blog The story that Labor’s flagship, $37 billion National Broadband Network project was originally drawn up in its first, limited form on the back of a napkin in a Prime Ministerial plane flight has been a pervasive one in Australia’s telecommunications industry, even if evidence for this has been hard to find. But just how well-developed was the NBN policy, five or so years ago when it was first put together by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and then-PM Kevin Rudd? According to free market thinktank the Institute for Public Affairs, not very well-developed at all. The IPA’s John Roskam and James Paterson write this week in an analysis of Rudd’s leadership style and the failures of the media (we recommend you click here for the full article, it’s actually worth reading quite aside from the NBN paragraphs):
“Because he had no faith in his ministers, Rudd encouraged his personal staff to make policy decisions without input from ministers and their departments. That was how the tragedy of Labor’s ‘pink-batts’ came about. One of the reasons the National Broadband Network, the largest infrastructure project in the country’s history, didn’t have a cost-benefit analysis applied to it was because the policy didn’t go through any sort of regular cabinet process. It was conceived only as an ‘announceable’-a media stunt for the political benefit of the government.”
Now, Roskam and Paterson based much of their commentary in this article on revelations about Rudd’s time at the top outed in a new book, Speechless: A Year In My Father’s Business, published by journalist and former Rudd speechwriter James Button. However, I bought the Kindle version of the book this morning and combed it fruitlessly for evidence of the IPA pair’s NBN claims. Button has almost nothing to say about the NBN. So we have to rely on Roskam and Paterson’s word alone for this one.
Personally, and bear in mind I have been a technology reporter continuously in Australia for most of the past decade, dating back to the days when Helen Coonan was Communications Minister, I do believe it is true that Conroy and Rudd didn’t do enough due diligence on the NBN proposal before they put it together — the NBN policy that they took to the 2007 Federal Election was quite threadbare.
However, it did contain the theads of great policy, and in April 2009, when it massively revised and expanded upon the advice of the Government’s then-NBN expert panel, the NBN policy became a very viable and very workable strategy which would solve many of the ongoing issues in the telecommunications industry while simultaneously delivering massive service delivery benefits to all Australians and even making the Government a profit. Since that time, the NBN has stood the test of time and criticism. So does it matter if the original NBN policy, and even perhaps the 2009 version, was something of an unfleshed-out “announceable”? Not at this point. It’s the end result that counts, in this case — not the nitty gritty of how we got there.