opinion I just wasted twenty minutes of my life poring through one of the most boring and vacuous documents which I have had the privilege to read in my career as a journalist. And I want that time back.
The document in question was the summary of the National Broadband Network Company’s business case which Senator Nick Xenophon and the Greens went to such extraordinary lengths to pry from Labor’s lockdown total control zone this week.
They needn’t have bothered … if this was all they were going to get.
In its first paragraph, the document states that NBN Co’s business case is based on “detailed engineering, financial and business analysis” which the company has undertaken over the past 12 months. Analysis which will guide where billions of dollars of public money will be spent in the next decade. Analysis compiled by some of Australia’s foremost telecommunications experts, working in a company which is filled with prodigious engineering and financial talent.
Sadly, absolutely none of that analysis has actually made it into the summary document which Labor released this afternoon. Instead, we get 36 pages (not 50, as Prime Minister Julia Gillard suggested) of motherhood statements and the most tedious waffle that taxpayer money can buy.
Much of the document appears to have been plagiarised from Stephen Conroy’s dictionary of stock standard NBN phrases, used to regular boring effect in his almost daily press releases and public speeches on the NBN:
The NBN will deliver a significant, once in a generation restructuring of the industry, resolving the current infrastructure and investment bottlenecks that have seen Australia fall behind its international peers.
While other sections tell us things that we already know, such as the product composition which NBN Co plans to take to retail internet service providers. And of course there are plenty of nice statistics about how important broadband speeds are, and about how they are increasing everywhere all the time, in an ubergeek bandwidth brain explosion:
Current forecasts anticipate that there will be more than 50 million end users connected by fibre to the premise (FTTP) technologies worldwide by the end of 2010 compared to 43 million at the end of 2009, mostly in Asia.
Where the NBN Co business case summary does go into detail, it does so sparingly and doesn’t disclose much that wasn’t already suspected.
For example, it puts the total capital expenditure required to build the network at $35.7 billion, a smaller figure than the $43 billion originally anticipated, because of its deal with Telstra. And it discloses that NBN Co expects its internal rate of financial return to exceed the Government’s long-term bond rate. There are also specific timing details included about the network rollout.
Of course, all of these are things that were publicly known already, or had at least been extrapolated. And none of it is surprising.
The fact that the business case summary released by the Government this afternoon is a pile of vacuous self-evident truths that we already knew should pose Nick Xenophon a serious quandary. If the Senator is serious about trying to bring some transparency to the debate about the future of Australia’s telecommunications sector, and we believe that he is, then he should throw this ridiculous document in the Government’s face.
If he doesn’t, he will, by implication, be guilty of the same crime that so many have accused Labor of this week: Needlessly hiding relevant facts behind closed doors.
Go back to your drawing board, Senator Xenophon. This is not the NBN Co business case you’re looking for. The fact that Labor is attempting to placate you with this pile of vacuous nonsense is an insult to your intelligence and that of every thinking Australian.