ABC RADIO BALLARAT
WEDNESDAY, 9 SEPTEMBER 2020
SUBJECTS: Anthony Albanese’s vision statement on the regions; Victorian COVID roadmap; NBN; Insecure work.
STEVE MARTIN, HOST: Catherine King, good morning.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR INFRASTRUCTURE, TRANSPORT AND REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Good morning, it’s good to be with you.
MARTIN Catherine, there’s a whole lot of local stuff I wouldn’t mind asking you about at the end, but in relation to this speech from Anthony Albanese, he is focusing on communications, he’s focusing on the NBN and fibre to the premises broadband. Can you just expand a bit on the sort of things that Anthony Albanese is going to talk about later?
KING Yeah, well, Anthony’s been giving a whole series of vision statements around a whole range of areas about, you know, where do we want the country to go into the future? What are the important skills and jobs and innovation? This is his seventh vision statement, which is really about activating the region, looking at how we can use the growth potential of the regions to really grow our economy and what needs to be done to do that. And amongst many things, he’s obviously talked about communications. If you look across Ballarat for example some of us have done reasonably well, we’ve had fibre to the home as part of the initial NBN rollout under Labor and our communications have been really good. But like many of your listeners, I’ve been doing lots of zoom meetings around the electorate, and it’s pretty patchy still in some areas. So he’s talking about, really, that if you’re going to have smart regionalisation, which is really about growing our regions, you’re going to have to connect them better and that does mean looking at the National Broadband Network and that connectivity. We’re yet to announce our specific policies in that area, but really where you start is where things are not doing so well, and where the holes and where the gaps are in that communications network is really where you need to start to try and improve all of that, as well as then looking at our how can you increase speeds and the quality of what people are actually experiencing in the regions.
MARTIN Does that mean a return to Plan A as the NBN was originally planned, so most people have fibre, some regional areas on fixed Wi Fi and only a very small percentage of the satellite? Or is it a variation of Plan B or C or whatever we’re up to at the moment?
KING I think I think it’s a combination of all of the above. The horse has sort of bolted, unfortunately. We were doing well, we had a plan for fibre to the home in most areas, and obviously, we lost government and the new government decided they didn’t want to do that. So it’s done some things differently, which we think is inferior particularly because they’ve kept copper in that last connectivity to people’s homes, and that’s been a real problem and that’s been very noticeable throughout this period. So it’s sort of all of the above really, it’s about looking at where are those gaps and how do we actually fill those. As I said, really the core of Anthony’s speech today is about smart regionalisation, like how do you actually grow regional economies in a way that actually benefits local jobs, and that does mean improving connectivity, whether it’s about connectivity between regions in terms of communications and between cities or whether it is transport links and other economic corridors that are important.
MARTIN Catherine King, just on this, how can we afford it as a nation? Our own economy is in, if I can put it bluntly, is in the toilet. The world economy is there along with the rest of us. We’ve got a very fractious relationship with China, one of our main or our main trading partner at the moment. So when we’re talking about some sort of infrastructure upgrade something like this, can we afford to do it?
KING Well, I think that if we look, if you look at post World War Two, for example, what the government of the day did then is it actually recognised and saw that regional economies were really untapped potential. There was a huge amount that we could do to actually lift regional economies up that would help grow the national pie overall. And really what we’re saying is that what you can do now is look to the regions, to say where is our next economic growth to come from, and regional Australia is one of those. We do know that we are going to have to invest in infrastructure, we’re going to need to get money flowing through all economies to be able to actually simulate jobs again, we have to do that, and I think the government itself recognises that and I suspect we will see some investment in the upcoming October budget, particularly in infrastructure. But you’ve got to do it in a smart way. You don’t just invest in something for the sake of it, it’s about long-term growth and long-term jobs that you’re trying to do, and broadband and communications infrastructure is one of those that certainly helps economic growth. We’ve seen that here in our own region. Where we benefited from having fibre to the home and that actually saw a lot of companies come and settle here who may not have otherwise done so because of that connectivity that we had here in Ballarat.
MARTIN Just quickly on insecure work, because I do want to ask you about the current health crisis in Victoria. Insecure work has been building as a problem for 20-30 years. Our businesses like the flexibility, do you have a sense of how your side of politics wants to try and address that and make work less insecure?
KING I think this is one of the really lost opportunities that you’re seeing right at the moment. You know, the government has been good, they’ve finally sat down and had the business community and the union movement sitting down and talking with each other. Because, you know, they’ve needed to try and look at how we actually help people through both the health and the economic process that we’re experiencing. What I think though is happening is that they’re both in some of their very strongly entrenched positions and there are, you know, it is clearly a major problem, not just from a health perspective, insecure work has added, as you said, to the spread of coronavirus because people have been so vulnerable in terms of their incomes coming into their households, that they have gone to work when they’re unwell. And that’s not uncommon. But that’s of course, meant that we’ve seen this spread particularly through lower income areas…
MARTIN And some work across two or three sites as well.
KING Yeah, exactly, and you can understand how that happens. If it’s your only source of income coming in to pay your mortgage or to feed your children, you can see how that’s happened, which is why you’ve had governments, we’ve had to yell a bit about this, but you’ve had government stepping in to make payments to people to encourage them to be able to still stay home and get some income coming in. But I think that’s one of the opportunities that, you know, we really do need to have industry and union sitting down together to try and sort through this. We did it in the Hawke-Keating era where we had the Accord where people got together and actually said, this is what’s important to our economy going forward. But that requires a strong national leadership. It requires knocking a few heads together as well. I don’t see a lot of evidence from the government at this point that it is really capable of, you know, trying to get that national leadership and get that consensus. I think it seems to be picking fights at the moment.
MARTIN Catherine King, speaking of picking fights, I don’t know if you want to, are you happy with the roadmap for Victoria as it stands at the moment?
KING I feel really optimistic particularly for the regions that we’re going to come out much more quickly even than the roadmap is suggesting at the moment. I think that there will be calibrations to that roadmap going forward as the numbers drop, and it really will depend on those case numbers. The problem we’ve got obviously which is very different to New South Wales is that we’ve got still some entrenched community transmission and we’ve just got to get rid of that because if you open up too soon with that community transmission that’s still there that will see us potentially going into another lockdown later in the year, which I don’t think there’s any tolerance for at all. People want this to succeed. The challenge of course is it’d be great to just quarantine regional Victoria from everywhere else but it’s so porous, there’s so many people working and moving between the regions and Melbourne, people visiting family, so the challenge is how do we actually get out of it. I think the roadmap is sensible, but I think it’ll get calibrated along the way and I feel really hopeful that we will come out of it a bit quicker than anticipated.
MARTIN Just briefly and finally, if Melbourne stays in lockdown we get things eased up that’s really not going to help all businesses that need more business but at the moment is it though?
KING No, if you look at places like Sovereign Hill, they are really reliant on people from Melbourne coming for tourism…
MARTIN And internationals.
KING Yeah, exactly. So I think the world is going to be a bit different for a while. I think that that’s just the nature, that every country is experiencing that. But what I do feel really hopeful about, if you talk to you talk to the caravan industry for a moment they can’t keep up with building enough caravans, people are desperately buying them at the moment in anticipation that we’re all going to be caravaners and campers. Really, I think people are raring to go to go out and actually explore our country in ways that we haven’t done previously, where people might have headed over to Bali for a holiday instead or somewhere else in the region if they’re able to do that. So I think we’re going to say some real potential for the regions to see lots of new visitors, people wanting to have experiences and to see that, but we’ve just got to make sure it’s safe to do so, and we’ve also got to be ready. One of the things that I’m disappointed the government isn’t doing federally at the moment, is we should be investing in the quality of our tourism product infrastructure and actually trying to improve that right at the moment, so we’re ready when the doors are open for people to really come in and see what a wonderful experience they could have in the region.
MARTIN Catherine, thanks for time.
KING Really good to talk to you.
CATHERINE KING – TRANSCRIPT – RADIO INTERVIEW – ABC BALLARAT – WEDNESDAY, 9 SEPTEMBER 2020