The Govt should hold a referendum on the NBN


opinion The Federal Government should hold a non-constitutional referendum during the next Federal Election on whether Labor’s National Broadband Network should go ahead, in order to settle the long-term fate of this important decade-long infrastructure project once and for all and end the incessant political bickering around it.

In October 1916, as things were beginning to get particularly bogged down in World War I, the Australian Government held its first non-constitutional referendum, an action which is usually, in Australia, described as a plebiscite. The question, according to Wikipedia, was as follows:

“Are you in favour of the Government having, in this grave emergency, the same compulsory powers over citizens in regard to requiring their military service, for the term of this war, outside the Commonwealth, as it now has in regard to military service within the Commonwealth?”

At the time, things were getting a little hairy for the Allies. It would be some months before the United States declared war on Germany, and the famous engagement at Gallipoli the year before had resulted in some very tough times for the Allied countries involved, especially Australia, which for a small country which had travelled halfway around the world to back its British allies had suffered heavy casualties for our short military history — some 8,700 soldiers lost.

With this in mind, the Federal Government of the day had sought to increase its military resources overseas through requiring Australian citizens to serve, gaining a local mandate for the act through a non-binding poll of the Australian population. Unfortunately for the Government of the day, the population voted narrowly against the idea. However, as the war ramped up in 1917, it tried again in December that year, again seeking to bolster Australia’s military forces through conscription. The question, which was also rejected by the Australian population, was:

“Are you in favour of the proposal of the Commonwealth Government for reinforcing the Australian Imperial Force overseas?”

Sixty years later, Malcolm Fraser’s Liberal/Country Party Government held Australia’s third — and last — plebiscite. The question this time had no relation to military service, but again it related to national issues — in fact, one of the very planks of Australia’s national identity, the national anthem. The statement at the time gave Australians a chance to choose a national song to be played on occasions other than certain official ‘regal’ occasions. The options were God Save the Queen (the then national anthem), Advance Australia Fair (which was overwhelmingly the most popular option, with 43.29% of the vote), Song of Australia and Waltzing Matilda.

Since 1977, and before that time, Australia has held a number of constitutional referenda, with the most famous one of late being the 1999 vote on the establishment of a republic and the addition of a preamble to the Constution. But over the nation’s history, there have only been those three non-constitutional referenda, or plebiscites. I give you this history because I want to use it to illustrate that the issue of what type of telecommunications policy Australia should proceed with over the next decade is an issue which is worthy of a national non-constitutional referendum.

Over the past century or so since Australia formed its union, the nation’s government of the day has seen fit to poll its citizens in this fashion on three separate occasions. The first two related to a national emergency — our engagement in a global war and the need to obtain sufficient military resources through conscription. The third was the weighty (hic) matter of what song Australians should sing on occasions when they weren’t forced to sing God Save the Queen.

Clearly, the construction of national telecommunications infrastructure in Australia is not as important as determining the fate of our participation in a war. However, also clearly, it is a significantly more weighty matter than the issue of what song we should sing on particular occasions. It seems obvious that the issue of the NBN falls somewhere in between these two extremes and thus could be worthy of a referendum.

But this doesn’t get to the heart of the reason why I believe a referendum would be useful when it comes to the NBN.

For the past four and a half years since Kevin Rudd’s Labor Government took power and started enacting its then-fledgling NBN policy, Australia’s political sphere has been constantly engulfed in incessant bickering on the issue of the NBN project. The debate has raged constantly, from the technology involved to the economics, from the precise pricing structure to be used to the involvement of Telstra. It has raged through Australia’s Federal and State Parliaments. It has raged in every media platform. It raged during the 2010 Federal Election, and it will rage during the next Federal Election, likely to be held in 2013 if the current Gillard Government can hold onto power for that long.

And yet no agreement has been found.

Just this week, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott savaged the policy and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy filed a vicious salvo at his opposite, Malcolm Turnbull. Every month or so, Turnbull makes a milestone speech slamming the NBN and every other month, Labor makes a landmark national announcement regarding it.

The two sides of politics remain locked in a bitter battle regarding the NBN; one which shows no sign of ceasing.

And yet this is not the type of project which can suffer the constant interruptions which Australia’s three-year electoral cycle enforces on our political system. Any investment in national telecommunications infrastructure on the scale of either the fibre to the home NBN, or the Opposition’s rival fibre to the node plan, must be made over the period of a decade or more. The nation simply cannot change its course on this matter every three years, or even every six years. To achieve any kind of stable telecommunications sector, the nation must commit to a policy on this matter for a decade.

When it comes to roads, when it comes to rail, when it comes to electricity networks, sewers and harbours and airports; other forms of critical national infrastructure; Australia does not make plans on a three-year basis, and the same is true when it comes to telecommunications. It would be simply absurd for the Government to roll out fibre cables to half of Australia and then stop.

And, on current measures, the likelihood is that it will stop. If the Coalition wins the upcoming Federal Election, it will stop the NBN in its tracks while it considers its next step. It will stop the fibre being rolled out, it will halt the execution of plans which have been years in the making. To many Australians, and to many people internationally, this is nothing short of a bad joke.

You do not stop the construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme half-way. You do not stop the construction of the Harbour Bridge half-way. You do not construct half a rail line between Adelaide and Darwin. These are absurdities. These are things we should not do. Put simply; it would be bad policy, and bad for Australia.

To avoid this absurdity occurring after the next Federal Election, I believe the current Labor Government should schedule a national non-constitutional referendum (a plebiscite) to be held during that election, on the following question:

“Are you in favour of the National Broadband Network project as envisioned by the Federal Government going ahead?”

Should the answer be “yes”, then the project should go ahead as it is, no matter what side of politics wins power. And, despite the historical trend for Australians to vote down questions in referendums, I believe there is ample evidence to suggest that answer would indeed be “yes”.

Limited polling has consistently shown that Australians are in favour of the NBN. The most recent public poll, taken by Essential Media in February, showed that overall, 56 percent of the country was in favour of the NBN, with only 25 percent opposing it. A further 19 percent didn’t know. In order for an Australian referendum to be voted up, a majority of Australians nationally must vote in favour of the proposal, as well as separate majorities in each of a majority of states (four out of six). On current polling, the NBN would be very likely to win such a double majority poll; given that almost all of the 19 percent currently undecided on the project would need to swing against the initiative, and some of those currently in favour would need to change their minds.

This is the kind of swing which we almost never see during elections; in fact during the recent Queensland State Election, the routed Labor Government only saw a swing against it of 15.61 percent. Worse would need to happen to the NBN ‘yes’ vote in a national referendum, and it’s hard to imagine that happening, given the popularity of the project and the lure of improved service delivery it promises.

Now, I’m not sure what effect such a referendum would have on the Federal Election. But I do know this: Right now, Labor’s NBN project is most likely the most important infrastructure project in Australia. The nation cannot afford to swing back and forth between competing policies for the next decade as the two sides of politics bicker over what path they are going to take every three years.

A non-constitutional referendum is a very clear and decisive way of letting the Australian public have its say on this important issue. And if it is proposed by the Federal Government, it would be a very courageous Opposition indeed which would try to block it.

If you agree with me that a non-constitutional referendum should be held on the NBN, I encourage to you make your views known. Write an article about this on your own site, contact your Member of Parliament, post this article on social media or comment stating that you agree. This is an important issue and I think we need to signal to our political representatives that we need a resolution. I myself will be contacting the various political parties over the next week to ask them if they will support an NBN referendum. And if they will not, given the billions of dollars and years of uncertainty at stake, I will be asking why.


  1. For me the NBN is vital to my economic well being. I also think it’s a visionary project that will reap enormous benefits to the nation.
    To paraphrase Kineally on the Labor leadership, a referendum on the NBN would be a ‘hail mary pass’. I feel the outcome would not be a guaranteed ‘yes’ to the NBN, and I wouldn’t want to see the project threatened by public opinion unless it was MORE threatened by Coalition policy.
    I may be misreading the public at large, but I feel vast swathes of the electorate see the NBN as a faster but more expensive leisure network. They don’t yet understand the economics of home working, the global village, plus the major health and educational benefits. In addition, I see everything Labor touches turning to s**t in the eyes of most voters. They’ve stopped listening to Gillard and Conroy, but seem more or less willing to agree with Abbott and Turnbull on most of their claims.
    In the end, I honestly fear for the NBN, and feel the country will go backwards a couple of decades if the project ends in 2013, with just a few suburbs hooked up. The most effective way to save the NBN is to vote labor I guess.

  2. The problem is that this government’s credibility is so damaged at this point that holding a referendum on whether the public supports one of their plans is just as likely to backfire. There would be many a cry of “where was the referendum on carbon tax?” etc.

    I’m certain the public support for the NBN is there but this is a nice idea in theory only, imo.

    • Agree GMC,

      And to elaborate, at this point the NBN is really the only thing this government has going for it, in relation to public perception.

      Even though Swan was voted worlds best Treasurer (wank, wank maybe) he is painted by the opposition as and thus looked upon by most Aussies as a mis-manager.

      Even though our economic situation is better then almost anywhere, a lot of people say, yeah that’s because Howard saved money and because of the mining boom (perhaps largely true). This mob are mis-managers.

      Even though the government tried to help people, because of others greed (think batts) they were called mis-managers.

      Look I voted for Howard previously because I thought we needed stability at the time…

      But in hindsight, while he put the money aside we needed for the GFC, so kudos… to do so, he built/renewed little infrastructure, sold Telstra, sold a big chunk of our gold reserves and introduced a GST.

      Seriously, anyone could put money aside by doing that…!

      So back on topic, if this government went to the polls also with a referendum, this would simply gives those who are thinking about voting Labor a chance to vote against them and still get the NBN…

      But on the flip-side it could also give us no NBN and a Qld type majority for the government to do as they please, when they please (following the Senate changeover) which I personally find very dangerous, no matter who’s in power.

      • I agree, a referendum would not be in the best interests of Labor even if it would be in the best interests of the country.
        I feel that there is more support for the NBN than against, and if it DID go to referendum I would vote for the NBN but against Labor. Labor has lost my confidence due to the internal bickering and their dependency on unions.

          • How much of Labor is made up of former union members? Do you think their biases were left behind when they moved to Labor?
            There are too many conflicting groups within Labor and it damages its ability to focus. Theres now talk of another attempt to unseat Julia Gillard even when the Labor term has not been that bad.

          • Unions in the hands of the dishonest are dangerous, but no more dangerous than self interest business or other such political groups, in the hands of equally dishonest people.

            No I don’t think union biases would be put aside when union officials moved to Labor.

            Do you think the big business biases were left behind when the others moved to the Libs?

            It’s naive to assume that a blue collar rep is more prone to being, dodgy, under-handed or taking bribes etc and outright blindness to see the ill’s of one side and refuse to see the other.

            They are simply a mirror image of each other, coming from opposite ideological sides of politics and the sooner people realise that they are all as guilty as each other, put their own preconceived biases aside and vote for the ones who aren’t going to bend us over as much as the other (instead of always voting for the party, daddy and granddaddy did) the better off we will all be.


          • You elect a government to govern. The thought that a decision needs to a vote is absurd. Unions make up the ranks of Labor while business makes up the ranks of the liberals and farmers the Nationals. It makes you wonder what some here are so afraid of. If they don’t like the ALP. Just as the internet revolutionised society, the NBN will revolutionise the internet. Conservatives don’t like change and they hate spending money and they certainly don’t like doing anything that the country as a whole will benefit from. It is their way

    • While that is true they can word the question to keep the damaged Labor brand out of it, eg:

      Do you support a Fibre to the Home National Broadband network being built to cover at least 93% of the Australian population?

      YES or NO

      imo that sort of question would remove all the political junk and make it easier for even liberal/nation party voters to vote yes.

      • I agree but the problem with your question is specifying FTTH when the NBN still contains that small wireless and satellite part. I was thinking something like this:

        Do you want the National Broadband Network to proceed ahead as planned by NBNco regardless of government in power? Yes or No?

  3. Oh c’mon, this is a ridiculous suggestion.

    Out of all the referenda that have been held since Federation, are you aware of how many have succeeded?


    I’ll give you a clue –> _8_ out of 44.

    Those 8 had the support of both government and opposition. No referenda have passed where only one party supported the proposition.

    The difference between a referendum and plebiscite (which the conscription questions were) is the the plebiscite is NOT legally binding.

    I describe myself as an NBN booster and in my opinion there is no point in either a referendum or plebiscite on the NBN. Neither would get a majority Yes vote. Both would cost significant cash to run. There is no return on that spend.

    What those of us in favour of the NBN need to hammer home to the Opposition, the Murdoch press and, frankly, the Government, is that this is INFRASTRUCTURE as important to our nation’s future as the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme, the national highway network, our national rail network and our ports.

    None of those required a referendum to get started, or to continue. Neither should the NBN.

    • “hammer home to the Opposition, the Murdoch press”

      Opposition – I think a good percentage know, it’s a matter of it being more important to them than playing politics.

      Murdoch – Doubt you could ever get past his self interest.

      To get a positive outcome on either of those I think you’d need a rod that could part water, a burning bush, and commandments from God saying “Thou shalt build the NBN”. Even so they would argue with God that he hadn’t presented a CBA.

  4. How about this: treat the election as a referendum on the NBN. If you don’t want it, vote Coaltion. If you do want it, vote anyone else and preference the Coalition last.

      • Or even worse. I want the NBN, Liberals, NOT Tony Abbott
        Maybe if there is a real (not the Coalition BS) with the NBN then they can get into government, say I told you so, and continue it without losing face. Sad, but politics.

        • Unfortunately the fact is you can’t always get what you want.

          I would like to vote the Coalition (Not Tony Abbott) but the NBN is the most important infrastructure project of its time. I cannot in good faith let it slip based on my vote, thus I will have to vote Labor.

          Ideally I would be able to get the following.

          Malcolm Turnbull (although with less lies)
          The NBN
          The Coalition

          • I too am going to have to vote labor. When you look at the rest of the policy, yes, they are different, but nothing that is going to be a game changer for many years to come. NBN with implementation that will give us a platform for many decades to come vs Lets cobble together some shit to shut them up. That is an important, country changing difference.
            On MT, hard place to be in. He is sort of forced to do what he is doing. The only thing that seems to be a saving grace is he isn’t a convincing liar, shows there are some underlying morals.

          • Bring back the Rudd.

            Honestly, Rudd was a good leader. What led to his downfall, wasnt his ideas – which for the most part people really could relate to : but the political party behind him. His compatriots in government hated the fact he was a very hard leader, hes very organised and precise. He loses focus if he isnt controlling or isnt totally in control of the situation – for a man that sleeps only 4 hours a day, thats not a bad thing!

            He also wasnt afraid to tell the other party members where to go, or when the stuffed up. In a political system like ours, someone who is hard on the politicians to actually do something useful is very important.

            Where a referendum is likely to fail – is the traditional value that Australians would love to vote for the underdog. I’d wager if you had a referendum on the NBN between IT and a shoe sale at Target, Target would win hands down. They have nothing to do with each other, but because Target shoe sales would be viewed as the underdog (cheaper, nastier and generally doesnt do anything useful other than boost retail sales) it’d win. Its like shopping at Coles and Woolies. Coles may not BE any better, but because they’re the underdog, people shop there.

        • If Malcom deposed Tony and changed to publicly supporting the NBN as currently designed I’d vote liberal but I’ll never vote Liberal while that lying, retarded, technological Luddite, Tony Abbott is running the Liberal party!!

    • Plenty of libs want the NBN, hence why the coalition has rather awkwardly backed away from its original position, which was “it’s a total waste of money, we’ll shut the whole thing down and let private telcos get back to what they’re good at” to “we’ll modify it to use fibre to streets and the existing copper network into homes to save money for a while, until people aren’t happy with the speed and reliability of copper any more, at which time we’ll upgrade it to fibre to the home, despite the doubled-up cost and huge active electronic cabinets that will be left dotted in every street.”

    • I can’t understand why the coalition don’t just support the NBN, they will lose nothing by supporting it. Currently a vote for pretty much anyone other than the coalition is a vote for the NBN, so if the coalition started supporting the NBN who else are their voters gonna vote for? With a large number of the population supporting the NBN the coalition would actually garner more votes by supporting it and make winning the next election a dead set certainy.

        • Seriously, as someone who voted for Howard, considering what has occurred in relation to the NBN, with the NBN instigators chastised and the NBN opponents in denial, I find it nauseating that people who support the NBN would fold so easily…!


  5. Sadly, the next election will be a referendum on border control and the carbon tax.
    In the swing seats (eg Western Sydney) those are hot topics, and the benefits of the NBN don’t even register on the radar in my opinion. It would be nice to think the enlightened could persuade Abbott to relent on the NBN. Unfortunately, already nursing an irreconcilable budget black hole before the campaign begins, cutting the NBN will be a short term way to cut government expenditure, albeit a terribly short term vision of Australia’s economic and social future.

  6. We’ve already had a choice.

    Labor went to the last election strongly in favour of continuing the NBN; voting LNP was a ‘no’ vote (at the time). LNP failed to gain enough seats and seemed ill-equipped to handle negotiation with independents.

    Ever since they’ve called “mulligan” on the result and want a do-over. I’m not sure they’ve learned anything from it.

    A referendum would cost an astronomical sum to return a result no-one actually has to honour.

  7. I’m with James. I once heard it described, by fairly serious student of Australian politics as “…whenever there has been a yes/no referendum in Australia the result has always been no.” Obviously James’ source suggests that was slightly misleading but the odds are overwhelmingly suggestive that the result will be negative.
    A referendum is a single shot; if it doesn’t go the way you hoped you have no fall back position. The NBN is too important to risk it.
    To be honest, I have expected the suggestion of a referendum to come from Turnbull, because I honestly think the result will end up going badly for proponents of the NBN.

  8. It comes across a bit single minded to think that people would go for this.

    The consensus seems to be that most people want to have a referendum on who should be running the country. The NBN is a distant secondary.

    The NBN is great in theory, but doesn’t have the backing of a competent government to see it through.

    • The government isn’t seeing it through. NBNCo is. All the government does is provide a loan for them to operate.

  9. Sorry Renai
    I believe that the continuous lies and deception by the media and the opposition compared with which Gillard and the Labor party almost appear saintly has so poisoned the public that I doubt that even it was proved to be by far the best solution they would vote for against it and for the very expensive to the taxpayer and consumer over the longer term liberal crippleware solution, they have been so deceived and conditioned . It is so sad for Australia, our future is all in one basket with no alternative thanks to the lies and deceptions. The Liberal solution is I believe pure and simple class warfare. second rate for the peasants limiting their opportunities, quality only for those that can afford truly big dollars for private links. Privatise profits and the taxpayer foots the bill for second rate. That is our future under the Libs

    • “I believe that the continuous lies and deception by the media and the opposition compared with which Gillard and the Labor party almost appear saintly has so poisoned”

      What about the lies by the government? Sure, the media has amplified them, but this has been a government that has proven it will do whatever it takes to stay in power, effectively putting ahead the interests of a select few in government ahead of 22m Australians.

      Can hardly wait for a future under the Libs – under Labor, we have none.

      • Yet, the Coalition have spent 18 months trying to bring down the “most unstable government in history”, and haven’t managed to do it.

        This is in no way convincing that they can come up with an idea and bring it to fruition.

        • “Yet, the Coalition have spent 18 months trying to bring down the “most unstable government in history”, and haven’t managed to do it.”

          Apart from ‘Utegate’, how have they tried..?

          I’m no Abbott fan, but as far as I can see, the Coalition has simply acted as an opposition, nothing else.

          The labor gov on the other hand, are doing a spectacular job of bringing themselves down on their own.

      • “Can hardly wait for a future under the Libs – under Labor, we have none.”

        What “future” do you speak of. The 1990’s FTTN concept? The same lack of investment?

        Big business cannot cover Australia. It can’t. It doesn’t have the resources. Even Telstra, the largest single infrastructure owner had been deploying fibre before the NBN launched it’s build.

        And it still is.

        Fibre is the better choice. Always has been. I have genuine concerns over the Liberal FTTN plan, it benefits few, yet sees the majority of ownership head right back to Telstra.

        I know Renai is holding out hope that just somehow, Mr Turnbull will come up with a “better way”. There isn’t.

        At some point the CAN will need to be replaced; not an IF, WHEN. I’d rather see investment in good, rather than throwing good money after bad.

      • The problem I have with the Coalition is their policies are aimed at just destroying Labor’s, the system we have breed competition rather than cooperation. THe Coalition does not actually have a real policy set, but they don’t need to. All they need is people like you who have been disinfranchised by the current

      • JT
        “compared with which Gillard and the Labor party almost appear saintly”. Yes Labor is far from perfect ,but the constant deceit from sectors of the Media, vested interests and the Coalition is breathtaking and the public chooses to blindly believe them. The voters will desrve what they will get, but not their children who are the ones who will pay the price

  10. “They” will complain about the waste of money spent on a referendum,”they” will resent having to vote on it. “They’ll use it as a chance to kick Labor. How long would it take to get it (NBN)back up again.I wanted a Republic too.

  11. According to the recent polls, NBN has 56%/57% popularity, why would we need a Referendum? shouldn’t that be enough for both sides of the Parliament to agree that the NBN should continue?

    We don’t need no Referendum because Abbott is a wrecking ball.

  12. Haha, I commented that a referendum would solve the party bickering on the subject a couple of days ago.
    The NBN needs to be removed from being a party policy.
    Also the political process should be changed to make it possible for the public to exercise their vote more frequently on ISSUES rather than just voting for a particular party. The referendum process is too costly and cumbersome so a way for online voting should be made.

  13. The fact is under a Coalition Government it appears we will miss a chance to be on par with the rest of the world, so as usual for us.

  14. If referendums etc hardly ever get up, then it is all in the wording. “Do you favour the abolition of the Government’s NBN plan in favour of a more limited alternative”

    Howard managed to cheat with his republic referendum, I don’t see why Gillard can’t do the same thing.

    • Haha and under your phrasing, Malcolm Turnbull would again be heading the campaign for ‘Yes’ and most likely to lose again

  15. JT writes: “Sure, the media has amplified them, but this has been a government that has proven it will do whatever it takes to stay in power, effectively putting ahead the interests of a select few in government ahead of 22m Australians.”

    What makes me die laughing every time I hear this sort of garbage is – do you NOT think that the LNP Coalition would have been doing EXACTLY the same thing had the Independents given them their blessing in 2010? That, my dear one eyed JT is the nature of politics……..

    • @ Mike – Very true. The National Party had their research arm, the Page Institute do a study on broadband, and its recommendation was to rollout fibre accress the country for $30 billion. It was a very similar proposal to the current NBN, so much so that Barnaby Joyce made big noises when Labour announced the current NBN, that Labour was stealing the Nationals policy.
      Since then, all we have heard from the Nationals on “their policy” is silence. They had to toe the Libs line. As you said, its politics, and they will do whats needed for the best outcome of the party, not necessarily the best outcome for the public.
      The people that the Nats are supposed to represent will get screwed big time under the Coaltion.

  16. Only 8 of 44 referanda past?

    Easy Peasy.

    “Are you in favor of the coalition implementing their half arsed BB policy wasting tens of billions of your dollars and setting the telecom in this country back by a decade or more?”

    It’s all in how you phrase it :)

    • .. and people will still vote it down because

      #1 “no referendum ever got up, why should this one?” [ENOFACTUALBASIS]
      #2 “labor can’t manage the economy or infrastructure projects” [Again, ENOFACTUALBASIS]

      #3 “Tony said it would let in another 1000 boatpeople, and 10000 boatpeople is TOO MANY” [I think i’m repeating myself]

  17. The problem with this, is that the answer the public needs to provide has to take into account a lot of factors like technology differences, economics, future requirements, etc etc. It isnt as simple as the plebiscite questions you quoted.
    Will the public in general be interested enough to obtain all the necessary information? To date many have only been fed the bias of media outlets like 2UE and The Australian etc. there is very little reporting in the mainstream media of the positives on the NBN. How do you propose to ensure properly balanced reporting occurs so the public can be properly informed? If there is a solution to that, why cant it be implemented now? Its badly needed!
    The Libs claim at the moment that their “NBN” will do basically the same as Labours NBN. The public will be fooled by that. They will say, oh well, if the Libs does the same thing and is cheaper, lets go with theirs. This of course ignores big issues like FTTH upgrade being needed anyway, and the money spent opn FTTN is a wasted investment. This has to be explained to the public, as it is a very big thing to consider in matching the too proposals. If they are to be matched. It should be FTTH NBN to FTTH NBN and therefore take into account the cost to get both to that point. Are the public really going to listen to the explanation of the differences in technology, and they upgrade paths required to make them equal? Nope.
    The major concern to will be that the whole thing will be a wasted exercise like the referendum on the monarchy, due to the loaded question asked.
    As you mentioned in the article, there is already evidence of public support for the NBN that has been obtained through various surveys. The Libs are happily ignoring that. If we have a referendum, and it turns up the same figures and results, what is to stop the Libs ignoring that too? We have already seen Abbott say he will let people vote on carbon pricing, but he will do what he wants anyway. I cant see he would be any more willing to do what the people want on the NBN.

    • We need an article in “Choice” magazine comparing the respective national broadband infrastrucutre proposals…

      • Please no. For some things they are ok, but they complete miss the point sometimes on tech.

  18. Hi Renai, at first I thought what a load of rubbish, we dont need a referendum but by the time I was 1/4 of the way through your well written article, I’d changed my mind!

    It’s a great idea and even may stop Tony and his band of wreckers from killing or disabling the NBN based on their illogical hatred of it!

    • On second thoughts, it occurs to me that ppl could vote yes for the NBN, vote Liberal thinking the libs would honour the referendum result and they still stuff the NBN by turning it into FTTN.

      instead if it is an election issue and Labor work out how to make it the number one issue they “could” be returned to power and finish the NBN.

  19. Of course, by proposing a referendum as the ultimate decider, you also assume that the coalition would actually pay attention to what the public wants, and not just pursue a dogged money-saving ideology.

  20. The problem with such a plebiscite is that he would deprive the government of one of the few things they have going for them.
    It would allow people to vote for the opposition while allowing for the NBN to continue as is.
    Without a plebiscite, some (not all) liberal and neutral NBN supporters may feel compelled to vote Labor.
    I doubt any political party would relinquish such possibility

  21. A vote on whether Australians want an NBN or not would be as big a disaster as the one on whether we want a republic. It foundered not because Australians didn’t want a republic, but because it was a choice of no or one of a number of possible republics, and the wrong one was offered to voters. Both Labor and the conservatives want a national broadband network, and so do most Australians. Its just a matter of which NBN. Labor’s ultra-high speed high price fibre to ever home Rolls Royce NBN, or the Liberals do it as cost effectively as possible by not tearing out perfectly good working copper.

    • Gordon Drennan writes “Its just a matter of which NBN. Labor’s ultra-high speed high price fibre to ever home Rolls Royce NBN, or the Liberals do it as cost effectively as possible by not tearing out perfectly good working copper.”

      Maybe there should be a referendum on whether to have the Liberal’s high priced ROLLS ROYCE paid maternity leave scheme expected to cost tax payers about 3 billion per year (that’s right about $3,000,000,000 every year to like forever) or Labor’s more modest/fairer paid maternity leave scheme that is more cost effective and is working perfectly good now as it is.

      • Yep, great idea. I’m not in favour of or opposed to any idea based on which politicial party is. The Liberals paid maternity leave scheme is as bad as Labor’s NBN.

  22. The coalition should be pushing for this big time. It allows them to continue with the NBN rollout when they take power, and ‘save face’ by claiming they had no choice, rather than having to surrender and admit the NBN is a good idea and should go ahead. It’s a win-win for them..

    I would expect Labor to reject the idea though, if the NBN ‘has’ to go ahead regardless of who wins the next election, it will be just another nail in Labor’s coffin.

  23. Nooooo. This is one of the things that the Govt. has got right. It’s visionary and long term the benefits will not be realised until after the NBN is rolled out nationally.

  24. This whole question is Bulls#*t!

    1. There NEVER will be a referendum so why bother getting your knickers in a knot.
    2. History shows that reforenda never succeed without bipartisan support, we are a very long way away form that so a referendum today would be bound to fail.

    There were no reforenda on building railways in the 1870’s to 1890’s nor was there one for the Snowy Mountains Scheme – these were all Nation building projects. Sending conscripts to the First World War could not be seen as Nation building, in fact, quite the opposite. There was not a referendum on buying the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter; those who bemoan the cost of the NBN ought to have a quick look at Defence spending. We could prune some of the useless dross from the Defence budget and pay for several NBN’s.

    From time-to-time governments need to show leadership and and put money into Nation-building infrastructure.


  25. If the motivation for a referendum is to end the debate and the misinformation swirling around this issue, what would a campaign be like? Is the electorate interested enough or sufficiently well informed to make the right decision for the long term interests of the nation anyway? Future generations will be the ones the profit the most; current generations could be tempted to prefer the money be available to them.

    Can’t we just voluntarily move on from going round and round in circles on a debate now beyond tedious? Instead, shouldn’t we discuss whether money spent on submarines we can’t find crews for is more or less useful that the NBN? Or whether we should be spending more on electricity infrastructure to provision rare peak loads for heating and cooling when there are gas or design alternatives?

    • Spending money on Australian defence equipment is just a joke.
      It’s not like those subs will make any difference to the defence of Australia.
      Any country that would attack us… well, Australia would be like a little boy
      throwing stones at the advancing army. With additional expense spending
      we do about as much good as giving the kid a sling shot.

  26. If referendums often get voted no. Then try it with this question:

    “Do you support a rebuild of the nation’s technology mainly based around Fibre to the Node (FttN) technology?”

  27. The average Australian is too stupid to hold a referendum on the NBN.

    PS: On defence, we should just buy a ton of cruise missiles and very good air defence system. Problem solved.

    • Sounds good. The only reason we have planes is so we can drop bombs for the US so they can charge us for the bombs ;)

  28. It appears that the principle reason for the conservative’s opposition to the FTTP NBN is based upon Tony Abbott’s dislike of it; I suspect that if he weren’t the Opposition Leader the matter would disappear into the background.

    To me this begs the question: Why is T Abbott opposed the this NBN? The easy (and possible) explanation is that he’s opposed to the things that Labor are in favor of.

    Yet I don’t really believe the man is that stupid. Certainly he is a man of strong ethical convictions and is resolute on what he believes, but why is a broadband network raised up to such an inflexible level?

    The fact that last week he made a new speech that repeats old, erroneous and disproved accusations about the NBN, plus the fact that he can’t be ignorant of the fact that his opposition to the NBN cost him the election last time, shows a man who has learned nothing from experience on this subject.

    So where is his refusal to change his mind about the NBN coming from? It would cost him something politically in the short term, certainly, but it would also certainly secure the next election if pro-NBN voters could be sure the infrastructure would be built.

    Renai, do you think there’s a research story to be written about this?

  29. Perhaps the question should be:

    “Do you support a government which openly proposes to censor the internet having control of the provision of internet services to the majority of the population? And do you support one which, in so doing, is actively legislating to prevent present and future competitors from offering or developing better services?”

    I don’t believe it is either the technology or the infrastructure that Abbott is objecting to. I personally reject the government’s proposal because the provision of fast and reliable internet services to the whole of Australia CAN be provided more efficiently, more cost effectively – and less suspiciously.

    A vote against the NBN is not a vote against the infrastructure. It is a vote against government control. Speak up while you are able to – because once the NBN is entrenched across Australia and alternative carriers are gone, the filters will be unavoidable, and here to stay.

    • If the choice is between Labor (Filter and NBN) or the Coalition (No filter and no NBN) then the choice must be Labor. Technically it is incredibly easy to remove a filter, and incredibly hard to undo the mistake of only building a FTTN network. It would take ten years and countless billions to undo the Coalitions poor policy. It would take a week to undo Labor’s poor policy. If it is down the filter/NBN versus no filter/no NBN then there is only one rational choice to make. I don’t like the filter, but on a risk analysis it is nothing compared to FTTN.

      • Filtering is happening (or is being planned) almost everywhere including our neighbours and closest allies, some who are run by Labor orientated and others by conservative governments…

        Whilst I deride Conroy for his stance and applaud the current oppositions stance, I am mindful of what’s happening elsewhere in the world and assume once in power the opposition will fold to the same groups pushing for filtering?

        In saying that we can only go by the current info and that is no NBN and no filter from the Libs.

  30. With all due respect… what a terrible idea Renai.

    How much has been “spent” (actual expenditure, contracts etc) to date on the NBN already? Billions?

    When is the election? 12 months out at least probably.

    Do you seriously want to halt all NBNco activities until an election is held some time next year to decide whether a project that has already begun planning and construction should be continue?

    If you aren’t proposing halting all NBNco activities and standing down employees what is the purpose of the plebiscite?

    What really needs to happen is for the government to learn to sell the positive policies it has and not to be so incompetent, and for much of the media (you excluded) to pull their heads out of their arses.

  31. Worth reading this article.

    Take Note of
    “NSW chief scientist and engineer, Dr Mary O’Kane, said in the opening address that Australia’s record in innovation has not been the best, the NBN will be a great enabler for the development of applications which in turn will “transform Australian’s use of broadband.”

    There are third world and developing nations with a better track record in innovation. The opposition to the NBN is but an extension of that mindset by the Conservatises, in business, the media and politics

  32. The government already has a mandate to build the NBN. A referendum or plebicite is not needed.

  33. A referendum in the present poltical climate would simply prove that Australians love debating infrastructure more than building it. It could stop this necessary project, and it could go bad for either major party.

    The free market approach advocated by Turnbull et al has delivered a median speed of 2.8 Mbps (ABS) and an average speed of 4.9 Mbps (Akamai, yesterday) to fixed broadband users in Australia.

    Australia now ranks a lowly 57th among Asia-Pacific nations according to the percentage who ever see even 2 Mbps peak downstream (only 59%!) on fixed broadband services.

    The fact remains that the cheapest way to supply the target threshhold of at least 12 Mbps downstream bandwidth to 100% of the population is with the technology mix which NBNCo is now building, and it happens to tick a lot of other boxes as well.

    The 7% outside the neglected urban fringe will all have 12 Mbps available by 2015, with the completion of the LTE wireless build and the launch of the first NBN satellite. A majority of these premises would see nothing from the coalition plan.

    ADSL (which includes FTTN, of course) only delivers 12 Mbps up to 1.5 km from the exchange, and only when the copper is in good condition, which it mostly isn’t. FTTN was a good idea ten years ago, but we didn’t do it then. Because Telstra owns the last mile copper, FTTH is cheaper to build in Australia than FTTN.

    The fact that these arguments require some technical knowledge is why a referendum on continuing, cancelling or changing the NBN would have an unpredictable outcome. Never take a survey that will require you to make expensive and socially harmful decisions unless you are sure you can live with the possible outcomes.

    The Liberals may well push for a referendum but would run the risk that the electorate might actually receive some effective education to undermine coalition Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt. Thus, it could blow up in their face and result in losses of even more regional seats to cross-bench candidates than those which cost them victory in 2010, leading to another minority Labor government from 2013. And why would Labor want a referendum? What if the Liberals ran a successful FUD campaign and stopped the NBN?

    No, it seems far too politically risky for either major party to want a referendum on continuing the NBN. The nation needs ubiquitous broadband, the costing model protects it from starvation of funds to complete it and protects budget areas from cuts to pay for it, and both sides agree that fibre is best but argue at its price. Best to press on and let word of mouth from those connected by 2013 dispel the myths and ensure it gets finished this decade instead of dragging on like most infrastructure-stifling debates.

  34. “Conscription”, “changing national anthem”, “changing head of state and national flag”…

    What do these issues have in common? They all deal with highly subjective issues that revolve around political and social values and sentiments. You wouldn’t commission the Productivity Commission to examine the best course of action.

    Policy questions pertaining to broadband infrastructure, on the other hand, sit firmly in the realm of economic issues that are highly-amenable to objective and rational analysis by institutions or persons with expertise in assessing economic questions.

    Governments should turn to long-established, special purpose entities such as the PC for advice on the best course of policy action, instead of unnecessarily burdening the general populace with complex policy decisions that they are ill-equipped to deal with.


  35. “Policy questions pertaining to broadband infrastructure, on the other hand, sit firmly in the realm of economic issues that are highly-amenable to objective and rational analysis by institutions or persons with expertise in assessing economic questions”.

    How many times does it have to be said, there is more to it the NBN than economics/dollars?

    • You do realise there are millions of people around the world who are currently constrained in their access to much-needed medical treatments, surgical procedures, pharmaceutical drugs, etc, because some healthcare policymaker has drawn the line on patient access to medical amenities due solely to “monetary considerations”?

      Everything in policymaking is about “dollars” — what do you think the “baby bonus” is about? Answer: giving money to Southern Cross-tatt-bearing fornicators so they will breed more “dinky-die” children. Just think! — even human conception is about “economics/dollars”!

  36. An issue I have with the NBN project is the decision to take the fiber to every home.

    The core network should be built with a program to take fiber to business premises, green and brown field sites and then extended to home on an as need basis. It is interesting that technological change now means, as I understand, that we can put high speeds down copper to the home and we may not need to put fiber to residence. This would be more pragmatic.

    It is important for the future that Australia invests in information technology if only to keep up with competitor nations. There are benefits to be had across multiple sectors.

  37. So NZ are, in that case, hideously inefficient…

    Your point?

    Perhaps another doco would deflect the facts, that would be lovely…!

  38. Speaking of misinformation.
    The West Australian under the headline 4G leaves NBN in it’s wake reports:
    ‘Parked outside the Subiaco post office on Rokeby Road, speeds reached the highest for the day, with an average of 29.24Mbps. The single highest result was an eye-opening 36.36Mbps, likely because of the Telstra infrastructure spotted on top of the Australia Post building.’

    So if you stand right outside a main Telstra city exchange you can achieve results about 1/3 as fast as the NBN.

    • Well, you can now. Try it in a year or two when iPhones/iPads/Android Phones all have 4G. You’ll be lucky to get 1/20 as fast.

    • Yes an article with nothing to do with th NBN was used, incorrectly to bag the NBN.

      Surprise, surprise, from Wiki…

      “The West (Australian) has strong conservative leanings, and has consistently supported the Coalition.”

      *rolls eyes*

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