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Tanner takes critics to task -

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Tanner takes critics to task

The World Today - Tuesday, 7 April , 2009 12:22:00

Reporter: Lyndal Curtis

PETER CAVE: To discuss the reaction to the Government's announcement we've been joined in Canberra
by the Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner.

To speak to him, our chief political correspondent Lyndal Curtis.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Lindsay Tanner, welcome to The World Today.

LINDSAY TANNER: Pleasure to be with you, Lyndal.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Given your original policy has failed, are you overreaching on a replacement,
developing a scheme that's more than needed and potentially not financially viable?

LINDSAY TANNER: Definitely not.

We're broadly following on a path that a number of other countries are pursuing, particularly in
our region.

The policy we put forward at the election was always intended as a stepping stone to a bigger
approach, namely to get fibre to the premises, and because of the global financial crisis and the
complications that that's produced, the recommendation of the expert panel is that we should go to
the natural conclusion and build the network.

And Nick Minchin's response is literally a joke.

No doubt when the telephone was first being rolled out and telecommunications, he was sitting
around telling people, 'This new-fangled gadget will never catch on'.

The truth is this is the productivity driver of the 21st century.

This is the equivalent of the road and rail network for the 21st century. It's being rolled out in
other countries in our region and around the world.

Australia's been lagging because of the former government's neglect of broadband - we've got to get
moving.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But given that, as Nick Minchin says, you couldn't get the private sector to raise
the $5-billion to $10 billion it needed to raise for the old scheme, how can you get them to raise
the $20-billion that will be needed for this new one?

LINDSAY TANNER: Time will tell exactly the depth and breadth of private sector commitment and
interest in the proposition.

But this is a different proposition; it is a much broader, deeper, more substantial proposition
than the one that was put out to tender.

And of course, for reasons best known to themselves, one of the major players in Telstra
effectively excluded itself by not complying with the tender requirements from that process.

Time will tell - it's very easy for Nick Minchin to make glib comments along these lines, but the
truth is that this is where the world's heading.

Australia desperately needs to get in the world forefront on broadband and this will revolutionise
productivity for most businesses, it will dramatically change how education functions, how health
service providers operate, and it's going to provide a lot of great business opportunities for many
Australian businesses.

LYNDAL CURTIS: But it's not possible to say yet at this stage, is it, that the taxpayer-funded
stake in this company will be limited to the $4.7-billion you say the Government's putting in.

LINDSAY TANNER: That's quite right. That's the initial equity stake...

LYNDAL CURTIS: But that may go up?

LINDSAY TANNER: That's right, it's expected that the Government stake will be significantly higher
than that.

These details have to be fleshed out in the implementation study that's going to take about nine
months, and we'll see it roll out initially very quickly in Tasmania, because there's a very
advanced proposal with the Tasmanian Government there, and we'll see the new network gradually
spread across the country over the course of the eight years.

So, Nick Minchin's statement that nobody will get any benefit from this until eight years time is
complete rubbish.

That's when the last person will get benefit.

You'll see countless thousands, millions of Australians getting benefit from this far earlier than
that.

But it's the biggest infrastructure project in our history - it can't be done overnight.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Does this begin the process of structural separation of Telstra, either by its own
hand, through taking a stake in this company, or through your review of regulation?

LINDSAY TANNER: What this will do is solve the problem that we inherited from the former
government, that I as communications shadow minister pointed out endlessly was a result of their
privatising Telstra without addressing the structural issues in the industry.

We ended up with something close to a private sector monopoly, with a big pile of incentives to
diminish competition, diminish innovation and to block the competitive pressures that a genuine
market produces.

And what this will do is leap over that; it will be a wholesale network only.

All comers will be able to purchase capacity and sell retail broadband products and telephony
products on this network to consumers and businesses.

So yes, it will solve that problem.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Lindsay Tanner, thank you very much for your time.

LINDSAY TANNER: Thank you very much.

PETER CAVE: The Finance Minister speaking there to Lyndal Curtis.