How would you rate the Coalition’s handling of Communications issues, especially broadband, during the previous election? Was it good enough?
Malcolm Turnbull (MT): I’m not going to comment on my colleagues. Andrew Robb’s been engaged in a bit of self-criticism of our performance but I’ll leave that to him. I’ve got no criticism to offer and I’m looking forward.
So you wouldn’t agree with Robb at all?
MT: I’ve answered the question. I’m not going to engage in criticism of my colleagues.
The Coalition’s policy was looked on as somewhat undercooked from a lot of the IT industry and they thought it could’ve been more comprehensive. Is that a criticism you would agree with?
MT: I refer to my previous answer.
Are you going to be changing the policy within the next six months or so?
MT: I’m not making any changes, I’m not foreshadowing any changes, but all of our policies are always under review and this is a very dynamic area. Rapidly changing landscape and so inevitably you certainly, depending on when the next election is, there’s always the possibility there could be some changes. But I’m not foreshadowing any at the present time.
You’ve spoken about the differences between tech audiences and what they want and the general public and what they want when it comes to broadband policy. Does the average person on the street really care that much about broadband at the end of the day?
MT: Well you’d have to talk to the average person. My judgement is that broadband is fast access to the Internet. It’s highly valued but I think the amount of access, the capacity, the bandwidth that people feel they need differs dramatically. If you talk to any of the ISPs for example, they will tell you that a very large share of bandwidth is being used by a relatively small number of users/customers. If the answer is fibre-optics to the home, 1Gbps speeds to every home in Australia, that is a solution but it is not a solution to any problem that’s manifest in the community at the moment.
People are not demanding a leap of that nature. Now if it could be made available cheaply, cost-effectively, without a net cost to the budget then that’s one thing. But as we know there is nobody in the business world or telecoms world who believes that this National Broadband Network is something you could ever justify as a commercial investment.
Your policy as it stands is 12Mbps peak speed as a minimum. How long is that minimum sustainable for if we’re going to compete in the region?
MT: As a general rule I don’t think bandwidth speed is a limiting factor on our economic growth, any more than high bandwidth capacity has been a driver of great productivity. Japan has had great fibre to the home for many households for a very long time and they haven’t had a particularly spectacular take-up there to say the least. You wouldn’t envy their economic performance.
A phrase that’s been made famous is, “Do it once, do it right, do it with fibre,” as spoken by Independent MP, Tony Windsor. Is that a comment you’d agree with? Is it correct?
MT: No, I don’t think it’s right. I like Tony Windsor but I don’t agree with that. I think that what you need to do ... the approach we need to take is what I would call a ‘least cost technology agnostic approach’. You do fibre to the node in some places, fibre to the home in others, while somewhere else DSL, etc. You just do what is economically rational and that will be a mixture of technologies without any question.
Bob Katter came out and said he didn’t see that much difference between the broadband policies and Windsor had a different view. Which of them is more correct? Was there a really big difference between the two policies?
MT: Well I think there’s a huge difference and the difference is that what we’ve got is a policy that seeks to address our real problems; digital disadvantage in regional and remote Australia, blackspots and underserviced areas in the metropolitan areas, backhaul and lack of competition therein. What Labor’s got is Bang! The big bang of this massive overbuild for a network, which is being built on the “build it and they will come” philosophy. And that has been a proven way of losing money in infrastructure for many years.
As we said, it’s not telecoms, but we’ve got the Cross City Tunnel down the street here, which is a classic example. I think it ended up selling for less than half its cost. Huge haircut.