ABC Radio Melbourne: On the Coalition’s changes to the NBN

E&OE TRANSCRIPT
RADIO INTERVIEW
ABC RADIO MELBOURNE DRIVE
23 SEPTEMBER 2020

Topics: NBN, Energy, Gas, Dan Andrews and Victoria

Rafael Epstein
Welcome, if you’re watching us on facebook live today the Coalition government came forward and said they will fund NBN to your home and not just to your street. 6 million homes at least some businesses as well, at a cost of about well somewhere north of $5 billion. Kevin Rudd is claiming vindication. He is of course, the former prime minister whose government came up with the NBN idea. And he’s president of the Asia Society Policy Institute in New York. At the moment, he is in Queensland, Kevin Rudd, thanks for joining us.

Kevin Rudd
Good to be with you.

Rafael Epstein
They’re doing the same thing, but better and cheaper. They say.

Kevin Rudd
Well, I think in your intro, you said ‘claiming vindication.’ All I’m interested in is the facts here. We laid out a plan for a National Broadband Network back in 2009 to take fiber optic cable to every single premise is house in small business and school in the country. Other than the most remote areas where we rely on a combination of satellite and wireless services, so that was 93% of the country. And it was to be 100 megabits per second, capable of further upgrade. So that’s what we were rolling out. Whistle onto the 2013 election. What did they then do? Partly in response to pressure from Murdoch, who didn’t want a new competition for his failing Fox Entertainment Network on cable by

Rafael Epstein
Disputed by Malcolm Turnbull, but continue? Yes.

Kevin Rudd
Well, that might be disputed, I’m just referring to basically unassailable facts. Murdoch did not want Netflix streamed live to people’s homes, because that would provide direct competition far too early than he wanted for his Fox entertainment cable network, at that stage is only really profitable business in Australia. Anyway, we get to 2013. What did they do they kill the original model, and instead we’re not gonna have fiber optic to the premises and have fiber optic to this thing called the node wherever that was, we still haven’t found ours in our suburbs up in sunshine beach. And that’s where it’s languished ever since. And as a result, when COVID hit people across the country have been screaming out because the inadequacy of their broadband services. That’s the history, however, they may choose to rewrite it.

Rafael Epstein
Well, they do. The essential argument without getting into the technical detail from the government is that you went too hard, too fast. You hadn’t connected nearly enough people by the time of that election, and they needed to go back and do it more slowly. And with the best technology at the time, how do you respond to that?

Kevin Rudd
What a load of codswallop. We launched the thing in 2009, I was actually participating in the initial rollout of cable ceremonies. I remember doing one in northwestern Tasmania, late 09, early 2010. And we had rolled out cable in a number of suburbs and a number of cities and regional towns right across Australia and we deliberately started in regional areas. We did not start in the inner city areas because we wanted to make sure that every Australian household and small business had a go.

Rafael Epstein
Is that what led to the higher cost, Kevin Rudd, is because they did the criticism from them is that yours was too expensive what you were doing at the time.

Kevin Rudd
Well, I make no apology for what it costs to layout high speed broadband in Darwin, or in Bernie in northwestern Tasmania, or in these parts of the world where yes, residences are further apart. But either you had a digital divide in Australia, which separated rich from poor from inner city to outer suburbs, or from capital cities to the country and regions. I grew up in the regions, I happen to believe that people out there are deserving of high speed broadband just as much as anybody else. And they killed this plan in 2013 spent 10s of billions of dollars in a botch job, which resulted in broadband speeds for Australia, among the slowest in the OECD. How they defend that, as a policy achievement, beggars belief.

Rafael Epstein
Doesn’t it makes sense though, to have a demand driven program? The minister was saying, look what we’re gonna do, we’ll roll the fiber down the street, and then the fiber will come into your home only when the customer wants it. Isn’t that a sensible way to build a network?

Kevin Rudd
So why have I and others around the country and members of parliament, government and opposition received screaming petitions from people over the last, you know, four to five years, demanding their broadband services. And in fact, it’s just been virtually impossible for many people to get connected. The truth is this has been an absolute botch up in the conceptual design, that is, substituting fiber optic cable with copper, for that last link, which means that however fast the data has traveled along to the fiber optic node. Once it’s constricted and strangled at the copper intersection point it then slows down to a snail’s pace, which is why everyone listening to your program has been pulling their hair out if they hadn’t been able to be connected to fiber optic themselves.

Rafael Epstein
We don’t know for sure which program would have been more expensive though, do we? I mean they’re massive projects. You only really know the costs when you reach the point in the project? I mean, how do we know yours would have been any cheaper or any better?

Kevin Rudd
We planned ours thoroughly. The first conceptual design contrary to Liberal Party propaganda, was put together over a six month period involving technical committees, presided over by the Secretary of the Commonwealth Treasurery. The Liberal Party propaganda was that the NBN was invented on the back of an envelope or the back of a restaurant menu. That’s utter bullshit. The bottom line is it was well planned, well developed by a specialist committee of experts both technical and financial presided over by the Secretary the Treasury. It was then rolled out and we intend to have it rolled out across the nation by 2018-2019. That was how it was going. We had a battle plan with which to do that. But when it gets cut off at midships by the conservatives with an entirely different delivery model, the amount of waste of taxpayers dollars involved in going for plan Zed rather than Plan A…

Rafael Epstein
So can I can ask you to expand on that Kevin Rudd because you’re accusing them of waste. Why is it a waste? What have they done that you say is a waste?

Kevin Rudd
Let me just give you one example of waste. One example of waste is when you’ve got a massive rollout program underway with multiple contractors already engaged across the country, preparing trenches and laying cable and then with a central fiat from the then Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government saying stop. What happens is all these projects and all these contractual arrangements get thrown up into the air, many of which I imagine involve penalty payments for loss of work, then you’ve got a whole problem now reconvening a massive rollout program, building up capacity and signing new contracts. Again, at loss to the taxpayer, I would invite the Auditor General to investigate what has actually been lost in quantitative dollar terms through the mismanagement of this project.

Rafael Epstein
You’re listening to Kevin Rudd, of course, formal Prime Minister of Australia regional conceiver of the NBN with his then Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. The phone number is 1300 222 774. Kevin Rudd, the government had a few announcements over the last week or two around energy, especially the announcement yesterday. There is some there’s quite a lot of senses in there in spending on every low emissions technology that is available that might include something like gases or transition fuel, that’s, that’s a decent step forward, isn’t it, even if they don’t have the emissions tag you’d like them to have?

Kevin Rudd
Let me put it to you in these terms. The strategy we had was to give renewable energy initial boost. We did that through the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, which we legislated. And it worked. Remember, when we were elected to office 4% of Australia’s electricity and energy supply came from renewables. We legislated to 20% by 2020. And guess what it is? Now it’s 21%. The whole idea was to give that whole slew of renewable and energy industries, a starting chance, you know, a critical mass to participate in the national energy market. What they should be now doing, if they’re going to throw taxpayer dollars at a next tranche of energy is throw it open to competitive renewables and see who comes up with the best bid.

Rafael Epstein
They can do that. I mean, they’ve announced funding the arena, which Labor government came up with, but renewable people can bid for that money. There’s nothing stopping them bidding for their money.

Kevin Rudd
Yeah, but the whole point of investing taxpayer dollars in projects of this nature is to advance the renewables cause or to advance, shall we say, zero emissions? You see, the reason the Renewable Energy Agency was established again by the Labor government was to provide a financing mechanism for renewables that is 100% clean energy. Gas projects exist on the basis of their own financial economics out there in the marketplace, and together with coal will ultimately feel the impact of international investment houses incrementally withdrawing financial support from any carbon based fuel that’s happening over time. Cole’s the product leader in terms of people exiting those investments, others will follow.

Rafael Epstein
What do you make of the way the majors handled? The premier here in Victoria, Dan Andrews.

Kevin Rudd
I think what’s the media has comprehensively failed to understand what it’s like to be in the hot seat. You see, I began my career in public life. As a state official, I was Director General of the Queensland Cabinet Office for five years. I’ve got some familiarity with how state governments go, and how they work and how they operate. And against all the measures of what’s possible and not possible. I think Dan Andrews has done a really good job. And what people who criticize him fail the answer…

Rafael Epstein
Even with the hotel’s problem?

Kevin Rudd
Yeah, well, look, you know, it reminds me very much of when I was Prime Minister. And the Liberals then attacked me and held me personally accountable and responsible for the tragic deaths of four young men who were killed in the rollout of the home insulation program, as a consequence of a failure of contractors to adhere to state based occupational health and safety standards. So all I would say is when people start waving the finger at a head of government and saying you Dan Andrews are responsible for the second shift at two o’clock in the morning at hotel facility F, frankly, doesn’t pass the common sense test, I think…

Rafael Epstein
Shouldn’t his health department be in charge of the…

Kevin Rudd
The voters of Victoria and the voters of the nation, I think are common sense people, and they would ask themselves, what would I do in the same situation? Tough call. But I think in overall terms, Andrews has handled it well.

Rafael Epstein
I know you’re a big critic of the Murdoch media. I just wonder if you see. Is there more criticism that comes from a newspaper like the Herald Sun or the Australian towards Dan Andrews, do you think?

Kevin Rudd
Well, I look at the Murdoch rags every day. And they are rags. If you don’t believe they are go to the ABC and look at Iview at the BBC series on the Murdoch dynasty and the manipulation of truth for editorial purposes. Something which I noticed the ABC in Australia is always coy to probe to fear there’ll be too much Murdoch retaliation against the ABC.

Rafael Epstein
I’m happy to probe it but there are some good journalists at the Australian and the Herald Sun aren’t there?

Kevin Rudd
Well, well actually very few of your colleagues are. That’s the truth of it. Tell me this. When was the last time Four Corners did an expose into the abuse of media power in Australia by the murdochs. Do you know the answer to that one is?

Rafael Epstein
I don’t answer for Four Corners.

Kevin Rudd
No Hang on. You’re the ABC…

Rafael Epstein
Yes but you can’t ask me about Four Corners Kevin Rudd, I don’t have nothing to do with it.

Kevin Rudd
The answer is 25 years. So what I’m saying is that your principal investigator program has left it as too hot to handle for quarter of a century. So to answer your question about Murdoch’s handling of state Labor premiers. If I was to look each day at the coverage and the Queensland Courier Mail and the Melbourne Herald Sun, versus the Daily Telegraph in Sydney, where there’s a Liberal Premier, and the Adelaide advertiser with the Liberal Premier, against any measure, it is chalk and cheese. It is 95% attack in Victoria and Queensland. And it’s 95% of defense in NSW.

Rafael Epstein
Don’t you think there’s some significant criticisms produced by the journalists at those newspapers that are worthy of coverage? In Victoria.

Kevin Rudd
When I speak to journalists who have left for example, the Australian newspaper, and who tell me that the reason they have left is because they are sick and tired of the number of times not only has their copy been rewritten, but in fact rebalanced and with often a contrary headline put across the top of it. Frankly, we all know the joke in the Murdoch newspaper empire. And that is the publisher has a view. It’s a deeply conservative worldview. He doesn’t like Labor, governments federal or states that don’t that don’t doth their caps in honor of his political and financial interests. And he seeks therefore to delegitimize and remove them from office. There’s a pattern of this over 10 years.

Rafael Epstein
I’m going to ask you to give a short answer to this one if I can, because it is a new topic that I know you could talk about for half an hour but if I can. Gut feel who’s gonna win the American election?

Kevin Rudd
I think given up lived in the US for the last five years. I think there is sufficient turn off factor in relation to Trump and his handling of Coronavirus that will cause of itself, Biden to win in what will still be a contested election and end up probably under appeal to the United States Senate.

Rafael Epstein
Thanks for your time.

Kevin Rudd
Good to be with you.