MATTHEW ABRAHAM: As you would have heard on our news this morning, the National Broadband Network is updating its rollout maps and Ziggy Switkowski, who is the new head of it, appointed by the Abbott Government I think in its first few days, says he wants to more accurately reflect what is going on and show people who are actually being connected. There are fears, though, that actually what is happening is a slowdown of the connection. In a moment we’re going to talk to Simon Birmingham, Liberal Senator for South Australia, but Kate Ellis the Member for Adelaide. Good morning to you, Kate Ellis.
KATE ELLIS: Good morning, Matt. Good morning, Dave.
DAVID BEVAN: Kate Ellis, we’ve got some contact with listeners who’ve been in touch with us saying they want to know what’s going on and that some of them feel like they’ve been ripped off, that is: work had started in particular streets and…
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: It’s now not on the map.
DAVID BEVAN: … they thought they were on the map, they thought work was being done, and now it’s no longer on the map. What’s happening in your seat?
KATE ELLIS: Well, we know that a lot of people were told by Tony Abbott before the election that they would be a government of no surprises and yesterday, when people checked onto the website, many, many people were surprised. People in areas like Prospect, people in areas around there, in Collinswood where the ABC finds itself, who were on the map as of a couple of days ago, without explanation, overnight, you check on and all of a sudden there are no maps, there are no details and there are no answers to whether people are still getting the NBN that they believed before the election that they were.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well, they still have the maps, don’t they? It’s just the maps have been updated, according to the new executive chairman.
KATE ELLIS: Well, if you live in Broadview, for example, a couple of days ago you could go on, you could click on your street and you could see when you were expected to get the NBN and you would find that those suburbs were listed as construction being underway or there were a lot of suburbs that were listed as construction due within the next 12 months. If you click on there now, you don’t come up at all. There is no information and my job is to make sure that we can get these people back on the map and argue that, if you want to be a government of no surprises, then you deliver what you said you would before the election.
DAVID BEVAN: But were these phantom workers? Was this phantom work being done – you’re actually pumping up the stats in the lead up to an election?
KATE ELLIS: Well, what I would say: is surely that’s something the Government should be explaining. The Government has been absolutely silent and normally the way that you make announcements…
DAVID BEVAN: Well, no, the Government is saying that these are more realistic maps, so the question I’ve got for you is, as the Labor Member for Adelaide: was your Government actually giving out misleading information? You might have a map which says construction due soon but no work had actually been done, so it was a false promise?
KATE ELLIS: Well, look, we know that there are suburbs… the suburbs of Prospect, for example, where the mapping has been done and people have gone down, the measurements are done, fibre has begun to be hauled through the streets, which I’ve seen with my own eyes. Now, the people of Prospect, who believed that this was going to be switched on in a matter of weeks are now being told that actually 500,000 houses across Australia, including houses in Prospect, have been taken off the website altogether, so the answer is that we need to make sure that we hold the Government to account and that we make sure that the people that they said, where work was underway it would continue, does continue and it doesn’t just silently disappear in the middle of the night.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Now, how are you off for time?
KATE ELLIS: No, I’m okay.
… [callers taken]
CALLER, ROBERT: … it’s got nothing to do with Tony Abbott, with all due respects. I live in Olive Street in Prospect. We were told we… we got a letter, in fact, to say we’d be connected last January under a Labor Government. I mean, you can’t… they can’t go around blaming Tony Abbott for something that’s just happened now. I mean… and the thing’s a mess anyway.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Let’s put that back to Kate Ellis and we’ll come to Senator Simon Birmingham in a moment, who’s Parliamentary Secretary [to the Minister] for the Environment but was also former chair of the Senate [Environment and] Communications committee. I’m sure he’s kept his finger in that pie. Kate Ellis, is this, as the Federal Government says, really about removing false hope? In other words, you’ve got maps and people, you know, look like they’re being planned in, they’re going to check the map, yes, it should be happening any time soon, 12 months go by, it hasn’t… well, they’re saying ‘well, look, this is not fair to people, we’re just going to tidy up the maps.
KATE ELLIS: Look, I guess my point is: the people that live on Olive Street were told by the now Federal Government before the election ‘if we come in, yes, we’re not going to commence work in areas where it hasn’t already started but if work has already commenced there then it will continue’ so my job is to make sure that those people in Olive Street and those 500,000 houses across Australia who believed that work was underway will indeed continue and the thing that is really troubling about this is I’ve spoken to businesses who have packed up and moved and set up in areas where they would benefit from the NBN who are now sitting there scratching their head saying ‘we don’t have any information about when this is happening or if this is happening at all’ and it has been the most appalling example of government communications that I can remember seeing, from a Government that wants to pride themselves on being all about infrastructure.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Now, we’re told… we had one report this morning from a street in Vale Park where the residents believe that the work that was being done was National Broadband Network work, trenches were dug and I think the work had been completed and they’re now off the map. Do you know about Vale Park?
KATE ELLIS: Well, Vale Park was certainly listed as an area where work was underway and I think the Government is being a bit clever about all of this in regards to… there is a lot of work that goes on before the fibre is actually hauled, so people will see people measuring up their street, seeing what infrastructure exists, doing their planning, mapping it all out and assume that that means the work is underway. The Government now seem to be saying ‘unless we’ve actually got contracts with the people that are coming in after all of that preliminary work has been done to the lay the infrastructure, then it’s disappeared.’
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Well, what’s wrong with that? Isn’t that being honest with people?
KATE ELLIS: Well, I don’t think that is being honest with people. If that was honest with people…
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Because if you’ve got some Telstra… you know, some Kev Corduroy from Telstra walking up and down the street with some spray paint and a map, that’s not the same as getting the hole dug and the fibre down, is it?
KATE ELLIS: Look, I think if the Government was being honest with people, you wouldn’t have such confusion across so many houses of Adelaide who believed that under this Government they would still be getting their NBN and all of a sudden, as of yesterday, that’s all been thrown into disarray. I don’t think that’s about honesty at all and we still don’t have any answers as to whether that is actually going to go ahead in Vale Park, in Prospect, in other areas, so I certainly hope Simon Birmingham can answer that.
DAVID BEVAN: Well, at 17 minutes to 9, let’s go to Senator Simon Birmingham. Good morning, Senator.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning, David, Matthew and listeners.
DAVID BEVAN: Senator, people who had reasonable expectations of being connected to the NBN… can they still have those reasonable expectations?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the expectation that all South Australians and all Australians have had is we will honour our promise to deliver a National Broadband Network that ensures download data rates of between 25 and 100 megabits per second by the end of 2016 and we will do that in a way that ensures people… when they’re promised something, get what they’re promised in the timeline that they’re promised and the difference between us and the previous Government is that all of these maps… so many of them were basically mirages rather than reality. They were promising something that was out there on the ‘never never’ and very few people have actually seen the services delivered in the timeframe the previous Government promised, so we’re now saying ‘let’s look at what can effectively be done’. We will only promise what can be delivered and then we’ll take it step by step from there to get our election promise in place by 2016.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: But, where work has begun in a street… and is it correct that Tony Abbott said ‘if work has begun, well, we will at least complete that work’ and you take a street such as… Kate Ellis talks about Olive Street, Prospect… has the pin been pulled on those projects, so we’re not just taking off the map… you’re not just taking off the map promises; you’re taking off the map work begun?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Matt, I’ll be happy to talk to Malcolm Turnbull’s office and get some specific advice about the status of Olive Street, Prospect. I don’t know that exact circumstance but what I can say is that, where design and remediation works have been completed and where construction contracts have been signed, we would fully expect works to be completed, so the fibre will be delivered where the construction contract’s signed, where there’s actually work underway, where all the stages have been progressed. The problem is a lot of these maps that said construction was underway… the only things that had actually happened was a bit of local council and stakeholder engagement, a few tick-a-box activities, rather than anything that really demonstrates construction underway so we’ve said, to give people a fair sense of what’s actually happening on the ground so that promises match the reality of what they’ll get, we’ve redefined it so that it is now a ‘building underway’ – building of the NBN in that area is underway. Then people can see fair and square ‘yes, we’re definitely going to get this’, not live in some hope and dream and not get anything.
… [more callers taken]
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: … Senator Simon Birmingham, we thank you and it would be nice to be able to even talk to Malcolm Turnbull or at least put those specific streets to him.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’m sure he’ll be happy to do so in time, guys, but you’re obviously getting plenty of anecdotal feedback that the maps that were out there really were, to use the technical term, not… a crock and they’ve really struggled to meet any of those targets. In fact, across SA as I understand it, since the Willunga trial site, barely 200 premises have actually effectively had fibre pass, in brownfield sites, which really demonstrates after six years of promises how much this was all about dreams rather than reality.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: And what’s a brownfield site?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, that’s an existing housing development as against a greenfields or new housing development.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Okay, I suspected that was the case.
DAVID BEVAN: Right, okay.
MATTHEW ABRAHAM: I hadn’t heard that buzz word before but I need to get out more.
DAVID BEVAN: Senator, thank you for your time and, before that, Kate Ellis. We appreciate her making herself available this morning – Member for Adelaide.