talk from their politicians. They want you to take responsibility, it might not have been your fault, and certainly you’ve had a chance to try and fix it, but they just want you to go you know what, write it off take responsibility, you stuffed it up.

Fifield:
Karl, we are taking responsibility. That’s why we’ve put in place a model that’s turned it around, that sees the NBN available to more than half the nation today. That was something that was unthinkable when we came into government. It was a stalled project.

Stefanovic:
It’s slow, it’s ineffective, it’s outdated, it is a turkey.

Fifield:
Karl, it does absolutely have its challenges. But our job is not to look in the rear view mirror. Our job is to focus on getting this thing rolled out. Which we’re doing. Getting it completed by 2020. Which we’ll achieve. And, as I say, that’s six to eight years sooner than would have been the case under our predecessors. And Karl, the good news is because of the approach we’re taking, Australians will have internet bills of $500 a year less than would have been the case under Labor’s approach.

Stefanovic:
They’ll just have to wait six hours to download something from the internet. Senator, thanks very much for your time today, appreciate it.

Fifield:
Thanks Karl, good to be with you.

[ends]

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