Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts.These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
Sky News On The Hour 10am -

View in ParlView

WHERE: BLUE ROOM, PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA.

JOINT PRESS CONFERENCE - MINISTER FOR BROADBAND, COMMUNICATIONS AND THE DIGITAL ECONOMY SENATOR
STEPHEN CONROY AND NEW ZEALAND MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY AMY ADAMS.

TOPICS: MOBILE ROAMING; NATIONAL BROADBAND NETWORK; CONVERGENCE REVIEW; SLATER AND GORDON; OLYMPIC
DAM.

STEPHEN CONROY: Thank you for coming today. It is my great pleasure to be joined by New Zealand's
Communications and Information Technology Minister, the Honourable Amy Adams. It is great to see
her again, to be hosting her here, but we should point out at the beginning of the press conference
there are a number of issues that are off limits. She's refusing to take questions about the
relative performance of Australia and New Zealand at the Olympics...

AMY ADAMS: [Laughs] Bring them on. [Laughs]

STEPHEN CONROY: ...or the Bledisloe Cup. Okay they are off, she is refusing, she has assured me,
refusing to take questions on that. But it is great, as I said, to be here hosting Amy. We've
worked closely together in various aspects of our portfolios, not just in media and IT but also, as
you would all know, we are both building fibre to the home broadband networks.

But today we're here to tell telecommunication companies that enough is enough. The draft report we
are releasing makes clear that consumers have been ripped off when using their mobile phones when
travelling between our countries. The prices people have to pay when they make a phone call, send a
text or go online when they travel are frankly obscene. There are some shocking examples of this
highlighted in today's papers.

A mother who was a primary carer for her daughter with a long term illness received a phone bill of
over $4000 after a holiday in New Zealand, more than the holiday cost just about. She used her
phone simply to stay in contact with the doctors, the specialists and social workers during her
holiday, and she had no idea she would get home and her phone bill would be so ridiculously high.

Another example in the papers is a student who asked for global roaming for a phone for a holiday
to Malaysia, she wasn't informed of the cost and she was stung when she returned home with a bill
of over $9000 for just two weeks.

So when consumers are paying more for using their phones on holiday than for the holidays
themselves there's something clearly wrong.

This draft report shows that margins made by Australian telcos have been higher than 1000 percent,
a 1000 percent! As I said, this is obscene. So since the Australian and New Zealand Governments
announced our investigation, not surprisingly these margins have come down, but Australian telcos
have generously dropped from a 1000 percent margin to 300 percent margin.

So for this reason the draft report recommends action by our respective governments. Options
include legislation or regulation in both our countries including the introduction of wholesale and
retail price caps. But Australians aren't just getting stung when they travel to New Zealand,
they're getting stung whenever they use their phones overseas. And that's why today I'm also
directing the Australian Communications and Media Authority to make an industry standard. This
standard will ensure that Australians receive an alert on their mobile phone when they land
overseas, and this will allow consumers to find out how much they'll be charged when they make a
call, how much they'll be charged when they send a text or how much they'll be charged when they go
online, And most importantly these alerts will allow Australian travellers to opt out of using
these services.

So I've directed the ACMA to have this standard in operation within 12 months, and the ACMA will
consult with stakeholders in preparing this standard which will apply to all countries where
Australians use mobile roaming.

So let me be clear about this: Australians deserve to know how much they're being gouged by mobile
operators when they use their mobile phones overseas, and they deserve the ability to say no.

Greater transparency in pricing will increase the incentive for mobile operators to compete on
price and result in a better deal for Australians travelling overseas.

So now I'd like to pass to Amy to give a perspective from New Zealand.

AMY ADAMS: Thank you, Stephen and can I just say it is a great pleasure to be here this morning to
join with Senator Conroy in releasing this report and I want to congratulate him for the work that
he has done to get us to this point. And obviously I'm picking up the work of my predecessor Steven
Joyce who initiated this inquiry with Senator Conroy.

As the Senator has said these are issues that we have to address. The trans-Tasman market is by far
the most important to New Zealanders and to Australians. My visit here is one of 80,000 visits
every month that New Zealanders pay to Australia, and certainly equivalent numbers of Australians
join us in New Zealand to learn how to play rugby. [Laughs] So while we are travelling so freely
between each other's countries, while we are increasingly reliant on our mobile devices, not just
any more for simple activity but increasingly to stay in touch with our families, to conduct our
business, as part of our everyday lives, it is important for both of our governments to know that
New Zealanders and Australians have access to fair and reasonable pricing, and most importantly to
be aware of what charges they will face so that, as Senator Conroy has said, they can make the
decisions about whether or not they wish to avail themselves of those services.

So the release of this draft report is an important occasion. Certainly the feedback I have had
from stakeholders across New Zealand is that the process has been a necessary one, it has been a
transparent and a fair one, and it has been very interesting to see the impact that the carrying
out of this investigation has had on behaviour. In New Zealand I can tell you that when we started
the investigation we - our consumers were facing mobile data charges at around $30 a megabit,
during the course of our investigation being carried out we have seen that dropped to 50 cents a
megabit. So there is clearly a lot of room for the industry to move, as Senator Conroy has
mentioned. And certainly the view of the Senator and I is that we have to continue to ensure that
that sort of pressure stays on the industry.

So we're announcing this report today, we are seeking feedback from the sector in respect to the
seven recommendations that the Senator has outlined, and I can assure the industry in New Zealand
that this is a matter that will continue to receive our attention. For us in New Zealand it's one
of a number of steps we are taking in this space. Last year we regulated mobile termination rates,
we also released a voluntary code of conduct equivalent to what the Senator has been speaking about
this morning. This is an important step in terms of the trans-Tasman market, and obviously from
this we're going to be looking further afield.

So can I thank you all for coming along, can I acknowledge again the Senator for his work and just
say that we look forward very much to seeing how the industry and stakeholders respond to the
report. Thank you.

QUESTION: Minister one of the other problems I've noticed when travelling overseas is that when you
link up to a phone company through a website you keep getting emails from the company over and over
again, some of them alleging that you still owe them money. Is that going to be cracked down.

STEPHEN CONROY: I think we've just had some valuable input to start the discussion, and I think you
should make a note and put it into the ACMA review on this. I mean this is the sort of issue that
we want to see dealt with. We don't want circumstances where Australians are being accused of or
have accrued bills that they don't know about.

AMY ADAMS: That's right.

STEPHEN CONROY: That's just not acceptable. And so you can see that when you do shine the light, as
the minister has said, you do shine the light on them and in New Zealand you've seen a fantastic
response, so - and Amy and Steve deserve great acclaim for actually getting a decent outcome in
those mobile charges you just heard about.

QUESTION: Will the standard set guidelines for the actual prices or will it only go into the
disclosure of those prices?

STEPHEN CONROY: At this stage before we do something like that we need to get Government to
Government cooperation...

AMY ADAMS: That's right.

STEPHEN CONROY: ...we need both sides to do it. So we're setting the standard for how Australian
firms will at least inform. We'll be looking to take this further, I'm sure we'd love to work
together with other countries to bring other governments into the sort of cooperation that we've
achieved. But at the early stage all we can do at the beginning is get the transparency for
Australians to know what they're going to be charged. We'll be looking to engage in the sort of
discussions we have successfully engaged with New Zealand.

AMY ADAMS: And that's an important point actually, is that the jurisdictional issues in this make
it as challenging as they are. I'm free now to regulate what happens to New Zealand customers and
New Zealand networks in New Zealand, it's much more complex when you have New Zealand customers
travelling to Australia, travelling to the UK, travelling to North America and having to work
through their networks which of course we have no jurisdiction over. So they key part of this
investigation really has been the two of our governments working together and how we can align our
regulatory and control systems to ensure that we can have a cohesive package that regulates that
trans-Tasman environment.

And the lessons we've learnt from this I'm sure we're both expecting we'll be able to then look to
a wider application.

STEPHEN CONROY: Yes.

QUESTION: So [Indistinct] to the people who were coming from Australia to New Zealand as well in
terms of the [Indistinct]

AMY ADAMS: That's right. So a New Zealander coming to New Zealand - coming to Australia now is a
New Zealand customers, the period that they're in Australia the New Zealand network is charged by
the Australian network and passed back through and vice versa. So it's the connection between those
two jurisdictional issues is what we've had to grapple with.

STEPHEN CONROY: Think of it like those bank fees that they used to charge and said you couldn't
possibly tell people when you hit your ATM and you're getting into bank charge when you weren't
using your own bank. Think of it like that. That disclosure of the $2 price on the screen has led
to significant consumer benefit because people have been informed. So that is sort of the thing
we're doing. This charge which is not transparent to anybody that's gone on between the telcos and
then it's passed on to consumers, and because no one's been watching...

AMY ADAMS: That's right.

STEPHEN CONROY: ...they've just - a 1000 percent! Seriously 1000 percent doesn't come remotely close
to the sort of cost of providing this service.

QUESTION: So what is the cost of providing this service on behalf - like will the phone companies
have to pay for those alerts and what sort of cost would that mean for companies?

STEPHEN CONROY: That's right, certainly in terms of our international standard that we're talking
about putting in place through the ACMA those are the discussions that we'll be having with the
sector. But these are usually just software and that's not to say they're easy to do or that
they're costless, but as you've seen if you're - certainly when I've travelled overseas and now I
turn my phone on when I get to an airport a signal comes up saying hey with a message. And what we
want to do is a better message internationally. We can do that now with New Zealand, cost this, do
this, do this, but we want that information available to every New Zealander or Australian
travelling internationally, which as you know, we do a lot of.

QUESTION: If the problem is as great as you say and given that you've got...

STEPHEN CONROY: That's what the report clearly shows.

QUESTION: ...and you've got a 12-month timeframe before standards [Indistinct] put out why not use
the next 12 months to actually set some pricing guidelines as well and not just disclosure
standards?

AMY ADAMS: Sorry, I can tell you, in New Zealand the way we do this is, is that as a government we
don't - we don't announce what you may charge for your service. What we're very focused on is
ensuring, first of all, that consumers have transparency and can make choices around that and that
the market is operating effectively so that there isn't collusion and monopolistic behaviour
driving up those prices and protecting them.

So in New Zealand we have a Commerce Commission regulator that looks at those things and they will
make assessments around whether the pricing is unfair, whether it's unfairly taking advantage of
their position, and act accordingly.

What this report is looking at is the ability for our regulator and Australia's regulator to work
much more cohesively across joint standards so that it's not a case of one New Zealand - I'm sorry,
once you leave, you know, your home country it's open slather.

We recognise that New Zealanders suffer in Australia, the same way Australians suffer in New
Zealand and we're not prepared for that to continue on an unregulated basis.

QUESTION: My question is to both ministers. Do you admit this requires legislation in both
parliaments and have you sought any advice on potential constitutional issues?

AMY ADAMS: I can tell you in New Zealand, I can't speak for Senator Conroy and Australia, but I can
tell you in New Zealand we already have a bill going through our chamber which makes changes to the
Commerce Commission legislation to ensure that they can better share information with their
Australian counterpart. So that's certainly one part of it.

In respect of next steps, obviously the report at the moment has seven options so the next step for
us is to identify which of those options we choose to follow and then make assessments as to any
further changes that would be required at that point.

QUESTION: What about legislation?

STEPHEN CONROY: That's one of the options in the paper. I mean, yes, we're both - both countries
are very proud that we've probably got one of the finest free trade agreements. It's often referred
to in the old jargon, if you're really old, as CER. It's the 30th...

AMY ADAMS: I still call it that.

STEPHEN CONROY: Yes, so do I. It's the 30th anniversary...

AMY ADAMS: I'm not that old.

STEPHEN CONROY: Thirtieth anniversary coming up, I think, in January.

AMY ADAMS: That's right.

STEPHEN CONROY: So we are very keen for the discussions to be completed in time for what we think
is a pretty significant event and it stretches back 30 years, over all political parties and I
think it's a tribute to the foresight of both our successors over 30 years that we're continuing to
find ways to strengthen what is one of the best and considered to be the finest free trade
agreements going around.

QUESTION: Minister, is this the only way via bilateral agreements? Has the ITU been involved at all
in a...

STEPHEN CONROY: Look, there are - there are - the European Commission acted a few years ago to
bring down their rates and what that tended to see, is it brought down their margins and what that
tended to see was they squeezed them up in other jurisdictions. So ideally you'd be able to get the
whole world to agree to something like this but it tends to work where you can get agreement and
we've spent a few years working on this together and we're really excited that we've been able to
do it.

We would love this to become multilateral. We've raised these issues at APEC, both Steve and I when
we've been to APEC and I missed - did you go to Brisbane?

AMY ADAMS: No, I didn't [indistinct].

STEPHEN CONROY: No, I didn't get there either. We were afraid of the mobile roaming rates.

AMY ADAMS: Thought I might not come back.

STEPHEN CONROY: So we have been raising it through forums like APEC, trying to have a multilateral
approach to this.

QUESTION: What about ITU?

STEPHEN CONROY: The ITU - I'm not sure if it's on the agenda, that one. I tell you who are looking
at it quite a lot is the OECD. I mean, this is not an issue that's unique to our two countries.
It's an issue that's being talked about and looked at around the world but actually they face
exactly the same challenges that we faced when we first started discussing it and I think in these
things it's very difficult to go straight to the global, one size fits all approach. I think the
way we've approached is to make it work in our closest, most natural ally market and then see how
we can leverage up from there.

So I can tell you, it's an issue that the world is looking at but no one yet that I'm aware of has
come up with a comprehensive global solution.

QUESTION: Senator Conroy, on another matter, when will the Government release its response to the
media inquiry?

STEPHEN CONROY: After Cabinet and the Caucus have considered it.

QUESTION: Are you preparing tougher regulation?

STEPHEN CONROY: As I said, we've got a number of recommendations, some of them conflicting, from
the Convergence Review and the Finkelstein Report. The Government's been weighing those up and once
we've made a decision we'll announce that. As I've said for a while now, it won't be in the
not-too-distant future but we'll go through the processes. We're considering those reports. We've
been talking with the sector and we're looking forward to being able to make an announcement in the
not-too-distant future.

QUESTION: Apparently the Prime Minister said to Caucus the other day that there'd be something done
by the end of this year. Does that mean that the time frame has slipped on that media report?

STEPHEN CONROY: No, I think their consideration - I don't think there was ever a timeline. I think
for something to have slipped there had to be a date and I don't think I ever said a date at all so
I wouldn't - it's not possible to have slipped if you haven't got a date.

QUESTION: Senator, have you had a look at or listened to what Steve Gibbons and John Murphy are
saying about adopting the full Finkelstein Report and does that influence your thinking in terms of
what to do about the Finkelstein report, whether to go down the path of full Finkelstein or perhaps
a different...

STEPHEN CONROY: Well, we're consulting widely. I'm very aware of what John and Steve have said.
They've said it on the record in Parliament. They're passionate and they've got very strong views
on this, as do many members of Caucus and we feed all of that into our considerations and we will
ultimately, the Cabinet will make a decision and put it to the Caucus to see if the Caucus accept
it.

QUESTION: Have you had any suggestions from the industry that you think stack up in terms of
self-regulation as opposed to...

STEPHEN CONROY: Oh, look, I'm not in a position to reveal any private discussions so I wouldn't
want to comment as to what has been put to us. You can often read about it on the front page of
your newspaper but I'll be keeping my cards and my considerations and thoughts for my Cabinet
colleagues.

QUESTION: Senator, last night Mr Turnbull was saying that NBN Co would likely acquire Telstra's
copper.

STEPHEN CONROY: Yes, we're re-monopolising into a - yes, I've seen Malcolm. What's clear now from
Malcolm starting to be forced to reveal is that he intends to build a government monopoly,
something he's railed against, and he intends to buy back the copper with all of its degraded,
corroded parts. He intends to buy back last century's technology and try and run a 21st century
broadband network.

So let's be very clear about this. The sort of speeds he claims are not the norm and Australians
will need to live on top of their node if they want to get anywhere close to the speeds he claims.

And, more importantly, as the British minister said two nights ago, it is a stepping stone, fibre
to the node, to ultimately fibre to the home. Well, New Zealand recognised that. They started to
build fibre to the node and they ultimately decided it wasn't good enough and we considered this.

You'll remember, I did conduct a public tender for a fibre to the node network and all of the
experts came back and said, look, if you want to future-proof your economy, if you want to make
sure you're in a position to take maximum advantage of what's going to happen, the innovation in
the future, you should go fibre to the home.

We took the experts' advice when we decided not to build a fibre to the node network but Malcolm
knows best. He'll invest his money in France Telecom which is building 15 million homes fibre to
the home, but he'll oppose expenditure on a fibre to the home network in Australia. It's just
short-sighted.

It's like building the Sydney Harbour Bridge with one lane. If Turnbull and Abbott had been in
charge of construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in the 1920s, it'd be one lane today.

QUESTION: Ms Adams, can you tell us what changed New Zealand's mind in terms of the broadband
network, why it went from fibre to the node to fibre to the home?

AMY ADAMS: Sure, well, look, I wasn't the Minister at the time but essentially what the Senator has
said is right, is that all the information we had was that the most comprehensive and future-proof
network we could build was a fibre to the home package and that effectively it made far better
fiscal sense to invest the funds we had available in a fibre to the home package initially.

We're very committed to it. We're very comfortable with the decision and all the feedback we've had
has been that it has been the right way to go.

QUESTION: [Indistinct]

AMY ADAMS: It made better sense to do it now rather than have to come back in the future and
retrofit fibre to the node to the fibre to the home connection.

QUESTION: What's the network worth?

AMY ADAMS: So in New Zealand we're putting $1.5 billion of taxpayers' funds into a public-private
partnership. We've approached it slightly differently to Australia in that respect.

It's being matched by about 200 - sorry, 200, I was thinking about Australian money now - $2
billion of private sector money so it's about $3.5 billion in total for New Zealand for our,
effectively, urban package and then we have another $300 million of public money going into our
rural broadband initiative which supplements the network which again is matched with private sector
money.

QUESTION: Is that satellite and wireless?

AMY ADAMS: It's a combination. It's primarily fibre to the node into the rural communities with a
fixed wireless from cell phone towers. We're only looking to satellite in the most remote of our
schools. We've made a commitment that every school in New Zealand will receive speeds of 100
megabits initially and to get that in some of our most remote areas it just made no sense to do it
on a fibre basis so we're using satellite there but in the main it's a combination of fibre and
fixed wireless.

QUESTION: Just to clarify that, did you say you're still using fibre to the node in some areas?

AMY ADAMS: In the - well in the rural areas, so under our ultra-fast broadband package which was
our $1.5 billion core initiative, that is fibre to the home, and that's the core of our roll out.

Into the rural areas of New Zealand, if you are familiar with New Zealand, you'll know that it's a
long, mountainous, and very sparsely populated country - for the rural network, what we wanted to
do was reach as many people as we could and bring up that rural connectivity which has been sadly
lacking.

The best way to do that in that area was roll out fibre to the node; enhance copper from there into
the communities, fibre to schools, hospitals, and medical centres; and then a fixed wireless
connection to the remaining premises.

REPORTER: So fibre to the node is more cost effective in some areas under your roll out.

STEPHEN CONROY: No, don't try and verbal our guest from New Zealand JV).

AMY ADAMS: It's all right.

STEPHEN CONROY: He's just written his own headline tomorrow, so...

AMY ADAMS: What we've said is in the roll out to the densely populated urban areas, fibre to the
home is our clear preference, and we're very satisfied that that's the right way to go.

When you're rolling out connectivity into rural and remote areas, you have to take a slightly
different view, and what you're starting from is a much lower base of connectivity, and we put
together a package of solution which include fibre to the premises, includes some fibre to the node
and enhanced copper, and includes fixed wireless.

And it makes sense to make the best use of the money available - and I can tell you in New Zealand
like anywhere there's very fiscally-constrained environments, and the core objective for us in the
rural communities was to lift the number of our premises who had any sort of adequate broadband
access from the 20 per cent it was when we came into government up to in excess of 86 per cent.

That's the best way of going about it with the funds available.

So no we're not saying that fibre to the node is preferable. We're saying that fibre to the home is
always our preference. But you have to be realistic about how you reach a farm in the, you know,
the back blocks, and how you best spend taxpayers' money.

QUESTION: So if you - if your funds were unlimited...

AMY ADAMS: Yeah.

QUESTION: ... all the money you needed to do that, and that work which you've done, have done all
fibre to the home or still have made [indistinct]...

AMY ADAMS: Look, it's pie in the sky, it really is, and I think you'd always have to question
whether it makes sense to run a long fibre optic cable 70 kilometres into the Southern Alps to
serve one premise, you know, I think no matter how much money you had, you would have to be asking
yourself about the wisdom of some spending.

But I can tell you my views that from a service basis, a fibre to the n.... a fibre to the home,
fibre to the premise network is certainly the preferable way to go for an urban and populated area.

QUESTION: Senator Conroy, can I just ask you another domestic question. The... you were a TWU
official back in '92 and '96...

STEPHEN CONROY: I was... [indistinct] that's a few years ago now.

QUESTION: At that time did the TWU have a workplace reform association similar to the AWU?

STEPHEN CONROY: We certainly had a re-election fund. And I've said this a couple of times this
morning already. There is absolutely nothing wrong with setting up the Higgins 500 club to re-elect
Peter Costello or the TWU officials contributing their own money to a fund to re-elect them when
their election came along. And yes, I absolutely contributed. I supported the team that was there.
They'd continued to do a fabulous job on behalf of transport workers.

What I object to strenuously is the suggestion that trade union officials are corrupt. And this is
the general smear that's taking place at the moment - trade union officials are corrupt because
they have a re-election fund. I reject this utterly, this is a smear across the whole movement.

There were clearly problems with what was going on with some officials at the AWU, and the police
investigated this, and ultimately they couldn't get enough evidence to prosecute anybody. But the
police conducted a full investigation.

In fact there are many quotes from some of those reports at the time. And it is disappointing that
there was no ultimate prosecution of anybody in that case, but the fact that people misused that
account has got absolutely nothing to do with the Prime Minister.

And people who continue to smear this - they started 17 years ago. Seventeen years ago this
allegation was aired in the Victorian Parliament.

There is nothing new.

QUESTION: So you...

STEPHEN CONROY: Excuse me, there is nothing new in these allegations.

QUESTION: Are you saying it's true that these union officials did misuse funds?

STEPHEN CONROY: No, I said there's an allegation they misused, there's allegations that money went
into that shouldn't have, and money was taken out of it that shouldn't have. But none of it had
anything to do with the Prime Minister, and these continued claims have been aired for 17 years.

QUESTION: Today Tony Abbott says that there are legitimate questions here. Do you disagree with
that or do you think that the...

STEPHEN CONROY: Oh I think the Liberals are engaged in a smear, just like they were engaged with a
smear in the Peter Slipper case, j... and they were in it up to their necks, and just like they're
involved in this smear around the HSU, which again, you know - there's people now under
investigation that Tony Abbott described as white knights.

So the Liberals have been involved in all of these smears.

QUESTION: Are they legitimate things for the press to follow up on?

STEPHEN CONROY: What it's legitimate for is the police investigated this, the police investigated
this, and they couldn't find enough evidence for a prosecution.

But there was never any suggestion of the police investigating the Prime Minister, and for people
to continue to try and link the two is frankly a filthy smear.

QUESTION: Would it be useful, at this point, for the Prime Minister to give a statement to
Parliament and just completely clear the deck?

STEPHEN CONROY: Well that's ultimately a matter for the Prime Minister.

QUESTION: Do you think...

STEPHEN CONROY: But the facts are known, there is no suggestion other than attempts through
innuendo and a bunch of loony-tunes internet websites, to try and link and smear the Prime
Minister, and it's quite disgraceful that people have gone on the bandwagon.

These are - the facts are known.

QUESTION: Isn't one of the facts that the PM set up the association or...

STEPHEN CONROY: Say that again.

QUESTION: ... legal workers set it up and said in the process of that that it was being set up for
this purpose when in fact she knew that it was set up as a fighting fund, as a re-election fund.

STEPHEN CONROY: Two different points in time, okay, two different points in time. When it was set
up and when she realised what - and I'm not speaking for her, but that transcript was years later.
So the fact that some officials may have misused this fund absolutely has no bearing on the Prime
Minister. The police investigated what was going on and they couldn't find enough evidence to
prosecute a case, but that hasn't stopped the Liberal Party spreading this for 17 years.

ENDS