BRETT WHITELEY, MEMBER FOR BRADDON
11 June 2016
Thanks for coming today, it’s a really good day to have the Minister for Communications and good friend Mitch Fifield here with us. We have a very important announcement to confirm for the people of the West Coast Tasmania this morning and that is we are dealing with the issues that they have been unhappy with and today I want to introduce to you the Minister for Communications to make the more formal announcement. I also have with me on my right the Mayor of West Coast Phil Vickers and of course the Deputy Premier Jeremy Rockliff. But right now I’ll hand over to Mitch. Thanks Mitch.
Thanks very much Brett. We have good news today for the people and businesses on the West Coast of Tasmania. But just before I turn to that, it’s important for me to say that the story of the nbn under this government has been a terrific one.
When Malcolm Turnbull became the Communications Minister, he brought order to bare where there was chaos. Under six years of our predecessors, they only connected 51,000 premises in the whole nation to the nbn. In the last month alone, we have connected 61,000 active users to the nbn. More than the previous government did over their entire period in office.
Already nationwide, there are a million people who are active users of the nbn. Which is on target. And there are 2.6 million premises nationwide who can avail themselves of the nbn. So the nbn is on track. On schedule. On budget.
Today we have some terrific news for the West Coast of Tasmania. It’s a fact that nbn, as an independent company that operates at arms-length from government, took a decision that the West Coast of Tasmania, the major towns, would have satellite. One of the provisions of the nbn is ‘Technology Choice’ where, if a community indicates they would prefer a different technology to deliver the nbn, then they can look at that and they can cost that.
The community made clear what their preference was. And Brett Whiteley was an absolute champion working with Jeremy Rockliff and the State Government and the local government to look at that proposition.
So I’m very pleased to be able to announce today that the Federal and Tasmanian Governments will put $18.5 million towards this project so that the West Coast of Tasmania, the major towns of Rosebery, Queenstown and Zeehan will be able to access fibre to the node technology and the town of Strahan will have fixed wireless. It’s great news. It’s a tribute to the hard work of Brett Whiteley and the co-operation that there has been with the State Government and local government.
Thank you Mitch. I’ll just give Jeremy an opportunity to talk about the importance of the West Coast and why we have heeded very much the voices of those on the West Coast. Can I just take this opportunity to thank Phil Vickers, the Mayor, who has been a reasonable voice, one of the reasonable voices in this debate. And I know that a lot of people were upset with the decision that the nbn made last year. And that came about because there was this ‘oops’ moment within the whole process, where everybody thought, including the nbn and the previous Labor Government that there was a Telstra fibre backhaul line already in the ground so-to-speak from the north-west coast to the west coast, when in fact earlier last year that was determined not to be the case. nbn then made the choice not to completely leave the West Coast off the map and they embraced them within the satellite footprint.
Now that didn’t meet necessarily with my approval at the time and the Minister for Communications would confirm that. I was very disappointed with that. It certainly didn’t meet with the approval of the local community and I understand that and I’m sorry that it’s taken so long but it’s not one of those things that we can rush into. As the Minister has quite rightly identified, this is $18.5 million of hard-working tax-payer’s money. We needed to get the plan right, we need to make sure that nbn could deliver that plan. We needed to make sure the State Government were ready and able, and they have been to assist us, and Jeremy can talk about that in a moment. But, we have reached a point where we have a solution that’s funded, that can be then rolled out in an appropriate time. Will provide now the data plans for the West Coast that they wouldn’t have been able to access before and that’s one of the sticking points there that people weren’t just necessarily concerned about the speed, they were also concerned about the plans that were going to be available to them. When you identify the West Coast of Tasmania as one of the major wealth creators in this state, their voices needed to be heeded. And I want to thank the people in the West Coast, they certainly added a significant amount of weight to the argument that I was putting to my colleagues and I want to thank them for that. So, we will get a result, we’ll get a positive result, we’ll get a funded result, and we won’t just be simply pushing the cost of this onto the nbn, using the nbn has some sort of corporate credit card for the elected government. That will not be happening. Can I just finish up, my part of this by saying, this wouldn’t be possible without the excellent co-operation of the State Government, who are going to be making available a fibre line that exists under the Tassie network scheme. And I just want to thank the Tasmanian
Government and in particular Jeremy, who is obviously a colleague here in the State seat of Braddon and I’ll just hand over to Jeremy to talk a little bit about that.
Thank you very much for your interest firstly in this important matter for a community that punches well above its weight. We have a smaller population size but in terms of its wealth generating capacity for Braddon and indeed the whole of Tasmania. The West Coast of Tasmania punches well above its weight and deserves such critical infrastructure as such being announced today. The State Government’s contribution is $4.5 million of in-kind support to allow the nbn to access the optic fibre. This is a significant contribution from the State Government to add value to the contributions, most significant contributions, of my federal colleagues. Can I thank Senator Fifield very much for his strong leadership and representing Tasmania’s interest but also, he’s had a strong terrier nipping at his heels. Brett Whiteley, as we know, who is a very strong advocate for this region has gone into bat for Braddon over the course of the last three years. It’s clearly evident and today’s announcement is a clear example of Brett Whiteley getting in there, representing his constituency and listening to the people of the West Coast, working co-operatively with the State Government, and of course local government, most importantly in terms of the Mayor here Paul Vickers. So, a great announcement, happy to play a part in this positive announcement, critical infrastructure for the West Coast. They deserve this infrastructure, they punch well above their weight in terms of their wealth generating capacity across a range of industry. We know we’ve got Aqua Culture, tourism, mining, so critical to the states prosperity and it’s right that they have the infrastructure, such as the nbn, of which to increase their capacity to deliver that wealth generation. So thank you to Mitch Fifield, thank you to Brett Whiteley, thank you to Phil Vickers. And it’s a great example of three tiers of government local, state and federal coming together for the benefit of a much valued community as the West Coast. Thank you.
This announcement today is a game changer for the people of the West Coast. It’ll allow us to move forward into the future, to diversify, grow our economy. Without it, we’d have struggled and it’s been a team West Coast effort, a real team West Coast effort and I just couldn’t be prouder to to be Mayor of the West Coast Community today. And thank you Brett, Mitch and Jeremy. It’s great, what can I say, it’s absolutely tremendous.
Thank you for coming along everyone, we’re happy to take some questions.
It’s a bit of a line from the West Coast from what we had before: why did it take so long?
Why it took so long was because this government, the Coalition Government, just doesn’t simply say to people, ‘we’re going to fix something with no money in sight’, we just won’t do that. I won’t be part of a government that does that. This had to be a carefully calculated plan. First and foremost, we needed the assistance and the collaboration of the State Government and we are here today hearing more about that. I mean, the reality is, we’ve had twelve months to get on top of this issue because it was really only about April/May last year when the so-called ‘oops’ moment occurred, where the flick of a switch went from fibre to the satellite. It came as a hell-of-a-shock. Certainly to the people of the West Coast is came as a hell-of-a-shock to me as the local member when in fact we were all of the belief that fibre was going to be the solution for the West Coast. So, I think Mitch Fifield was not only the Minister, but for two years was in fact my flatmate, to tell you absolutely uncategorically that he’s heard enough about the West Coast to last him a lifetime because he knew it was something really important to me. The West Coast is an important part of our state. It’s an exceptionally important part of our region and I completely understand, they made their point clear well before the public meeting and I was working on it before then. But they certainly made their voice known at the community meeting which I was more to prepared to be a part of, but I wasn’t going to be using that as some sort of grandstanding opportunity to promise money at that point in time hadn’t even be determined how much is was going to cost. I was very honest with the people down there, I told them I would do everything I could. We now have a price tag, absolutely firmly put in place at $18.5 million, and together with the State Government, it’s fully funded.
You’d said before about that you want the people of the West Coast to be confident and trial the fixed wireless technology and then you could rectify the situation. Why did you change your tune later?
Well the essentially part of this story is this: satellite was going to be in place basically in May. The last thing that I wanted to do, was to say to the West Coast people, ‘well don’t bother about the satellite’ with no end in sight for a solution. That would have been this most immature and irresponsible decision for a local member. To basically say then, with no other solution in sight. I had to make sure that the jigsaw pieces all went on the table, and they have. We now have got a solution. It is now appropriate for the West Coast people not obviously to be part of the satellite footprint. They now have an end in sight, where they’ll be able to hook up to fibre. They’ll be getting speeds that they asked for, they made it categorically clear to me in the public meeting that they were just simply asking for a quality with other towns and cities around the north-west coast and that’s what we are delivering today.
Would you have listened if it wasn’t election time?
Cause I would have. That’s a ridiculous question. The West Coast is an important part of this community. Mitch Fifield will tell you that I was knocking on his door last May, so an election then was 18 months away, which is half-way through an election campaign.
Our contribution to the GDP, I think is $375 million a year from 4,700 people
One other question Mr Whiteley. Are you concerned that this might sent up an expensive precedence for other parts of the north-west? There are other parts of the north-west that are going to have fixed wireless as well. Are they going to be banging on the door saying: Queenstown’s got it, we want it.
Let’s clear up a couple of things firstly, that fixed wireless needs fibre. That’s the first thing. And can I say, when the Labor Party came to town a month or so ago to make their announcement, two things, one they never ever clearly identified and still have not in writing, that whatever their fibre plan is exactly. Secondly, they missed the most appropriate tourism town in West Coast which is Strahan, completely off their media release. So, the fixed wireless requires fibre, so fibre will now run to Queenstown, Rosebery and Zeehan. That fibre will then run to a fixed wireless tower that will service the very popular tourism spot of Strahan and all other parts of the West Coast. Understandably, we’ll still be embraced by the satellite footprint. Now, quite clearly even the people of the West Coast understand why that is the case. You cannot run fibre to every part of the West Coast, just like you can’t roll fibre to every part of the nation. I mean, everyone compares us to a number of other countries, this is a vast nation and we are rolling it out faster, more affordably, and on a better time scale than Labor could have ever dreamed of.
And it’s important to recognise that Labor’s proposition for the West Coast is unfunded, it’s uncosted. They have not identified where the money will come from. They have said they will take it from the nbn. The nbn is not an ATM machine. The nbn has already fully budgeted its finances. We have separately identified funding for this. So Labor’s plan is fantasy, and there can be no confidence in it.
Can I say finally, this is just not about communications, this is about an economic enabler for the West Coast and I think Phil, in particular has been the voice of the West Coast, made that point clear, not that I necessarily needed it rammed down my throat as best as he did, because we all understand that it is an economic enabler for our region. As he said, $370 million worth of contribution into GDP growth into the State. So this will be a huge benefit to the State and the region and I know education, health, training. So I think it’s a great day for the West Coast. I think it’s a great day for the region. Thank you.