The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

20 December 2011

Joint Press Conference
with
The Hon Paul Henderson MLA
Chief Minister of the Northern Territory

Press Conference

Darwin

20 December 2011

SUBJECTS: Darwin fibre-optic link; people smuggling; death of Kim Jong-Il ; RBA Minutes

HENDERSON:

Look it's great to be here with Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan, Senator Trish Crossin and Managing Director of NextGen Phil Sykes because this is a very exciting day for the Northern Territory and a great Christmas present for Territorians. The rollout of the 3,800 kilometre fibre-optic cable from Toowoomba to Darwin means faster cheaper broadband for Territory families and territory business. A great Christmas present for the Northern Territory.

I'd like to thank and congratulate Wayne Swan and the Federal Government for understanding the needs of the Northern Territory. We were one of the worst blackspots in the nation in terms of access to broadband and access to high-speed internet services, not only in Darwin, but right across the Northern Territory. I, as the Chief Minister, and other Ministers lobbied hard when we understood that the Federal Government was making this commitment to building the National Broadband Network, to see that the Territory was one of the first cabs off the rank in terms of providing this service.

What it means today is more competition in the market place. More competition is going to drive down prices, drive down prices for Territory families and for Territory businesses and that's great news for all Territorians. This is the backbone that the NBN is going to be built off. As of the start of next year, the work will start on connecting up to 20,000 homes across Darwin to the NBN. That's great news for all those people in all of those homes as the NBN gets rolled out right across the Northern Territory.

This project is as important today in 2011 as was the overland telegraph line that was opened up back in 1878. A very important piece of infrastructure, not only for people at home downloading movies, downloading songs, and accessing their friends across the world through social media, but also for Territory businesses, now going to provide many more opportunities to sell their products and services efficiently, effectively, to the rest of Australia, to the rest of the of the world.

With (inaudible) about to make a final investment decision, with Government chasing hard to deliver a marine supply base, we want to open up investment opportunities for major multinational companies around the world to establish themselves in Darwin, to service the offshore exploration oil and gas industry that is going to be delivered to the north and to the north-west of us. For those companies, having access to world-class broadband is very important.

So this is yet another piece in the jigsaw for the Territory that is facing a very, very bright future and this is a great Christmas present for Territorians - faster, cheaper broadband for Territory families, Territory business. It is a great way to end the year and I'd like to flick now to our Acting Prime Minister, Wayne, to say a few words. Thank you, Wayne.

TREASURER:

Thank you very much Paul. It's great to be in Darwin today. This is a very, very important piece of nation-building infrastructure and just as the nation was built via the railroads and the overland telegraph of the 19th and 20th century, the NBN will build the nation in the 21st century, and it will connect remote communities to our cities, and it will connect our cities and our country to the region. It will empower our businesses. It will make our businesses much more productive, much more efficient. It will empower communities. It will empower people to connect with each other across vast distances. It will mean that services can be provided, particularly in remote communities that could never be provided before, particularly health services, educational services.

So what we're seeing here is a vital piece of nation-building infrastructure which will enable the country to maximise all of the opportunities which will flow from the Asian Century. The Chief Minister mentioned mining before - very important for mining in the Territory and the future industry that will be established across this great expanse of land, but it's also very important in terms of Government services.

So I'm delighted to be here. This has been a $250 million investment by the Federal Government in putting in place the essential building blocks of the National Broadband Network. And we said over four years ago we would build the nation through nation-building projects such as this and now we have this backbone, if you like, or the spine of the NBN that runs 3,800 kilometres, effectively from Brisbane to Darwin, going through regional centres and making sure all of those communities will ultimately benefit from faster broadband.

What does it mean for you as you're sitting out there in your home? It means faster broadband, it means more competitive broadband, it means cheaper broadband, it means more effective broadband, it means more choice and more power to consumers in the home and it means the same particularly for small businesses out there that are looking for new opportunities.

Now I just wanted to say a couple of other things as well. We've seen the death in the last 24 hours of Kim Jong-Il in North Korea. I hope this is an opportunity now for the regime to engage responsibly in the region and in global affairs. It is an opportunity, if you like, for a more constructive engagement and I hope we see that in the weeks and months ahead.

There's also been some discussion in the national media today about what we must do as a country to avoid the terrible tragedies that we've seen occur off the coast of Indonesia in the last couple of days. To see so many deaths is tragic and what we must do as a country is break that people-smuggling model which has seen so many innocent people go to their deaths. What we have to do, particularly in our political system, is reach a resolution to this challenge.

The Government believes that it's important that we sit down with the Opposition and work our way through these issues, to do it in a constructive way and to that end, the Prime Minister and indeed myself, have written to the Leader of the Opposition suggesting that we sit down and sort this out. Now unfortunately that approach has been rejected by the Leader of the Opposition. I think that is unfortunate. It's a genuine offer from the Government because I think the people of Australia want us to sit down and sort this issue out and make sure we don't see tragedies such as we've seen in recent days. Now I'll throw to Phil.

PHIL SYKES:

Thank you. On behalf of NextGen networks and (inaudible) we're delighted with the outcome that we've been able to deliver to the Federal Government and the people of the Northern Territory and the rest of Australia where this new network has gone. We are absolutely committed to helping communities, service providers, utilise this network. So we'll be working very hard to make it easy for people to get onto this network and enjoy the benefits of it.

Again I'd like to thank the Federal Government for their commitment in putting this initiative out to the market and their selection of us to deliver the outcomes, thank you.

TREASURER:

Any questions?

JOURNALIST:

Can I just ask Phil before he leaves the podium, what have been the logistics of getting this cable to the point where it is now and what are some of the challenges you faced along the way?

PHIL SYKES: Well, probably the biggest challenge was actually the weather, we have had, as we all know, the worst weather events in probably several hundred years. So that was probably the biggest issue. I think there was an enormous amount of pre-planning done though to identify every contingency and work through those. We paid particular attention to the people that we've interacted with; the indigenous communities, the councils, the land holders. That, usually, is the biggest impediment to these tasks - getting the cable through someone's private land and we've done that through negotiation and respect for those that own the properties. So I think that probably sums it up.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Swan, how soon will the people of Darwin be able to plug in and access the NBN?

TREASURER:

Well, I'll throw to Phil, but as I understand it this spine is operational as of now, and as we go through January and February there will be opportunity for service providers to join up to work through the NBN and to advertise for new customers. So right along the route where there's been a black spot we've now got this critical piece of infrastructure, we've got the opportunities for the service providers to come in and attract customers. So we would expect to see the full benefits of this flowing as we go through the first part of next year. I've already spoken to a number of service providers who all say that they're really keen to get in here and put their offerings up to attract new customers and business right along the spine.

JOURNALIST:

It's been a long time coming. How long before all Australians have access to it?

TREASURER:

Well, it's going to take a while to roll the NBN out right across the country. It's a very, very big project but what we've seen here is pretty good progress in a relatively short period of time, but the rollout is going to go on for some years.

JOURNALIST:

Is it unstoppable now, the momentum with the NBN?

TREASURER:

Well, I certainly hope so. I mean, as you know the Opposition says no to everything and they're still saying no to the NBN, but we are putting in this critical piece of infrastructure, and its efficiency, its utility for our economy, its productivity, its importance to our communities has been demonstrated in all of the presentations today. So you can only hope that at some stage they might finally see some good sense.

JOURNALIST:

The Opposition is also saying no to sitting down and talking about offshore processing. Will you put a proposal in writing to the Opposition?

TREASURER:

Let me just make this point: saying no isn't leadership. Getting the wrecking ball out and smashing everything isn't leadership. The fact is that we decided to ask the Opposition to sit down and constructively have a discussion with us and what we said we would do is we wouldn't put any particular boundaries around that discussion because it was put forward genuinely and it was put forward before this recent tragedy that's occurred off the Indonesian coast.

Mr Abbott has said no to the proposition that we should have the two ministers, the Shadow Minister and our Minister, sit down and have a discussion. He said no to the most reasonable proposition that we should have the two ministers sit down and have a discussion. That's just wrecking ball tactics.

JOURNALIST:

(Inaudible) wants to see it in writing first?

TREASURER:

I don't think we should be putting parameters around the discussion. The Australian public really do expect us to sit down and to work our way through this issue. Now everybody knows that both parties support offshore processing. So, having agreed that we all support offshore processing in some form, you would have thought it was just possible that Mr Abbott would have agreed to a very straightforward proposition that the two ministers sit down and have a yarn about where we could go from here but he said no to that and that's unfortunate.

JOURNALIST:

You mentioned other things on the table, does that mean TPVs could be considered?

TREASURER:

Well, I'm not going to go into a policy debate about the worth of particular policies. Our position is well known and our position is that the Malaysian arrangement is the best arrangement to send a message that the people-smuggling model doesn't work anymore. Now in that proposition we've had the full support of all of the advisers - the advisers who provided support to the previous Howard Government - their advice to us is that is the most effective model. The Opposition has a different view. What we have said is we are prepared to sit down and have a constructive discussion. We haven't gone out to say that this is ruled in, that is ruled out. What we have said is we'd like a discussion and it's a very simple proposition to have the two ministers sit down and have a fair dinkum discussion about this and Mr Abbott has even said no to that.

JOURNALIST:

RBA minutes released today suggest more interest rate cuts over the next 12 months. Does the Government support that?

TREASURER:

Well the RBA takes its decisions independently. I think everybody is pretty relieved that we go into Christmas having had two rate cuts. That's a good thing. The RBA Minutes will be interpreted in various ways by the people who read them but the RBA has moved I think decisively, at the end of the year. And when you think about where the Australian economy is, with unemployment relatively low, we've got a very strong investment pipeline, we've got consumption around trend and of course we've had two rate cuts consecutively - that's a great way to finish the year.

JOURNALIST:

The people who survived this boat accident are saying that they feel as though they've been offered false hope to come to Australia. Do you feel as though Australia's policies are confusing the people that are coming on boats?

TREASURER:

Not at all, it's the people smugglers that are out there offering the false hope. They are the ones that are responsible for pedalling the notion that there is some risk-free way of getting to Australia, there isn't. Look, as a decision maker, as the Acting Prime Minister, I've looked at the weather patterns, and if you have a look at the weather patterns and the outlook we know that there's going to be some rough weather in the region where this boat went down and it's going to be there for some time and despite that, the people smugglers are encouraging people to get on boats and indeed overloading boats to supply their trade.

What we have to do is send a message to the region that the people smugglers' model can and should be broken. We can only do that if we can get the agreement of the Parliament to offshore processing and that's why it is really important that both sides of politics sit down and have a fair dinkum discussion about what will work because the prospect before us, given the weather patterns, given the numbers that have been on the boats so far, is very bleak.

JOURNALIST:

It's been suggested that the policy of destroying boats when they arrive is encouraging people smugglers to send out people in boats that are less valuable, that are less sea worthy, is that something you reject?

TREASURER:

Look I don't think that goes to the very core of the policy challenge that we've got here. We need to put in place offshore processing so that people don't get on the boats in the first place. That's what we need to do. Thank you