Talking Politics - 25 September 2013

On breakfast radio I spoke with Mark Parton about last night's Labor leadership debate, the NBN and the folly of the Coalition's ‘direct action’ plan to tackle climate change. Here's the transcript:

Mark Parton: Andrew Fraser is the Labor member, Andrew Fraser (chuckle), Andrew Leigh, is the Labor member, not the first time it's been done everyone. He's the Labor member for Fraser. We've got a lot that we wanted to catch up with Andrew about, he's on the line. Morning Andrew.

Andrew Leigh: Morning Mark. How are you?

Mark Parton: Not too bad. A good little forum involving Albo and Bill last night.

Leigh: Yes, I quite enjoyed it. To me it illustrated that whichever way we end up going on the leadership we can't go wrong. We've got two strong Labor figures who are not walking away from what we did in government. The challenge I think when you lose  government is that you've got to recognise that you made mistakes, but you don't' want to take your entire six years and say, ‘well let’s throw all that out and start again from scratch’. If we did that we wouldn't be the Labor Party.

Parton: Now I'm trying to think, I’m trying to delve through my memories about comments that have been made regarding this contest I don't recognise that you've indicated publicly which way you're going have you?

Leigh: I haven't. And part of the reason, I mean I've been upfront with both candidates about who I'll support, but part of the reason that I'm being a little coy publicly is just that my branch members get to have a vote, and I think it's terrific that they can make a different decision from me.

Parton: Alright. Well let's move on and talk NBN. Of course Canberra particularly in your electorate has benefited from the rolling out of the National Broadband Network and as we're discovering it may be that the north is ahead of the south on this if Malcolm Turnbull has his way.

Leigh: It's a real worry isn't it Mark? We have the National Broadband Network rolling out across Gungahlin, fastest take-up rate anywhere in Australia; which I think reflects the fact that Gungahlin has been poorly served by internet technology in the past. And yet Malcolm Turnbull it seems is looking at trying to stop all that in its tracks. He said that if there aren't contracts in place then it's going to stop and in fact suggesting now that even if there is a contract in place if the construction hasn't started then he's going to stop it there. So that'll mean that for suburbs like Nicholls or Downer that are not in the first tranche of suburbs getting their National Broadband Network they'll miss out, and they'll have fibre to the box down the street rather than fibre coming right to the home.

Parton: See this is an interesting one the NBN cause I've spoken as I know you have and I’m sure you've spoken to more than me spoken to quite a number of Gungahlin residents who're connected to the NBN band and, look, some of them are over the moon there and others who are extremely frustrated with the time that it took and all of the delays along the way and many of whom have said to me you know what it's not really any different from what I had before. So for a lot of people it doesn't affect their lives. I've spoken to others who it's had a dramatic effect on one of them in particular it's given him the opportunity to work from home which he didn't have before. So that's going to dramatically affect his life in a very positive way but I guess my question is under Malcolm Turnbull’s proposal that particular individual would have the option to pay to get the service to his home if it was going to change his life in that way. Can you hear what I'm saying?

Leigh: I can, and I guess to me the argument sounds a lot like sitting in Sydney in the 1920s saying ‘well look we've only got 50,000 cars, maybe it'd be better off if we just built the harbor bridge one lane each way because let’s face it, we just don't have enough traffic to bother and we can always expand it later’. The thing about a National Broadband Network that takes fibre to everyone's homes is you get the network benefits of everyone having the technology. Then say if you're a government you want to roll out remote access to medical specialists you can do that because of the confidence that everyone has fibre to the home – giving a connection that has anywhere from 4-40 times faster than what Malcolm Turnbull is proposing.

Parton: Just so much money though Andrew. It's so much money.

Leigh: Either party's proposal is significant. Malcolm Turnbull’s is not costed, he hasn't costed his, but he's saying some figure around $20 billion in order to get fibre to the cabinet down the street. Labor was saying $40 billion to get fibre all the way to the home. Our view is that extra investment is worthwhile because it has a big payoff in the future and in fact that the overall benefit to the community for every dollar you spend is smaller when you do fibre to the cabinet down the street. Because you can't do a high definition video conference where it looks like you’re watching TV in the evening. I've seen Harrison School hook up with a school in Hokkaido, and have a Japanese lesson where the whole classroom can see every other kid in the classroom. It just changes the quality of the learning experience.

Parton: Yeah ok. Have you had a look at any of Christopher Pyne's comments on the way that he wants to change higher education in this country?

Leigh: I haven't, no.

Parton: Alright, well then I'll leave that behind. Let’s talk about Tim Flannery and the Climate Commission and the Climate Council. It's been a remarkable couple of days, hasn't it?

Leigh: Pretty extraordinary. And I guess this is what you get when you have a Prime Minister who’s in the past said climate change is ‘absolute crap’. The attempts to dismantle the bodies that build consensus across the scientific community, broadsides against economists and the cheapest way of dealing with carbon pollution. The real problem is that household budgets are going to struggle to afford with Mr Abbott’s Direct Action plan, a much more expensive way of reducing carbon emissions according to every serious economist you talk to. And I know you've said in the past it's a fig leaf, he's going to take it away.

Parton: And he will.

Leigh: Ah, well, you know he seems keen to plough on with it. So you've got one choice or another…

Parton: I'll be surprised. I mean will you be surprised if they go the whole hog on this and implement it as they've outlined?

Leigh: My hope is frankly that we're able to hold the carbon price in place just for another couple of years. Then the Government comes to its senses, recognises the impact on prices has been very very small and implements a ‘no carbon tax’ promise by just moving away from the fixed price period. Once you go to the European price it's just a very small impost on budgets at the moment. The CPI went up less than half a per cent once we introduced it and once you go to the European price it’s even smaller still. So, I think you'd be nuts to get rid of that and replace it with a massively expensive command-and-control approach.

(noise of child in background)

Parton: (Laughs) I think you're required so we'll let you go, but thanks for coming on this morning

Leigh: (Laughs) Thanks Mark, always busy in the household in the morning.

Parton: Andrew Leigh, the Labor member for Fraser.


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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.