news Federal Labor MP Ed Husic has taken the unusual step of harshly criticising his own party’s National Broadband Network project for neglecting several suburbs in his electorate which he said suffered from “a chronic lack of access to broadband”.
The National Broadband Network Company yesterday revealed the locations where it will roll out its national fibre and wireless network over the next 12 months, with cities, towns and suburbs all over Australia to receive the infrastructure in an accelerated process throughout 2012.
In a statement issued this afternoon, Husic said he had raised the issue of broadband coverage in the suburbs of Woodcroft and Doonside several times in parliament, as well as speaking NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley of the issue when he visited Doonside last month.
“Network access is so congested and so bad in parts of Woodcroft, residents tell me they sometimes have to wait for someone to move out of the suburb before an existing resident can get ADSL access,” said Husic. “On top of that, residents have told me time after time that wireless services are slow or unreliable. Businesses in Woodcroft Shopping Centre have told me about how their work is affected by a lack of quality internet access – and they’re surprised that the internet access they take for granted elsewhere in Western Sydney can’t be duplicated in Woodcroft.”
Husic said that when NBN Co announced its second release sites last year, “a range of suburbs” in the Riverstone area adjacent to Woodcroft and Doonside were slated to receive the NBN infrastructure. However, he said the announcement yesterday referred only to areas outside the release site getting priority access.
“Only one suburb in the second release site is having work start on rolling out the NBN and new suburbs outside the release site are being pencilled for work – that’s just not on,” Husic said. “The release sites were supposed to provide a range of network scenarios to help NBN Co learn how to best rollout broadband networks across different landscapes. I would have thought Woodcroft would be an ideal suburb to test that out, given the network challenges confronting it.”
“Instead, NBN Co is making a big deal out of rolling out broadband in new estates where people haven’t even moved in, while down the road people are tearing their hair out to get ADSL or decent wireless access. As a local MP, I don’t think NBN Co is doing what it’s supposed to do: to lift struggling businesses and residents out of the digital divide and give them access to vital infrastructure.
“Let me say this loud and clear: residents in our local neighbourhoods deserve better. Residents in the neighbourhoods I’m proud to represent deserve better – and I’ll be raising this matter formally with the Minister for Communications to understand why the pleas of Woodcroft and Doonside residents have been ignored by NBN Co.”
Very amusing and tactical argument from Ed Husic here. It serves many aims.
Firstly, Husic’s a genuine sort of fellow, so I have no doubt that there are broadband problems in the suburbs he mentions. As a local MP, it’s great that he’s championing the cause of residents and businesses, yaddah, yaddah yaddah.
However, his statement today also serves other, more political purposes.
Yesterday, Coalition MP Paul Fletcher, whose electorate is also in Sydney, accused NBN Co and the Government of playing politics in rolling out the NBN over the next year to Labor, Greens and marginal electorates where it could get votes. Husic’s press release today, complaining about NBN Co’s choices, allows the Government to loudly proclaim the falsity of Fletcher’s claims and that NBN Co is independent (which I actually believe it largely is, having seen Mike Quigley at work).
After all, it can argue, even Labor’s own MPs are frustrated with the rollout schedule.
Secondly, while on the face of it Husic is complaining about the NBN, he’s also actually attempting to demonstrate demand for the overall NBN policy objective. If his voters are crying out for better broadband, so the Labor argument would go, the NBN policy must be a good one.
And lastly, of course, complaining about a government policy allows Labor to position itself in public as being democratic. It’s good form for an MP to stand up for their electorate and defy their own party leadership when necessary — and today’s announcement allows Husic to position himself as doing that, even while Labor at large is profiting from the whole exercise.
Of course, the press will eat it up. Australians love nothing better than an underling rebelling against the boss in public. It’s our underdog meme in action.
Now, Ed Husic is a good ethical guy, to our knowledge, and we respect him. However, he’s also a smart cookie. I’m betting he’s run this statement through the office of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, or at least got it verbally approved. And I’m betting Conroy was all for it, for all the reasons I’ve outlined above. Even if he didn’t; there is no doubt that Husic will be aware of all of the factors above which I have mentioned. For those who doubt my my analysis of this, I encourage you to read Chris Berg’s excellent dissection of the Gillard Government’s threat to cut medical research funding.
This is hardly a new tactic for Labor. In fact, it’s an oldie — but a goodie.
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