SATURDAY, 21 MAY
SUBJECTS: MALCOLM TURNBULL NBN STUFF UP; MORE QUESTIONS TO ANSWER ON NBN INVESTIGATION
SHORTEN: Good morning everybody. It’s great to be here again in South-West Sydney talking to the Labor Party about the next six weeks of our campaign. I recognise that Labor, this election, is the underdog. But Labor is committed to having a million conversations from today, with Australians all over our great country. And Australians are responding well to Labor’s positive plans for the future.
Today I again declare that this election would be a referendum about where this country goes and the lives of 24 million Australians. Medicare, schools, TAFE, universities. Access for working class and middle-class kids to have opportunity and aspiration. Fair taxation, jobs, the ability to have first home-buyers be able to compete on a level playing field. Real action on climate change, focussing on renewable energy. Labor is the underdog in this election but we’re going to roll up our sleeves and give it our very best shot. Australians deserve nothing less. Happy to take any questions that people might have.
JOURNALIST: On the NBN raids, Senator Conroy has confirmed that your unreleased NBN policy was one of the documents in his office. We have had it confirmed by the AFP that there was an NBN staffer there who has forwarded on some of the photos he took of the documents. Are you worried that your unreleased policy could have been sent around to some people in the NBN, maybe the Liberal Party? Are you concerned that it might get leaked before you could announce it?
SHORTEN: Well your question goes to a whole range of matters, and the very extraordinary elements we have seen in the last 36 hours. Today we have seen explosive revelations that Senator Fifield, Malcolm Turnbull's handpicked Minister for Communications, knew about the police investigation and the NBN company's actions six months ago. It is inconceivable – it is totally implausible – that Senator Fifield, a close confidante of Mr Turnbull, the Communications Minister following on from Malcolm Turnbull, was not aware of the police investigation into NBN and he has confirmed that. It is even more inconceivable that he would not have communicated this fact to Mr Turnbull or any member of his staff. Otherwise we would be led to believe that there could be major police investigations triggered by government business enterprises responsible to the minister – and former ly the Prime Minister's own responsibility – and that they would not tell the Prime Minister or his staff. It is either gross incompetence or indeed it far worse, and we are not being told the truth. Malcolm Turnbull needs to realise that Australians will not let him run and hide from the truth. Australians are distinctly and deeply unimpressed that this government and Malcolm Turnbull will go to such lengths to hide the truth from Australians. The public have a right to know, the media have a right to publish. Mr Turnbull needs to come clear and explain what he knows and what he has been told, or indeed what his staff and representatives have been told
JOURNALIST: So you effectively think the Prime Minister was lying yesterday when he said he did not hear of this until the AFP called him on Thursday night?
SHORTEN: I believe that the Prime Minister is embarrassed by the revelations that his flagship project – the signature activity he has taken in public life as a politician, the NBN – I think he is deeply embarrassed and humiliated that his incompetence is emerging. The fact that the NBN he promised would cost $29 billion in 2013 is now costing $56 billion and climbing. The fact that Australia has slipped, under his watch, from having Internet speeds which were ranked 30th in the world and have now plummeted to 60th. The delays – he promised that many more, millions of Australians would have access to NBN, and they simply haven't. It is clear to me that this Government wants to keep the troops from the Australian people and Labor is determined to get to the bottom of the matter.
JOURNALIST: Is it right that Mitch Fifield would be aware of this as a Minister of a Department, wouldn’t you be expecting to be told that your department had instigated an investigation with the police?
SHORTEN: He would expect that. The government is trying to pretend, now it has all hit the fan, that somehow NBN company is unrelated to the government. Whenever there was a good story about NBN Co, from the Parliament to the streets of Australia you would see a traffic jam of Coalition ministers in white cars fronting up for the photo opportunity. But now all of a sudden the truth is coming out that the project is bloated, it is slower, the promises have not been kept. They are trying to pretend they would not have an idea what is going on at NBN Co. It does not pass the pub test does it?
JOURNALIST: What assurances have you had from AFP that those photos that were taken by the NBN employee have been deleted? Are you confident they have?
SHORTEN: Well the lawyers are working with the investigating authorities and I want to make it clear here, Malcolm Turnbull is trying to say that somehow this is an argument between the Labor Party and AFP. It’s not. This is an argument between Mr Turnbull, the Labor Party and the Australian people. The people of Australia just really deserve to know what has gone on. This is the biggest Commonwealth infrastructure project we have seen. Australians surely have a right to know what is going on. If NBN is working, why are they hiding the truth? The reality is, unfortunately, a far, far less pretty picture than that. We have seen that the NBN under Malcolm Turnbull's stewardship doubled in cost, blown out by billions and billions of dollars, the promised speeds to many more Australian households just haven’t materialised. So in terms of the processes, the lawyers are going th rough the processes. We are going to make sure there has been no illegality rendered towards the collection of the evidence. But fundamentally, we put responsibility for this matter back at the feet of the government; the NBN Co. and Mr Turnbull. Why are they fighting so hard to deny telling the media and Australians what is really going on? What is so damaging, other than just Mr Turnbull’s own ego and pride, telling Australians that they’ve stuffed it up, that they’ve actually doubled the cost and slowed the speeds and taken Australia backwards? That’s the real issue here.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, Mitch Fifield has put out a statement today. He says that the referral to the AFP was made by NBN management and he did not instruct them, and that as an AFP investigation was under way, he did not advise other ministers or the Prime Minister. Do you accept that?
SHORTEN: Well I think there are many more facts to come out. Obviously the media has been chasing Senator Fifield, and you have extracted from him statements today that he did not want to give yesterday. There is clearly more going on here than meets the eye. And the fundamental matter is this: why is Mr Turnbull throwing everything he can at making sure that the people of Australia don't find out the hash he has made of the NBN? He has got questions to answer not only about the process but about the substance. I think there’s many Australians, I know there are many Australians, who are frustrated that the promises of the NBN rollout coming to their suburbs, their small businesses, their schools just haven't materialised. Mr Turnbull is deeply embarrassed by the revelations which the media printed earlier in the year, and he is doing everything he can to make sure Australian s aren’t looking at the substance.
JOURNALIST: [inaudible] A spokesperson for NBN Co has suggested that they were following orders from the AFP and taking photos of those documents under Parliamentary Privilege. Does that raise further questions about the AFP’s conduct?
SHORTEN: Well now you have the Government, through the NBN, trying to blame the AFP. Let’s get to the bottom of the matter. What is so secret and so objectionable that Australians don't deserve to know the facts about how money is being spent, how promises are being broken, how Australia is not moving forward in the 21st century but we're slipping backwards. Why is the Government so determined to prevent Australians knowing what is really going on with the NBN? Mr Turnbull should travel with me to regional Australia and the suburbs of Australia. He should see the frustration that Australians express about not being able to access the sort of internet services that many other countries are now taking for granted. Under this Mr Turnbull's mismanagement, under this Liberal Government, the internet services in Australia are not keeping pace with the rest of the world and we can't afford another three years of Liberal incompetence and waste and mismanagement. We have already slipped backwards 30 places in the world in the first three years. I'm determined to put the case as to why we shouldn't slip back further by giving the Liberals another three years to not tell us the truth, to hide the facts and indeed take our internet services and our expansion of the future backwards, not forwards.
JOURNALIST: Isn’t it true, Mr Shorten that [inaudible] has written a letter from the AFP saying that these photos have been deleted. Just to go back to Lauren’s question, have you sought any assurances or have you been given any that those have been deleted, and why isn’t a verbal confirmation from the Commissioner to suffice over a letter?
SHORTEN: Let's be straightforward here. These are very serious matters that have been alleged. There's a serious investigation. Australians are entitled to protect their rights. And the fundamental issue is: why are we even having this process? Why is the Government so determined to bury in secrecy, to be grabbed kicking, on a daily basis, to tell us more than they were willing to yesterday. Who knows what they will tell us tomorrow? The point about it is that this Government and Mr Turnbull in particular are very sensitive about the exposure and the embarrassment of an incompetently administered National Broadband Network. And the obvious point is, Malcolm Turnbull was in charge of the big expansion, the biggest project, it's been incompetently done, and if he can do that to the NBN and double the cost, if he cannot keep his promises, if we can see Australia go backwards, ima gine what he will do over the next three years if he's in charge of the whole country?
JOURNALIST: If the public has a right to know, why is Labor claiming parliamentary privilege over the documents?
SHORTEN: The documents? Well we have a right to preserve the processes of a parliamentary democracy. But let's be very clear. The documents which are triggering this government interest have been published online. This is the Government shutting the gate after the horse has bolted because they are humiliated and angry about being exposed for their inaction over the last two-and-a-half-years. And this government and this Prime Minister should not be rewarded for perpetuating a secrecy of culture, for keeping the truth about their mismanagement from the Australian people.
JOURNALIST: Have you seen the police documents? Was a copy sent to your office?
SHORTEN: I haven't seen them, no. But I understand I can download most of them from reputable media sites. In fact, I understand that no less than four media outlets have been named in some of the documents. The real issue is why is Mr Turnbull so keen for Australians not to find out that on his watch he doubled the cost to the NBN – $29 billion in 2013 to $56 billion – not small amounts of money. The fact Australia has slipped from 30th to 60th in terms of our internet service offerings. The fact that millions of Australians – come with me to Frankston in Dunkley, to Bendigo, come with me to the Central Coast where I was last night, come with me to the marginal seats, they were persuaded to vote Liberal on the promise of a better NBN – and what they have is a worse service.
JOURNALIST: He said that by Stephen Conroy claiming parliamentary privilege he was trying to keep police away from the documents that were to quote, "clearly stolen." Can I just get your response to that?
SHORTEN: I give Mr Turnbull points for being brassy and confident. The whole debate is about documents that Mr Turnbull was humiliated and angry about being with in the public gaze. And somehow he says it's everyone else's fault? This is classic Turnbull at his best. Whenever something goes wrong, it's someone else's fault. The reality is, he was the gentleman in charge of the NBN. He is in charge of the cost blowout. He's in charge of the delays. He's in charge of Australia going backwards and he needs to take responsibility rather than taking Australia all over the paddock looking everywhere else except his own performance.
JOURNALIST: There are questions remaining about (inaudible) performance as Communications Minister. Why do you think he's still 17 points ahead of you as preferred Prime Minister in the Fairfax-IPSOS poll?
SHORTEN: Listen, we are the underdog in this election, there's no doubt about that. We're now two weeks into the election. As I go around Australia talking to Australians about Labor's positive plans, there is a distinct awakening of interest in an alternative. I understand it's a hard fight, it's a big climb to win 20 seats. But for me it's about Labor putting forward real choices in this election. There is a real difference between Malcolm Turnbull supporting $50 billion in tax cuts for the big end of town and Labor wanting to support and keep bulk billing and Medicare. There's a big difference between Mr Turnbull proposing as a budget measure that he decrease the tax burden, give a $17,000 tax cut, to someone earning $1 million next year, yet provide nothing for anyone who earns less than $80,000 a year. I am looking forward to the next six weeks, a chance t o offer Australians a positive alternative in education, in jobs, in Medicare, and renewable energy, in fair taxation and first-home affordability.
JOURNALIST: Opposition Leader, why did you think he didn't receive those documents considering they were widely shopped around?
SHORTEN: Well, let's be clear. I could see what a hash Mr Turnbull made of the NBN. And again, I now see that Mr Turnbull, he's the person who's ultimately got the most to lose by documents being revealed. He's the person who is most embarrassed. At the end of the day what you have to understand is who benefits by the suppression of these documents: Mr Turnbull. Who benefits from not having a debate in the public about the incompetent manage of NBN, the cost and delays: Mr Turnbull. This is all about protecting Mr Turnbull's reputation, but in the meantime I think Australians deserve to know the truth. You trust Australians, once they know the facts, to make decisions. Perhaps one last question.
JOURNALIST: Do you suspect the Prime Minister has been directly involved in either these raids or this investigation?
SHORTEN: His government has been involved in it. Now Mr Turnbull may say it's his government for the purpose of good news, but it's not his government for the purpose of bad news. For me it's all about the Australian people. There are 24 million Australians who deserve better internet services, they don't deserve to have the cost of the NBN double from $29 billion to $56 billion. They deserve to have the promises kept that this government made three years ago. Australians deserve to know the facts, the media have a right to publish the facts. And what is most important is that if the last three years has been a hash with the NBN and unarguably it has, goodness knows what happens if we give Mr Turnbull and his Liberal team of incompetence another three years to muck up our internet and NBN. Thank you everybody. See you a bit later.