REGIONAL Communications Minister Fiona Nash has hit back at critics amid claims she said regional Australians didn’t need the same internet speeds as those living in capital cities.
Senator Nash issued a statement today returning fire at Labor shadow Regional Communications Minister Stephen Jones for an “outright lie” in claiming she’d made the statement about internet standards.
The political argument erupted from Senator Nash’s address at the National Press Club in Canberra on Wednesday.
But today she said Mr Jones’ media statement - where he made the accusation - contained no quote supporting his assertion.
“When you start lying, it shows you know you can’t win the argument by telling the truth,” she said.
Senator Nash’s alleged comments about internet standards in the bush were also the subject of debate on social media following her speech.
“I just heard Fiona Nash claim those of us in regional areas don't expect internet of the quality expected by those in cities? What?” a Twitter account said.
Mr Jones said “For the Federal Minister for Regional Communications to sell regional Australia short like this is astounding”.
“Regional Australians should not be treated like second class citizens in Australia’s digital economy – but under the Turnbull Government, that’s exactly what is happening,” he said.
Senator Nash was quizzed about the city and rural divide in terms of internet speeds and communication standards, and the roll-out of the NBN in regional areas, during media questioning, after her Press Club speech
“We are never going to get the same things out in rural Australia that you have in the cities - they're apples and oranges - they're different places to live,” she said.
“There are challenges in regional Australia but, in the city, you are not going to buy 100 acres for $250,000.
“The first point we have to recognise is you are not going to get exactly the same things in rural Australia that you do in the cities.
“The speed you are going to get out in the western parts of Queensland is not going to be the same that you get in the CBD in Brisbane.
“I think rural Australians are pretty pragmatic - they get that.
“They know they are not going to have a heart surgeon on every corner out in the regions but they want access to a reasonable level of healthcare.
“As I am travelling around and talking to people in the regions, I'm not talking about the numbers of speed - I'm talking ‘Can you do what you want to do out in the regions through your internet connection?’
“By and large, most of them actually, are happy with the service they've got.”
In continuing her response, Senator Nash said, “You don't necessarily hear in this game from people who are terribly happy with something the government has done, they tend to be fairly quiet and get on with their lives”.
“But I do recognise there is a cohort, albeit smaller in my view, from the conversations that I’ve had, much smaller than those that are happy, that have had these concerns around the data provisions,” she said.
“That's why (Communications Minister Mitch Fifield) and I went to meet with the NBN Co to talk about rural issues.”
Senator Nash said even the NBN had said they didn't see the initial rollout had gone as well as it should have, “which is why they have gone quickly in terms of installation, in terms of network assistant stability”.
“Having had those conversations with NBN, I am confident that they are extremely focused on the importance of the data provision out in regions and that they are actively looking at ways to increase that,” she said.
“Even the discussions we have had around business enterprise plans that are coming, looking at the capacity for businesses to be able to do the business they need in the regions.
“So I hear those people and I'm acting on it pretty quickly.”
Senator Nash was also asked if she was happy with the rollout of the Sky Muster satellite.
She said the government repurposed the second satellite, having inherited from Labor the two satellites.
“Interestingly Labor were just going to have the second satellite up there bobbing around not doing very much waiting for back up one day, if they needed it,” she said.
“We actually repurposed it so both satellites are contributing to that.
“I think it's a provision of a service that regional Australian people need and, again, I make the point - regional people are very pragmatic.
“They know they are not going to get the same equivalence across a whole range of areas that their city cousins do - but they want access to the level of services that’s reasonable so they can get on with their lives and do what they want.”
Senator Nash said Mr Jones’ “latest incident” was similar to his recent tactic of saying regional complaints to NBN had risen 6 per cent in a year, without mentioning there were twice as many regional Australians on the NBN as last year – so the rate of complaints had shrunk significantly.
She said he also claimed the Australian National Audit Office found the Coalition’s Mobile Black Spots Program failed to deliver significantly increased coverage but “It didn’t find this at all”.
Senator Nash said round one delivered new handheld coverage to 68,600 square kilometres.
“For the record, the Coalition is delivering 765 new or improved mobile towers and Labor never delivered one, nor attempted to,” she said.
“Claiming I’ve said things which I haven’t is dishonest and pathetic.
“It also shows you can’t win the argument with facts.
But Mr Jones said the Coalition’s second rate “copper” NBN was a “disaster for regional Australia” and a “far cry” from the fibre optic NBN that Labor had planned for.
“Labor’s fibre optic NBN would have delivered an equivalent service to all regional towns with more than 1000 premises and the cities – to 93pc of Australia,” he said.
“Labor committed over $12 billion in investment to bring better broadband to regional Australia through the NBN, yet so much of this has been wasted by the Turnbull Government.
“This sentiment is shared by the experts.
“At this week’s Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband, Professor Rod Tucker elaborated on his description of the copper NBN as a national tragedy, and said by the time the NBN roll out is complete; the technology will already be obsolete.
“Regional communities deserve communications that are fit for the future, rather than entrenching a network that excludes country Australian’s from the digital economy.
“Senator Nash should be demanding the same access for the bush - it’s her job.”