You caused a bit of controversy when you said you’d scrap the National Broadband Network if you won the next election. Will you honour every single contract if and when you come to power?
TS: We’ve said what the Government has done is reckless from day one. We wouldn’t have gone down this path and I said we’d be looking to do something very different in Government. We don’t think tearing up contracts is the right thing to do.
The other point I’d make is that we don’t expect to find that much done that is irrecoverable in terms of network build or where the legislation is at. But we won’t know the extent of the ‘concrete’ until closer to the election. It’s only sensible from our view that when that’s clearer, we too can be clearer and you’d be right to demand we are more specific at that time.
How much of Australia do you believe can be covered by a high-speed wireless network?
TS: Obviously, wireless is going ahead in leaps and bounds, but I also made the point that we won’t have a one-size-fits-all approach. We’ll have a mix of technologies and you can take some intermediate steps. That does not in any sense mean that’s the end game in Australia but it means we can give people a better deal than the ‘never never, wait for it, it’ll really be worth it’ NBN in the time ahead.
The Government’s embarked on this $43 billion NBN, which leaves underserved communities stranded for many years. We had the OPEL contract in place, which would’ve by last Christmas provided 900,000 households with better and more affordable broadband – that was scrapped. It was scrapped by the Minister just a few months after the last elections.
The reason was because his NBN1 was going to come to the rescue. Two-and-a-half years on, the only concrete promise from the Minister is that these people will be stranded for many years to come. There are some intermediate steps that can be taken generally and certainly the focus of Government spending should be in areas of market failure.
Would you promise to step in for all rural and regional communities that private companies don’t want to support with high-speed Internet?
TS: Where there are areas of market failure, the Government would insist that people had a decent and affordable service. Now you can have the regulatory frame work in place to drive the commercial rollout of better broadband generally and where the commercial market won’t go – where there are areas of market failure – we’re very clear that’s where the Government should step in and be there to assist.
For a community of less than 300 people, what speed of Internet connection do they deserve to have?
TS: With the OPEL contract, we set various benchmarks. At the moment, the capacities of technologies are evolving. We’ll be very clear before the election about what our targets are and we’ll also be setting some longer-term goals – not just for regional areas but also for the country as well.