news Alan Jones has attacked the performance of Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull in holding Labor’s National Broadband Network project to account, with the shockjock commentator attempting to use a variety of inaccurate statements about the NBN to demonstrate that Turnbull is avoiding the issue and “plotting” against Liberal leader Tony Abbott instead.
In a segment broadcast on Sydney’s 2GB radio station last week (the audio is available online here), Jones repeated an number of criticisms he has previously made about the NBN, claiming that the project is “hopelessly behind scheduled and hopelessly over budget”, that its underlying fibre technology would be “obsolete” before it was build due to the future of telecommunications being “wireless” technology, and that the NBN’s capital funding should be allocated as budget expense rather than as an investment which will eventually make a return.
It’s not the first time Jones has made such claims with respect to the NBN. In late October Jones aired a similar segment, containing similarly inaccurate statements. Analysis has shown that the shockjock’s views on the NBN are primarily inaccurate; especially with relation to his comments about the future of telecommunications being based on wireless (industry commentators agree both wireless and fixed networks will be, and are, needed), the idea that fibre will be obsolete by the time the NBN is built (it will not be), and the idea that the NBN’s funding should be accounted for in the Federal Budget as an expense (accounting standards show it should be accounted for as a capital investment, as it currently is).
However, in last week’s segment, Jones went further, linking what he said was a failure by Turnbull to comment on the issue to a potential attempt to re-take the Liberal leadership from current Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who narrowly bested Turnbull to lead the party from December 2009.
Jones highlighted the fact that Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham had probed NBN Co’s management during recent Senate Estimates sessions about company expenses such as money spent on consultants, taxi fares and public transport, and legal and office fit-out costs. “Turnbull should have asked the question … but Simon Birmingham asked,” Jones said.
The shockjock stated that Birmingham had done “a fabulous job” on broadband, “not Malcolm Turnbull, who’s the Minister.” Jones claimed that Australians “hardly heard a squeak” out of Turnbull. “Perhaps Malcolm Turnbull thinks if he takes the win out of the sails of the government on the NBN issue, it might help Tony Abbott win Government,” Jones added; appearing to imply that Turnbull would rather he won power for the Coalition as leader.
Later in the segment, Jones interviewed telecommunications consultant Kevin Morgan, a regular heavy critic of the NBN. Morgan claimed that the rollout of the NBN’s fibre network would put lives at risk, due to the fact that a number of services such as medical alarms, traffic lights and burglar alarms depended on Telstra’s current copper network. Morgan claimed that NBN Co had not done enough in the area of battery backup support for the NBN’s optic fibre, to ensure that such services would remain available in the event of power failures. “People’s lives are going to be put at risk by this policy,” he claimed.
“Why doesn’t Mr Turnbull make these points?” asked Jones. Morgan replied: “He’s plodding away,” to which Jones replied: “Plodding or plotting? Two t’s.”
Jones’ comments come just days after polling released by Galaxy Research showed that showed that 60 percent of Australians believed Turnbull would be the best choice for leader of the Federal Liberal Party, with only 29 percent believing Abbott would be the best choice and 11 percent uncommitted. However, support for Turnbull was much higher amongst Labor supporters, with 75 percent believing him to be the best choice. Amongst Coalition supporters the pair were neck and neck, with 51 percent preferring Turnbull and 45 percent preferring Abbott. The survey canvassed about 1,000 voters and is intended as a representative sample of the Australian population.
Turnbull was previously the Leader of the Opposition from September 2008 through December 2009, before he narrowly lost the leadership to Abbott. Since September 2010 he has served as Shadow Communications Minister, attempting to hold Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and flagship Labor initiatives such as the NBN to account.
Last week Abbott was asked to respond to the polling in a doorstop interview in Canberra. “I think that Malcolm is doing a really good job as the Shadow Minister for Communications,” Abbott said, “and the fact that more and more people are realising that the National Broadband Network is the wrong way to go about giving Australians faster and more affordable broadband is in large measure a testimony to his effectiveness in prosecuting that case.”
Turnbull’s vision for the future of the NBN, should the Coalition win the next Federal Election, would see the Coalition ask the Productivity Commission to investigate the best way in which next-generation broadband should be rolled out to Australians. It is then likely that the Coalition would modify the NBN rollout to focus on fibre to the node instead of fibre to the home technology, as well as stopping the closure of the HFC cable networks operated by Telstra and Optus, and using satellite and wireless technologies to serve rural areas.
However, much of the policy detail has not yet been disclosed, and it remains unclear whether Turnbull’s vision is fully supported by the Shadow Cabinet, with several senior Coalition politicians expressing views of broadband policy that may diverge from Turnbull’s vision – such as Abbott’s statement last week that Australia’s broadband situation was best addressed by the competitive market. In addition, The Australian newspaper has reported that there is “widespread” concern within Liberal Party ranks about how effectively Turnbull has made the case against the NBN, with some reportedly believing that Turnbull’s policy platform was too close to Labor’s own vision.
Perhaps the most unorthodox part of Jones’ interview with Morgan was the telecommunications consultant’s comparison of the NBN project to the Tanganyika Groundnut Scheme promulgated by the British Labour Government in the 1940’s in East Africa. The project was intended to develop the region’s agriculture potential but failed. “If you go out into the bush in Southern Africa, now Tanzania, you’ll find all these rusting tractors, all this junk from this project,” Morgan told Jones. And then, with reference to the NBN: “You’re going to have fibre hanging off power poles, incomplete sections of this network. The Labor Government, if they’re returned, will have to revisit this, have to say this is nonsense.”
“Well if you know this, why doesn’t Turnbull say it?” replied Jones.