Coronavirus Australia live update: Victoria reports 15 new cases and five deaths as NSW strives to boost testing


Victoria’s jobs minister, Martin Pakula, and emergency services minister, Lisa Neville, likely to face questioning over the use of private security guards in hotel quarantine

While my brain finishes rebooting after listening to that interview, you might also notice that Paul Fletcher also invoked the pandemic:

When Covid hit, and millions of Australians shifted to working and studying from home, it was vital that we had good broadband as widely available as possible.

Q: Did you know at all the other party involved happened to be Liberal party donors?

Q: So, you had no knowledge of who they were and their ties to the party?

Fletcher: I received a brief. The auditor general’s report makes it clear that the brief deficient in key points, and specifically the auditor general makes it clear that it did not set out what the valuation methodology was. This is all clear…

Q: Just to make it very clear, for my purposes – you had no knowledge that the people who taxpayers were buying the land off just happened to be donors to the Liberal party?

And then, like someone trying to watch a movie on the NBN during high-traffic times, we get an exchange which appears to show the minister buffering in real time.

Q: Let’s go to something that happened in your previous portfolio, when you were in charge of the infrastructure department. I speak, of course, of this scathing auditor general’s report that showed taxpayers forked out close to $30m for a parcel of land for Sydney’s second airport. The land was only worth a 10th of that, and it turns out the money was paid to people who just happened to be Liberal party donors. That, minister, is far from a good look?

Paul Fletcher: And the auditor general’s report makes it very clear that the valuation of the land and the methodology used was not disclosed even to senior officials of the department, let alone the minister.

Fletcher: Well, the auditor general’s report itself makes it very clear this information was not provided to the minister of the day …

Q: Did you ever see any documentation regarding this planned purchase when you were minister?

Fletcher: The auditor general’s report makes it clear that there was a brief that came to the minister, which did not disclose the valuation basis. The report is rightly critical of that. It’s made recommendations about things the department should do differently, not the minister, the department. And I welcome the fact that the department has now said that it will accept those recommendations.

Q: So, you saw a brief that had the close to $30m figure on it?

Fletcher: I did not. And the auditor general’s report makes it clear. There was a brief about the purchase of this piece of land. It did not include the valuation basis, and that is what the auditor general’s report, on its face, makes clear, and the report is critical of the department for concealing information, not just from the minister but, indeed, from senior officials of the department itself.

Q: Rightio. We’re talking about a large lick of taxpayers’ money here. Should you, as minister, have been more involved in this?

Fletcher: Well, ministers have to work on the basis of the briefs provided to us by a department. The auditor general, I think, has rightly identified that the department did not do the right thing. And the information that was provided to senior officials of the department was inadequate, by less senior officials, let alone what was provided to the minister.

Now, the department has rightly accepted the recommendations of the auditor general as to how they should change their procedures in the future, and I welcome them.

Thankfully, in 2013, industry publication Computer World compiled Tony Abbott’s comments on the NBN, which includes:

Do we really want to invest $50 billion of hard earned taxpayers money in what is essentially a video entertainment system?” (That was 2010)

Of course I appreciate the importance of these things. But let’s not assume that we should put all our eggs in the high fibre basket either.

I mean all of the people who are making daily use of telecommunications services, increasingly they’re using wireless technology.

All those people who are sending messages from their iPhones and BlackBerries, all those people sitting in airport lounges using their computers, I mean they do not rely on fixed line services.” (also 2010)

Do you regret, though, there wasn’t a bit more foresight? I do have memories of then prime minister Tony Abbott coming into the office, dismissing fast broadband as something only gamers and people watching movies would want?

I would absolutely reject that. We’re following the plan we laid out in 2013. Labor made a mess of the NBN. We set – out our strategic review, which was to roll it out as quickly as possible, using the multitechnology mix, and then be able to upgrade when there was demand. And so we are in that position now. And with this $4.5bn investment, financed by NBN borrowing from the private sector markets, because we have been able to prove up the business model, because we’ve got to a point where revenues are now – last year $3.8bn and growing strongly – that means we can now move to the next stage of this upgrade, with 8m premises by 2023 able to order a speed of up to one gigabit per second.

Paul Fletcher is having a doozy of a morning explaining why, after arguing against it for years, the government is now switching to fibre to the premises.

It apparently, was all part of the plan for the plan. And all is going to plan.

Well, first of all, the multi-technology mix was critical to getting the NBN rolled out as quickly as possible.

When COVID hit, and millions of Australians shifted to working and studying from home, it was vital that we had good broadband as widely available as possible.

And at that point, 98% of premises able to connect. If we’d stuck with Labor’s plan, it be would have been almost 5 million fewer homes.

But, secondly, what this now allows is for more homes to be able to, should they choose to, order a higher-speed service.

And by 2023, 8 million premises will be able to order home ultrafast, which is up to 1,000 megabits per second, one gigabit per second.

But very importantly, it will be based on the principle of demand. So, we’ll roll the fibre down the street, but then the fibre lead into the home will only be built when there’s a customer order.

That’s the same principle used in the very successful broadband rollout in New Zealand, and so we’re being more careful with capital, and this is a sensible business approach, just as our approach the whole way along has been to be careful with taxpayers’ capital.

It’s coming up to two weeks since the last community transmission of the virus was recorded.

Fibre to the home, gas as the transitional fuel of choice, major economic crisis – we are back to the Rudd/Gillard era #auspol

Greg Hunt also spoke to ABC News Breakfast this morning, about Australia’s involvement in what is essentially, an international vaccine co-op (if, and it is still an if, one is successful)

It means that we’ll have access to any of potentially dozens and dozens of different vaccines that are being developed. Australia’s contributed, along with over 80 other countries, to have that right.

It guarantees us vaccines at a minimum for 50% of the population, on top of the almost 85 million doses that we’ve secured from the Oxford and University of Queensland vaccines. So, it’s about making sure we have additional protection, additional access, additional support, and that’s extra security for Australia. It’s also a facility which means that the developing nations, whether it’s in Africa or Asia or Latin America, will be guaranteed access. And that protects Australia by protecting the world, as well as doing the right humanitarian thing.

One of South Australia’s many Stephens, the health minister, Stephen Wade, is pretty excited the SA borders will be opening again to NSW.

Well, last year we had 800,000 New South Wales residents come to South Australia for tourism. They’re very welcome here. Last year they spent almost $800m in enjoying the South Australian experience. We’re delighted to see them back. Not only as tourists but also as friends and family. This is a very stressful time for many people. We appreciate these restrictions have been disruptive. But we’re delighted that we’re able to bring them down.

#BREAKING: Rescuers have spotted another pod of about 200 whales stranded further south in Macquarie Harbour on Tasmania’s West Coast. That takes the total number of whales stranded on Tasmania’s west coast to 470.More to come.

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