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Transcript of joint press conference: 18 May 2011: National Broadband Network; Armidale; carbon price; Tasmania



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Transcript of joint press conference, Armidale WED 18 MAY 2011

Prime Minister

Subject(s): National Broadband Network; Armidale; Carbon price; Tasmania

PM: It's a great pleasure to be here in Armidale today. I'm joined by Minister Stephen Conroy, who has put so much work into the National Broadband Network, and continues to do so. I'm also joined by the local member, Tony Windsor, and by the CEO of NBN Co, Mike Quigley.

We're all here today for a very special purpose, and that is to switch on the NBN in Armidale. Armidale is one of our early release sites, and today, in switching on the NBN here, we have done the first switch on on mainland Australia. The NBN has been switched on in Tasmania, now, after today, it is switched on here in Armidale.

This is an important historic moment, the first time the NBN goes live on mainland Australia. And it's here, in such a great regional community, because we will be able to demonstrate, through the NBN being here, the difference that this technology can make for regional Australia.

Regional Australia has lived with the tyranny of distance. That means that there have been economic opportunities that have passed regional centres by. That means that they have had to settle for second best in health and education services on too many occasions. With the NBN we end that tyranny of distance.

You can be a local business here in Armidale and be in contact with and trading with any other business in the country, or indeed any other business in the world, as if it was just next door. You can be in one of the schools in Armidale - and we're standing in a great school now, PLC - and be connected to the great education institutions of our nation and around the world, and we've seen that demonstrated today.

And you can have face-to-face health services with leading specialists no matter what part of Australia they are in. We've seen the power of that videoconferencing today. The National Broadband Network is a truly transformative technology. We are seeing the future, right here, right now, in Armidale.

I'm also pleased to be here today to be able to announce that we will fund an innovative project through TAFE and through the local university, the University of New England, to show what the NBN can do for skills and education. In particular it will show what can be done for trades education, through the power of virtual learning and the power of the NBN. This will be demonstrated, on a trial site, what will be able to be achieved around the rest of Australia as the NBN rolls out.

I'm passionate about every child and every school getting a great education. I'm passionate about every young person getting an opportunity to get a trade, get some training, get a university place, realise their dreams and their future. We are able to expand that vision through the power of the NBN and its ability to bring educational opportunities to people

right round the country.

So I'm very pleased to be here today, and we're very happy to take any questions.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what do you say to Tony Abbott's remarks that it's $36 billion wasted money?

PM: Well, Tony Abbott just doesn't understand this technology, and he hasn't got any plans for the nation's future. I mean, Tony Abbott is in the digital Dark Age. He's still scrabbling around trying to put a policy together, as we are rolling out the NBN. And I think he'll still be scrabbling around trying to put a policy together as the NBN comes on board in more sites in Australia.

If Tony Abbott really wants to understand the NBN, he should come here and talk to the people we've talked to today - including meeting them through the NBN - about how it's transformed their businesses, their education, their local healthcare services, transforming the way that farmers go about managing their land because they've got more information and more contact with agricultural researchers and scientists than they've had before.

So, Tony Abbott might be in denial about the future, but the future is here, right now, and he could come and see it in Armidale.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, why was it that this primary school met the criteria for the test period, are they pay for it and if not how long (inaudible)

PM: Well, I'll go on details to Mike, but the NBN is connecting every school in Armidale - public and private - with the power of this new technology. As we roll out the National Broadband Network around the country we will be connecting schools because that makes such a difference to the way that they can deliver the curriculum. We've seen that in arts education today; we've seen it in music education, but it does mean more face-to-face specialised teaching.

You won't have to have, for example, the specialist language teacher in every school, to offer that as a course of study to a student. It will mean that they'll be connected to the great resources of the nation, and the world, whether it's the National Gallery or whether it's the Tate Museum in London. I mean these are tremendous opportunities for change in the way that we deliver education, particularly education in regional centres; we can bring the big city benefits, the world, to the doorstep of schools like this one.

But I'll turn to Mike on the details of PLC's engagement.

QUIGLEY: We obviously had planned out this as one of the first five release sites we're doing across the mainland. Circumstances were such that we finished this one first, and we had a layout of an area of Armidale, which of course eventually will be expanded - this was a logical place to be: a good school hall, a lot of cooperation. The folks in Armidale are very enthusiastic, as we've seen this morning.

JOURNALIST: So this test period, for people that are connected, they're not paying for this?

QUIGLEY: No, for the first few months, as you do with any - when you're cranking things up, getting things going - we're not charging. And that isn't simply because we don't want to charge; you don't start charging until you really have all the systems in place to do that. And frankly it costs us more than the revenue we'd collect in that.

JOURNALIST: This might be a question for you as well. I spoke to Craig Gawler outside, and he's one of the seven that is connected to the NBN at the moment. And I asked him what the difference was, if he noticed any difference? And he's on ADSL2 - and he said he couldn't see any difference at the moment. And my question to him was, 'Well, if you had to pay for it, would you stay on it, or would you go back to ADSL2?' And he said, 'I'd go back to ADSL2'. So is that going to be something that you will be facing over the next weeks, days and months?

QUIGLEY: For a start, if you think about it, in terms of ADSL2+, we're not expecting our service on the broadband network to be radically different, in terms of retail costs. We've put our wholesaler costs where they need to be to be competitive. We've always said that. Which means with retail costs - while they are not in our control - we don't expect to be radically different, for a greatly superior service.

Now if you also speak to many people - some of them we saw - at the school in Tasmania, this morning, it's made a huge difference to them. So you will hear differences in opinions, just depending on what people are using. And as the years go by, clearly we're going to have

more bandwidth hungry applications, and people will be using services that ADSL2+ simply can't do.

MINISTER CONROY: The other point that needs to be made is because these are the first-release sites they were designed and started before we had to deal with Telstra. And the deal with Telstra, as you'd know, is that we are decommissioning the copper network. So people, if they want to maintain a fixed line, they will be transferring onto it. They can choose to say, no; they can just say, 'We want to go wireless', but ultimately the deal with Telstra means that the copper connection into people's homes will be decommissioned, and the fibre will be the

only available fixed line connection into people's homes.

So in the short term you'll have a choice, which is great, but over time, as the deal with Telstra rolls out, we'll be decommissioning the copper, and they'll be transferring across. So at the moment you're saying he'd be paying for his existing connection and a new connection. But in the future it will just be the one, and our prices - that Mike's indicated on a wholesale level - are very, very competitive, particularly when it comes to comparing a better product to ADSL2+.

PM: Can I just suggest too, we do have to summarise all of the feedback we've received today from test users. I spoke myself to the woman you saw appear in the video talking about the opportunities it's given her small business. It's transformed the way she does that business.

She can transfer files now of a size that she was never able to transfer before. Meaning she had to leap in the car and go and deliver them. Well the fact she can transfer them through the NBN, better for her business - even when she's dealing with people locally - but it opens up the door to dealing with people far further afield. She's no longer limited by the people that she can drive to.

The feedback we've had from the university, the feedback we've had from this school, about the transformation that it is going to bring to the way that they do things. And in terms of the usage of it, we've seen demonstrated today - I saw the demonstration myself - two televisions, a video conference in progress, lifelike, like you were having a conversation, an application where a YouTube was being downloaded as well as some other digital applications all going at the same time, and even, with all of that happening, they hadn't used the full capacity of the NBN.

So if you imagine this in people's homes, where you've got various adults looking at various screens - you've got one working with a video conference, you've got a child downloading something from YouTube, all possible at the same time, that's the power of this technology, and that represents the way that people will use this technology today.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what about the practical, what about the lessons to be learnt. This is a trial, what practical, constructive lessons have been learnt so far from this trial?

PM: Well I'll turn to Mike for that, but I think you're pointing to something very important with the rollout of the NBN. This rollout is happening in a number of trial sites first, in different parts of Australia with different conditions so that we can learn the lessons and take them as the broader rollout happens. One of the sites, for example, is Noarlunga in Adelaide. It's an urban growth corridor, a beautiful seaside place as well, but an urban growth corridor. Very different terrain, very different community, from here in Armidale. So the fact that they're both early trial sites means that we will learn the lessons of the NBN being rolled out in different circumstances to inform the rest of the rollout. I'll turn to Mike in terms of specific learnings from here.

QUIGLEY: There is - in fact there are too many to really articulate this morning. It is all the way from community engagement, talking to people, physical infrastructure going in the ground, boring, trenching, how you put things on poles, operational issues. There's a whole range of things that we've learnt. Too great to really enumerate today.

And as the Prime Minister has said, you learn Armidale; you learn them in Noarlunga, in Kiama Downs in Brunswick - Brunswick in inner Melbourne city, different set of learnings. So we just keep building on that at each stage. We learned some things - obviously in the pre-

release trials in the three townships in Tasmania, we'll learn some more things in the seven towns we've just announced too and this is, as I've said before, this isn't one off, this isn't like building a bridge or a tunnel. We're doing the same thing over and over and over again right across the country. It's like running a huge factory which means the opportunities for learning and improvement are vast.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

QUIGLEY: Sorry?

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

QUIGLEY: I won't comment on that. We have a process that's open at the moment, but yes, we enjoy a very good relationship with contractors, we’re using a range of contractors across the nation, including Silcar who's done a great job for us here in Armidale.

JOURNALIST: Mr Quigley, you were quoted as saying you were disappointed that only seven customers have signed up in Armidale (inaudible).

QUIGLEY: I do not recall every saying I was disappointed with seven customers. That was always the plan, we were going to connect up a small number of customers and it would grow, just as it did in Tasmania.

JOURNALIST: Would you have hoped it would be more by now?

QUIGLEY: No, I wouldn’t have (inaudible)

MINISTER CONROY: We weren't trying to get more.

QUIGLEY: We weren't trying to get more by now.

MINISTER CONROY: This is just turning it on and testing, making sure the light pings down to the knock in Melbourne, that sort of stuff. This is the very, very, early stages and by September, Mike, we'll have all the companies competing - including Vodafone, the world's largest telecommunications company, never offered fixed line service - mobile company in

Australia, never offered fixed line services before. Vodafone - the largest telco are [audio break] the market here in Armidale.

This will be more competition, it will be faster speeds and lower prices and that's the sort of offerings you're going start to see for the 88 per cent of people who've signed up to be connected inside of their homes.

So you're going to start to see here in Armidale, competition in a way we haven't seen in the retail market ever before.

QUESTION: Was Armidale fast tracked because it's in Tony Windsor's seat and you needed his support?

MINISTER CONROY: Yeah, look we selected this - I think Tony mentioned this. I've been here a number of times. I was here over 18 months, two years ago. I had my first meetings with Alan Davies, the guy that Tony mentioned, and what happened was that Alan and Tony got a community group very active.

They lobbied the NBN Co and when we announced this six or eight months before the federal election - and when it was announced no-one batted an eyelid - this was announced long before New England became a pivotal seat.

So to people who want to say, oh, this has just been done because of Tony Windsor, this is done because the community here in Armidale got together, lobbied the hell out of Mike and the NBN guys and said: we know how to use it, come here first and that's exactly what happened. But it was long before anyone knew that Tony Windsor was going to be a key vote in a parliament.

JOURNALIST: This was one of the first of five trial sites to go live, is that why? (inaudible)

MINISTER CONROY: I think it would be fair to say that if Cyclone Yasi hadn't hit Townsville, Townsville would have been finished first. But Cyclone Yasi slowed NBN Co down up in Townsville. So it's a question of natural circumstances that we are here.

JOURNALIST: Tony, can I just ask you a well - how are the people of New England receiving news of the NBN, knowing that they are going to get the NBN, do you think if they have to they'd pay more?

MINISTER CONROY: Well they won't have to.

JOURNALIST: If they had to, would they?

MINISTER CONROY: Well they don't have to. Let's be clear.

PM: No, they don't.

MINISTER CONROY: They will have a choice initially, particularly here because we didn't have the Telstra deal. But the actual offers that you're going to see - and it won't be long - before they're actually-

JOURNALIST: How long?

MINISTER CONROY: Well you'll have to ask the ISPs. Go and grab Telstra, iiNet, they won't tell us. They are all keeping these pricing plans to themselves because they don't want their competitors to know. Real competition is taking place. So the wholesale pricing that's

been put in place is absolutely competitive with what's on the ground.

The people ultimately will be able to - even before the copper's cut - will be able to, if they're coming to the end of their - for instance Telstra broadband plan, they'll be able to quit that and take the whole range of new choices, that's what it's about.

So you keep suggesting they're going to pay more, that's not what's going to happen. If they choose to take two connections, obviously, that'd be the case. But ultimately when they're down to just the one connection the prices are competitive. Sorry Tony, I didn't mean to cut across but the premise of the question had to be challenged.

WINDSOR: People are generally delighted. I've had five towns come up to me and they want to get into Inverell, they want to get into Tamworth, everybody wants to be part of it. And I think what you could see there today was real enthusiasm for a lot of people in this community and others that want to be part of it.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) enthusiasm from education sector, business sector, also health but not a lot just from people in their homes using the NBN.

WINDSOR: Well I've had quite the opposite actually and I think as time rolls on people will see the uses for this. Particularly, I mentioned the example the aged care sector, the obvious there is e-health. One of the things that the Prime Minister's announcing later on, it's about up-skilling people and these sorts of things, there's trials going on in terms of e-health at the moment. There's a whole range of things, it's almost exponential in terms of what can happen.

So I'd say people are delighted that this was chosen as a site, but it was basically chosen because people were very enthusiastic to drive it. And I think it's time we got over this thing that this is too dear and it's going to be too hard and whatever. I think the government needs

congratulating for actually looking at this and regional people are going to be the major beneficiaries. It's quite obvious if you talk to any of the telco providers that a lot of the country towns wouldn't have been provided with the service if it had just been left.

JOURNALIST: To comments from a man who's probably got his own (inaudible) Barnaby Joyce, doesn't think it needs to be connected to every single premises, every single home?

WINDSOR: The man’s a genius. Well everyone's got their own view. I think Barnaby would have been a lot better around seven years ago he probably would have been much more (inaudible)

MINISTER CONROY: He can explain to that small business woman that we saw earlier why he's going to cut it off. Like, he can explain to her why he's going to crimp her business, why he's going to stop her competing in the rest of the world. Barnaby can explain that to her.

PM: Just on that discussion. Let's be clear about this pricing question. I mean, more competition means cheaper prices and better speeds. That's what the NBN is going to deliver, more competition is going to enable people to do things they've never been able to do before and by definition, because there's competition, there will be real competition on price, enabling people to get good prices for what they want to do.

In terms of the enthusiasm of this community, we wouldn't be here if this community hadn't been enthusiastic for the NBN. In terms of people understanding every use that the NBN is going to be put to - well no-one understand that yet because there will be applications designed over the next few years that we don't even think about yet.

But we do know of the applications that are available whether it's video conferencing for businesses, whether it's e-health and the healthcare area. Whether it's changing the way we deliver education. These are incredibly valuable things for regional Australia.

And on the naysayers like Barnaby Joyce, I'd simply say he's out of touch. He's dreadfully out of touch with the way people want to live today and the kind of services they want to have in regional Australia. And he's very out of touch with what will drive productivity, wealth and better services in regional Australia.

And, you know, we've been here before in terms of changes of technology. I suspect you are never more than two inches away from that Blackberry. Well, when the mobile phone first came to this country there were many people who tossed their head and said ‘why would anybody want one of those? What will they ever use that for. That'll never catch on’.

My predecessor Barry Jones is famous for having said one day there will be more computers in Tasmania than cars and he was laughed at around the nation. What are there in Tasmania today? More computers than cars, and it was the first place for the NBN.

So, I've said it before, we're a country that has a go rather than has a whinge. I think people need to look at the power of this technology for change in our lives, changes in our wealth in the way we get health services, the way we get education services. And as Prime Minister I'm not going to let the kids that we've seen today down. We can't have our nation slip behind the

standards of the world with technology. We can't have the kids of Singapore and other places using this technology whilst our kids get stranded behind the standards of the world with their education. We're not going to do that because we're going to build the NBN.

JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, can I ask you a question on another topic?

PM: Sure.

JOURNALIST: The carbon tax and its impact on fuel, Bob Brown says that we should be taxing mines, taking away their rebates rather than - as a way of paying for savings for consumers. What do you say to that?

PM: We will work through and we will announce all of the details of carbon pricing in the middle of this year. And what I'd say to any speculation that people read in the newspapers is wait and see the full details and look at it for yourself and judge then.

I very much understand that there are families round the country facing cost of living pressures. That's why when we price carbon we'll be getting the biggest thousand businesses in this country. the biggest thousand polluters to pay. They currently can put carbon pollution in the atmosphere for nothing. We will get them to pay for polluting. That means they will change and generate less pollution and then for households facing cost of living pressures we will be providing generous assistance.

And I think too, it's important that as people work their way through when they have all of the details they do the comparisons. Mr Abbott is proposing a scheme that will be less efficient and consequently more costly for Australians than pricing carbon. And I understand his spokesperson, Greg Hunt, today for the first time has confirmed that they will effectively have a carbon price.

Well the difference between them and us is we're going to price carbon and assist households; they're just going to put a cost impost on Australian families with no assistance.

JOURNALIST: How critical is it to make sure that fuel doesn't (inaudible).

PM: Well we will work through, but you've just heard what I've said about understanding the cost of living pressures on the shoulders of Australian families, and we will give all of the details to Australian families in the middle of this year. And unlike some of the wild speculation that they've heard and the fear mongering that they've seen from Mr Abbott they will be able to sit down and have a good look at it themselves.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

PM: I've had a fantastic time. We've got a bit more to go before I leave this area. I'm looking forward to being at the TAFE and seeing the next thing we can do to innovate and use the National Broadband Network for skills training. But I've had a fantastic time in Tamworth and Armidale with Tony Windsor.

We've been able to do some important things for the local community and throughout they've been things that have been drive by community spirit. So the sports dome that I opened officially yesterday, something that had a great community spirit and the community contribution which made it possible when we partnered with the community to get it done.

The hospital, fantastic staff, fantastic community support and we are able to improve it and I'm glad that we can meet that community spirit with a new redevelopment and new money for training.

And then of course we're here in Armidale because this community wanted the National Broadband Network because it understood the power of it. So Tony represents a great place in the Federal Parliament. It's been a privilege to be here for a couple of days getting to share in that great place.

JOURNALIST: Will the rollout spread outwards from the trial sites?

PM: Mike?

QUIGLEY: Yes, they will. We've announced a number of second release sites and included in those were the five first release sites and we will be expanding. So plans are absolutely underway. In fact, we're now rolling out to - in fact, just about finished - the rest of the

university. And we obviously in short order will be rolling out to the rest of Armidale.

PM: We'll take one last question here, sorry you haven't had one yet.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible) What is your reaction to the Wilderness Society decision to pull out of the Tasmanian forest peace talks down there, and do you believe that the Federal Government's done enough in those talks to hold it together.

PM: Well I certainly believe the Federal Government has done enough. What I would say to the people in Tasmania, the representatives who have been sitting around a table, is now is not the right time to walk away from that table.

We've always said, as a Federal Government, we want to work with the stakeholders down there, we want to work with them as they come to an agreement. We didn't want to impose something from the top. These are people who have been engaged in this issue for decades on different sides of the fence. They said they wanted to come together and work to generate a new agreement, a new way forward for Tasmanian forests.

We said we want to see you do that and we will partner with you with that agreement in place. We've helped facilitate the making of that agreement with having Bill Kelty there available, but ultimately the parties here need to sit round that table and see this job through and get it done. It is for them to use their best will and get round that table and resolve these differences. That's what they said they were prepared to do; we really want them to stay round that table and get it done.

Thank you.