SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Evidence tendered in Senate Estimates has demonstrated that Australians are still paying the price from some of this Government’s major schemes in its early days. More than $28 million of bad debts have been incurred as a result of the Government’s disastrous green programs, in particular the disastrous ‘Pink Batts’ program [Home Insulation Program], and this is just another demonstration of the fact that the Labor Governments of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard are unable to manage major projects and now we’re seeing this again with the National Broadband Network.
With the NBN, the Government is again failing to show that it is capable of managing a major project for Australia and this is one of the great concerns that the Coalition has about this Government. Yesterday we saw Telstra do what Stephen Conroy and Julia Gillard are incapable of doing – taking responsibility; taking responsibility for the fact that some of their policies, that their policy settings, have created a situation that is utterly unacceptable when it comes to the management of asbestos. Telstra are taking responsibility for getting things right at their end. The Government needs to take responsibility and acknowledge the fact that contractors for NBN [NBN Co] are dealing with asbestos on a daily basis, that there are indeed contractors for NBN who have mishandled asbestos and that the Government’s own practices have failed, let alone their handlings with Telstra in terms of ensuring that they actually have the processes and practices in place before they started this gargantuan task.
The Government’s NBN has been a disaster from day one. Three years ago, at the start of this Parliament, they were promising that 1.3 million premises would be passed by the end of this month. They’ll struggle to make 200,000 premises instead. This is just another example of Labor’s failure when it comes to managing significant projects.
JOURNALIST: Well, the Coalition face some similar asbestos problems, even rolling out fibre only to the node, will they?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: One of the great advantages of the Coalition’s policy is that we leave more of the legacy infrastructure intact, so in fact there is a lesser issue to deal with. It’s still a serious issue and we will make sure we go through all of the proper planning processes in that regard. We are confident that we can deliver our policy in a far cheaper way and one of the reasons it’s cheaper, one of the reasons it’s quicker and one of the reasons it’s more efficient is because it leaves more of that legacy infrastructure intact.
JOURNALIST: But can you guarantee that there’d be no similar asbestos issues coming up when you’re rolling out the fibre?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We can guarantee that, unlike the Government, we would do our homework in advance. This Government knew there were problems as early as 2009. Frankly, everybody’s known that there are issues of asbestos in Telstra’s pits. Ever since these types of projects have been envisaged, it’s been no secret of the asbestos in Telstra’s pits. What you’ve got to do is make sure you have the processes and policies in place to handle it properly from day one. This Government’s been caught short yet again.
JOURNALIST: The Government says you’re playing politics. What’s your response?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We are simply dealing with the issues that the community is facing and is concerned about. This is a very serious issue, very serious in particular for the people of Ballarat and Penrith, serious for the communities in Perth, in Adelaide and in Tasmania where there have been asbestos-related issues. It’s responsible for us to highlight those issues, to highlight the failures of Government policy, because if they weren’t highlighted they’d just be swept under the carpet.
JOURNALIST: Today’s polling… is the danger now for the Coalition complacency?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Far from it. We know that no election, no election, can be taken for granted. It’s only on a handful of occasions that government has gone to the Coalition in a change of government scenario, so we know it’s not easy to win an election from opposition. Only on three occasions has the modern Liberal Party succeeded in doing that. We hope to make it a fourth this year but it is very clear that the public are fed up with the lies, waste and mismanagement of the Labor Party. It’s very clear that the public are fed up of a Government that is more focused on itself. Doug Cameron just made clear then [the immediately preceding doorstop interview] that the Government goes into its Caucus meetings and they talk about the polls; Julia Gillard talks about the J curve in the hope that the polls will shift. The Coalition goes into our party room meeting and we talk about policies. The J that we’re interested in is jobs – jobs for all Australians and a future for Australians, not some J curve in the polls.
JOURNALIST: You are aware of the dangers of complacency but are you confident that everyone else in your party is aware? On the weekend, at a Liberal Party function in New South Wales, Tony Abbott was introduced as the next Prime Minister of Australia.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: That’s a common thing to do in terms of rallying the troops when you’re introducing your leader. We all hope Tony Abbott will be the next Prime Minister of Australia. I believe Tony can be the next Prime Minister of Australia but I don’t take it for granted that he will be.
JOURNALIST: You don’t think voters might see this as a touch of arrogance?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Not at all. I think voters know that you need to rally your troops, you need to create energy and enthusiasm. What we are doing for the next 101 days until election day is releasing our policies in a careful manner, making sure that we communicate with the voters in a sensible way. We know that people are tired of Labor’s waste – debt, deficits, mismanagement – and the lies. We know they want a change but we know that we have to earn their trust and earn their votes and in the next 101 days that’s all we’ll be working on doing.