Interview with Matthew Doran, ABC News Afternoon Briefing

SUBJECTS: NBN fibre connections for 1.5 million premises, Lidia Thorpe’s Resignation from Greens leadership position.

MATTHEW DORAN, HOST: The federal government is promising full fibre NBN access to 1.5 million homes and businesses by 2025 in a pre-budget announcement focusing on outer city and regional areas.

The Communications Minister is Michelle Rowland, and she joined me from Western Sydney a short time ago.

Michelle Rowland, welcome to Afternoon Briefing. We’re going to get to the announcement that you’re making today shortly, but I do want to ask you first up on the breaking news this afternoon regarding the Greens and Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe. She has resigned as the party’s deputy senator – deputy senate leader as a result of the revelations of an undisclosed relationship with a former bikie. Do you think that that’s the end of the matter here, or does there need to be further inquiry?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well, the reports are disturbing, and I think it’s important that it be established that there is or has never been a conflict of interest arising from this matter. And that is a matter for the Greens political party leader to be satisfied of. But we’ll wait and see what developments arise going forward.

DORAN: Do you think it serves as something of a warning to other politicians about the need for complete transparency in their personal lives considering how it could affect their political lives?

ROWLAND: Well, we have clear guidelines in the Labor Party for some time in relation to these matters. But I think above all else, this goes to an issue of whether appropriate governance and appropriate disclosures have been made. But, again, only knowing the details that have been released through the media I think that this has a bit to play out. And that will be primarily for the Greens political party to deal with as well.

DORAN: Well, let’s turn to the announcement that you’re making today regarding this investment in the NBN – a pre-budget announcement of extra connection to the NBN, 1.5 million homes and businesses by the year 2025. Talk us through the rationale for this announcement today.

ROWLAND: Certainly. Well, as Labor committed prior to the election, we want to ensure that all Australians, irrespective of where they live or work, have access to the best quality infrastructure. We inherited a situation of a multi-technology mix after nine years of coalition government. But we are determined to go forward with a positive agenda and to deliver on the promise of high speed broadband and the initiatives, the capabilities and also the world-leading technologies that can contribute to enhancing Australia’s productivity.

So we committed to 1.5 million premises – that’s homes and small businesses – being able to access fibre technology at an investment of $2.4 billion. So we have announced that we will be delivering on that election commitment, and that will be reflected in next week’s budget papers. So whether you are in Western Australia where the Prime Minister is right now or in Western Sydney where I am right now, every Australian irrespective of where they live or work should have the same opportunity to access the best quality broadband services.

I’m very pleased to say also that under this announcement some 660,000 of those premises will be in rural and regional Australia. And, again, that’s so important considering that this government was elected as – on a platform of a better future for all. And that is exactly what we are delivering under Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

DORAN: The figure 1.5 million homes and businesses, it is a significant number of extra premises that will get this connection to the NBN. Do you foreshadow or foresee a situation down the track where that will continue to be added to? Is this just a sort of initial investment?

ROWLAND: Well, we have made it clear that we want to invest in this network. We’ve made it clear that we want to fix the NBN. We’ve also made it clear going into the election that considering those factors for the foreseeable future, the NBN will remain in public ownership. So we're very committed to this network, and we see this as a key driver of productivity but also, as we saw during the pandemic, the way in which we work, study, the way e-commerce is conducted has fundamentally changed. We know that copper is far less reliable than fibre technology. It costs more to operate and maintain. And this investment really will pay dividends over the longer term, not only for consumers and businesses but also our economy as a whole.

DORAN: When we’re talking about internet connections around the country, in many regional areas they are turning to other forms of internet connections – Elon Musk’s satellite internet connection is one that springs to mind. Is this a situation where there is going to be a mix of providers simply because of how vast a country Australia is – that the NBN, for all of its ambition just simply can’t get to every single place across the country?

ROWLAND: Well, consumers have choice, but above all else, the NBN was designed with one key principle in mind – and that is irrespective of where you live or work in Australia you’ll have the same opportunity to access the best quality broadband services.

So we’ve also announced as part of our policy – and we are delivering – on substantial upgrades to the fixed wireless service in rural and regional Australia but also enhancing the satellite services that are provided under NBN Sky Muster, including in terms of some of those limitations that currently apply and removing those and making those more accessible as well.

So we are very determined to deliver on a network that provides that quality, that reliability but also means that it’s affordable and sustainable in the long term. And that’s always been the key part of this investment. We’re very focused on moving forward. We know we had a decade under the Liberals with a failed multi-technology mix. But we are very much focused on the future and delivering for the people of Australia in their technology needs.

DORAN: That multi-technology mix that you refer, let’s pick up on what that actually means. You’re referring to the use of the existing copper network to get NBN connections into some properties. When we’re talking about this announcement of full fibre access to 1.5 million premises, are there some of those premises that already have a copper connection to the NBN that will be given a choice of upgrading for want of a better phrase?

ROWLAND: Well, it will be primarily in that fixed line footprint which is currently served by copper. And we know that it’s not only speed that makes a difference but also the reliability of the service that’s so important to consumers. So NBN Co will undertake further analysis and detailed design for the specific areas that will be upgraded. But these will be based on some of those engineering elements but also where a return can be generated as a result of people taking up that fibre access.

But I should be clear – this is about giving all Australians in these areas that are being upgraded the opportunity to get that fibre access, and we know that so many Australians who are currently stuck on an inferior copper network actually want that as well. So we’ll be delivering for those Australian small businesses and consumers.

DORAN: And you mentioned Labor’s commitment to keeping the NBN in public ownership. I guess it’s a line of rhetoric that we’ve heard when it comes to a lot of public assets from political parties across the spectrum over many, many years. But can you guarantee that it will stay in public ownership, and why is that so important?

ROWLAND: Well, we made an announcement prior to the election that for the foreseeable future while this repair job is done on the NBN that we will keep the NBN in public ownership. The current structure of the law as it stands says that if the NBN were to privatised it has to go through a number of steps, and they are set out in legislation.

But we made a conscious decision that we were going to provide a different set of incentives to the NBN. That has fundamentally changed the focus of its economics in a number of areas, but we thought it was very important to send that clear message about our view of believing in the NBN, believing in the investment that we have in it because this is about getting returns for the people of Australia and our economy as a whole.

DORAN: Michelle Rowland, thanks for joining us on Afternoon Briefing.

ROWLAND: Pleasure.