Go to top of page

ABC Capital Hill with Greg Jennett Parliament House Canberra

Subjects: NBN, media reform

E & OE

JOURNALIST:

Well Mitch Fifield, welcome back. This leaked report from the NBN has a minefield of data in there, really, looking at all the metrics behind the company and at least some are suggesting that this project must be ringing alarm bells internally. Is that your take out?

FIFIELD:

Well, I know that journalists understandably hyperventilate and get sweaty palms whenever there is a supposedly leaked internal document. But the good news is that the NBN is on track. We have 1.8 million premises around the country who can access the NBN, we have about 820,000 people who've taken up that opportunity. It stands in contrast with the Labor Party who only had about 51,000 people who actually hooked up to the NBN and spent around $6 billion to make the NBN available to about 2% of the population. So the NBN is going well.

JOURNALIST:

So on track, but on track towards what? Just the targets for this year?

FIFIELD:

Well the NBN corporate plan is the most comprehensive document that has been prepared to date. And NBN has over the last six quarters have met every milestone in the corporate plan. Under Labor, they only met 15% of their rollout. So NBN is on track to have 2.6 million premises available ready for service this financial year. They're on track to have one million people activate and actually be part of the NBN. So NBN is tracking well. You can take a supposedly leaked internal document out of context and present something that looks very different to the reality of how NBN is tracking.

JOURNALIST:

What about a core part of the Coalition's design, or the Coalition's version, of the NBN which is the nodes? Now they appear to be having problems with getting power supply to them, and the cost per home appears – according to this document – to be running some 20% over their own estimates. Are there problems with the nodes?

FIFIELD:

Well I meet with NBN management on a weekly basis, and I'm advised that in relation to the issue of power and utilities, there were some issues. Those have been addressed. The NBN is on track. But something that is a fact is that the cost of connection under fibre to the node is half what Labor's connection of fibre to the premises was. I think that there's this mythology out there that somehow the NBN under Labor was the National Nirvana Network, that everything was going well. It wasn't. It was behind time. It was over budget. Malcolm Turnbull as Communications Minister brought order to bear where there was chaos; Stephen Conroy didn't take a technological approach to the NBN, he took a theological approach. What we have done with our multi-technology mix is be agnostic. Whatever is the technology that will see the NBN roll out the fastest and at lowest cost is what we'll do. As a result, the NBN will roll out six to eight years sooner and at $30 billion less cost than the Labor plan.

JOURNALIST:

Sure, but isn't it the case that the fibre is still doing a lot of the heavy lifting. A lot of these stats that you're able to point to connections, premises passed, are an in fact the original fibre design – not some of the newer technologies that NBN have grabbed hold of since the Coalition came in.

FIFIELD:

Oh look, NBN has made good progress in the planning and the preparation of Fibre to the Node. We're going to have hundreds of thousands of premises ready for service using fibre to the node this financial year. That is good news. And one of the other reasons why we're able to roll out the NBN much faster than our predecessors is because we're making use of things that are currently available, like the HFC network. Labor paid about $9 billion to Telstra, and about $800m to Optus to not use that network. Without paying an additional dollar, we're able to get access to that network. So that's good.

JOURNALIST:

And cost? What about the cost estimates have you any reason to think that they won't be contained within the current corporate plan limits?

FIFIELD:

Everything that is known has been factored into the current corporate plan. So in terms of revenue, and in terms of expenditure, NBN are confident that they're on track.

JOURNALIST:

But I think the revenue figures in some of this suggest that they're not on track. What gives you that confidence?

FIFIELD:

Well there are ebbs and flows in a project of this scale and this dimension. So if you take an individual document - the supposedly internal document - and take that out of context, you can get a very wrong picture of how the NBN in aggregate is rolling out. It's rolling out extremely well.

JOURNALIST:

Right, so the next measure that we'll see publicly will be what, the end of year results and you're saying that the annual targets will be met there. That's now what, three, four months away.

FIFIELD:

Things are tracking well. Ultimately, what the public should judge us on isn't newspaper reports from the Herald who didn't bother to contact anyone in government for some context. What they should ultimately judge us on is not pieces like that, but they should judge us on the actual roll out of the NBN.

JOURNALIST:

Just finally and briefly, in your portfolio you've got some media ownership laws going to the party room of the coalition tomorrow and presumably into the parliament. By when do you want those passed by the parliament?

FIFIELD:

Look, I'm very keen to get going on media reform. This is something that has been debated and debated and debated. Not just for years, but for a number of decades. It's time to move. The reach rule, two-out-of-three rule I think are redundant. We want to have good local content protections and I want to introduce legislation as soon as we can.

JOURNALIST:

And pass this side of the election?

FIFIELD:

That's my objective, to pass legislation this side of the election absolutely.

JOURNALIST:

And we're all looking for signs about when that might be, but we'll leave questions like that for another time. Mitch Fifield thank you.

FIFIELD:

Thanks very much Greg.

Media contact: Justine Sywak | 0448 448 487 | Justine.Sywak [at] communications.gov.au