news Mathias Cormann has proven unable to answer basic questions about the NBN project or the Coalition’s NBN policy, in a trainwreck interview yesterday morning which highlighted the Finance Minister’s fundamental lack of NBN knowledge about the project, despite being one of the two ministers in charge of it.
Yesterday morning Cormann appears on ABC radio on a segment hosted by Steve Austin. The interview appears to have been recorded in Parliament House in Canberra. You can click here to listen to the whole recording (the interview starts from about 38:20), or click here to read the transcript in Microsoft Word format (supplied by the Coalition campaign headquarters).
Cormann is one of two shareholder ministers ultimately responsible for the governance of the NBN project, along with Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.
However, throughout the interview, Cormann appeared to be unable to provide Austin with basic information about the project.
For example, Austin spent several minutes repeatedly asking Cormann — as the Finance Minister — how much the Government had spent on the NBN thus far.
In response, Cormann could not provide a figure — noting only that the Coalition had committed to spending no more than $29.5 billion on the project.
“Thanks for that, but I am not sure that it goes towards answering my question,” Austin responded. “Can you just give me the overall figure. What is the total cost to the Australian taxpayer so far please?”
In another question later in the interview, Austin asked Cormann to confirm whether the Coalition would release a new NBN policy for the election this Saturday.
“Where is your election NBN policy? Your updated election NBN policy? I understand you’re not releasing one this Federal Election. Is that correct?” the ABC host asked.
In response, Cormann said only: “We are delivering the NBN. We are making it happen. We inherited a mess from the Labor Party and we are making it happen.”
“But you’re not going to update or release an NBN policy for this Federal Election?” Austin responded.
“I am not going to make announcements on what we will release for the remaining parts of this campaign,” said Cormann.
Eventually, after Austin continued to pepper Cormann with questions along these and other lines, asking the Finance Minister to respond to issues such as Cisco Systems’ forecasts regarding Internet bandwidth growth and comments about the Coalition’s NBN policy made by founding NBN chief executive Mike Quigley last week.
In response, Cormann stopped directly answering Austin’s questions.
“You should probably get the relevant Minister Mitch Fifield on to your program to answer these sorts of detailed questions,” Cormann said. “Again this is probably a question that you should be raising with the Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield, who will be able to take you through that in some great detail.”
Wow. That is certainly one of the worst interviews I have ever seen a politician give with respect to the NBN, rivalling even some of the crazy statements which Joe Hockey has made about the NBN over the years.
I think two things happened here.
Firstly, although I don’t have any inside information, it seems likely that someone has briefed Steve Austin with a number of articles from Delimiter and other similar tech sites with respect to the NBN. With respect to some of this material — such as the issue of whether the Coalition will release a new NBN policy for this election — Delimiter has been the only outlet covering these matters.
Secondly, I think Cormann’s head is not full of NBN matters right now. Cormann is not only the Finance Minister, he’s also the Coalition’s campaign spokesperson, and so has to be across hundreds of issues on a daily basis. Eventually, something has got to give.
I’ve seen Cormann speak well on the NBN before, so I know that he can when he’s prepared. But clearly he wasn’t prepared for this interview — and it really shows.
I will also add one further point: This is one of the best interviews I’ve seen on the NBN over the past few years, from the journalist side. Kudos to Steve Austin and any ABC staff who briefed him. He covered a lot of ground in a very short time frame and completely flummoxed one of Australia’s most senior government ministers. Nice work.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting