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Interview: Matt Wordsworth -

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JEREMY HERNANDEZ, PRESENTER: The National Broadband Network is again in the spotlight over its performance - and there are some brutal truths hitting home.

When it was announced by Kevin Rudd, it was hailed as a historic act of nation building. Today, Malcolm Turnbull described the NBN as a "calamitous train wreck."

It will now cost almost $50 billion and it won't even deliver fibre to the premises, as was originally promised.

Fingers are being pointed across the chamber in Canberra, as each side of politics blames the other for problems associated with the design and performance of the network.

Political correspondent Matt Wordsworth joins us now.

Matt, how has Malcolm Turnbull responded to these criticisms of slow speed and less fibre in the network than places like New Zealand?


Well, he is responding to knocking it back from fibre-to-the-premises to, you know, those technologies that involve more copper: fibre-to-the-kerb, fibre-to-the-node; and then those mixed technologies like fixed wireless, by saying it simply would have cost more to have fibre all the way - $30 billion more - and six to eight years longer for the full rollout. It's supposed to finish in 2020.

So he said people who didn't have broadband would have had to wait all that extra time.

And he said: anyway, a lot of people are not even taking up the faster broadband packages that are on offer. These are the statistics that he read out today in Question Time:

MALCOLM TURNBULL, PRIME MINISTER: The NBN now knows what Australians are prepared to pay for. Seventy-nine per cent of people on fibre-to-the-premises order speeds of 25 megabits per second or less. And they're on fibre-to-the-premises.

And 87 per cent of fibre-to-the-node order speeds of 25 megabits or less. Seventy-seven per cent of those on hybrid fibre-coax order speeds of 25 megs or less. And the same pattern is true with fixed wireless and fibre-to-the-base.

So the whole premise of the fibre-to-the-premises argument by the Labor Party has been comprehensively disproved by what the public are prepared to do and use.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So Malcolm Turnbull there, arguing that most people are not opting for those higher-speed packages.

The obvious problem with that argument, Jeremy, is: if people don't think they are going to get the speed, then why would they pay the extra for the 100 megabits per second?

And also, it might just be too expensive. We saw just earlier on Four Corners that, in New Zealand, 90 per cent of the people who had full fibre connection did go for packages of 100 megabytes per second or more.

So why is it important that people are paying more for their packages? Well, it's because this whole model is based on cost recovery: the $49 billion they want to get back from the customer.

It is concerning the CEO of the NBN itself. And this is what Bill Morrow said this morning on ABC radio: "The reality is the price people are paying today and the price the retailers are paying NBN is not enough to recover even the $49 billion we are intending to spend on this and that we expect with future applications that price to go up. If the retailers cannot get the consumers to pay more, we have a problem."

So read that as a red alarm to the Government there, Jeremy.

So they already want you to pay more for the service that you are not satisfied with at the moment. Mitch Fifield has basically ruled out a levy on competing technologies like mobile broadband. And as for whether anything can be done about you not getting the speeds that you have been promised: well, he says the ACCC is looking at that.

Across the chamber, the Labor Party: what are they doing about all this? Well, they don't have a policy yet. They said they will work on that over the next two years.

JEREMY HERNANDEZ: Now, Matt, in the meantime Senate Estimates is on again and its senators have been grilling bureaucrats about their budgets and their operations.

And there has also been a bit of debate about that slogan. We've all heard it: "Stopping the Boats." What happened?

MATT WORDSWORTH: Yes. You don't even have to be a casual observer of politics, Jeremy, to have heard the "Stop the Boats" slogan that we have heard consistently since the 2013 election campaign from Tony Abbott. It gets mentioned regularly, even as late as this afternoon in Question Time.

Here is Immigration Minister Peter Dutton:

PETER DUTTON, MINISTER FOR IMMIGRATION AND BORDER PROTECTION: We haven't had a successful boat arrival in now over 1,100 days.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So sometimes a boat arrival, though, Jeremy, isn't recorded as a boat arrival. I want to play you an exchange from Labor Senator Kim Carr, who was grilling the acting commissioner of Border Force, Michael Outram, in Senate Estimates just a few hours ago:

KIM CARR, LABOR SENATOR FOR VICTORIA: Did a boat arrive on Sabo Island on the 20th of August?


KIM CARR: It was. And did it involve six Chinese nationals?


KIM CARR: And was there a New Guinean people smuggler involved?

MICHAEL OUTRAM: There was a New Guinean person on there, yes.

KIM CARR: And why is that not arrival in Australia?

MICHAEL OUTRAM: It's not an arrival under the scope of Operation Sovereign Borders. Is that what you mean?

KIM CARR: Oh, I see. So, I wanted to be clear. So, just so long as we understand what 1,000 days means. It doesn't mean Chinese? It doesn't mean east coast?

MICHAEL OUTRAM: No, no. Senator, no. We get illegal arrivals in Australia at the border all the time and have done for many years, as you know.

The reason OSB (Operation Sovereign Borders) was set up was not to deal with Papua New Guinea. As I articulated, it was to do with people arriving on the high seas, primarily out of Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

MATT WORDSWORTH: So sometimes when a boat arrives, Jeremy, it actually doesn't. It depends on where it comes from.

JEREMY FERNANDEZ: Matt Wordsworth in Canberra, good to talk to you. Thank you.