news A new poll has shown that 29 percent of Australians believe that new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should either “dump” or “change” Labor’s National Broadband Network policy, in news which could show that the Coalition’s message that the project is too expensive and slow to deliver may be having an effect on the NBN’s popular support.
Historically, polling of the Australian population has shown — and has shown for several years now — that Labor’s NBN policy has remained overwhelmingly popular with the electorate. The NBN’s popularity has always been highest amongst those who identify as Labor or Greens voters, but it has even historically enjoyed strong levels of support on the opposite side of the fence — those who vote for the Coalition.
A large number of polling data, generated over the past several years, has appeared to show consistent and even rising support for the NBN amongst the population. An informal online poll taken by the ABC shortly after the Coalition’s rival policy launch in April, for example, appeared to have shown that voters have already rejected the Coalition’s rival National Broadband Network policy, with 78 percent of some 5,700 readers noting that they didn’t support the policy.
In March this year, a poll taken by research house Essential Media showed that support for Labor’s NBN project had risen to a total of 73 percent, with even a majority of Coalition voters supporting the project at that stage, and that same month research in the early stage NBN rollout zone in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick showed that 89 percent backed the NBN as “a good idea”.
Research published by the Swinburne University of Technology in October 2012 showed that at that stage some two thirds of Australians supported the NBN, and earlier research undertaken by Essential Media in April 2012 showed that most Australians supported the NBN, including a large percentage of Coalition voters. Similar results were found from earlier research by Essential in February 2012.
However, according to new poll data released this week by Essential, the Coalition’s ongoing message under Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the NBN rollout under Labor has been too slow, too expensive and hasn’t targeted the right areas appears to have gained some traction amongst voters.
Among other questions related to the leadership of the two major sides of politics, and especially associated with the re-emergence of Kevin Rudd as Labor leader, Essential asked some 935 respondents online the following question from 4th to 7th July: “Under Kevin Rudd’s leadership, do you think the Labor Party should dump, change or keep their policies on the following issues?” One of the issues was listed as “Building the NBN”.
In total, some 50 percent of respondents said Rudd should “keep” the NBN, representing one of the highest percentages with relation to various Labor policies, ranging from the issue of asylum seekers (only 10 percent thought Rudd should keep that policy) to the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which 59 percent of respondents through Rudd should keep.
However, some 14 percent of respondents believed Rudd should “dump” the NBN policy wholesale, and a further 15 percent said they believed Rudd should “change” the policy, although it’s not clear how those respondents believed the policy should change. A further 15 percent said they didn’t know what Rudd should do. Support for the NBN, as is typical in such polls, was highest amongst Labor voters. “Labor voters were most in favour of keeping the NBN (78 percent),” wrote Essential Media in its briefing documents regarding the poll.
If Essential’s research is accurate, the results appear to point to a change attitude within the Australian population regarding the NBN. And there is further evidence of such a trend, dating back to April. At the time, analysis of polling data showed that the release of the Coalition’s NBN policy had had the effect of a large chunk of Coalition voters abandoning their previous long-term support for Labor’s existing NBN policy in favour of the new Coalition alternative.
What the data appeared to show was that the release of the Coalition’s NBN policy polarised voters. It further entrenched the popularity of Labor’s NBN plan amongst existing Labor and Greens voters. On the other hand, the policy appears to have been moderately successful in reducing support for Labor’s NBN policy amongst Coalition voters, and the majority of Coalition voters indicated that they did support the Coalition’s new NBN policy.
Troubling news here for supporters of the NBN. If Essential’s results are to be believed, support for the NBN policy as a whole has really taken a hit over the past several months, to the extent that a large proportion of the Australian population believes the NBN policy as a whole should be dumped or changed.
This isn’t really surprising. As I’ve written previously, the Coalition didn’t really have a credible and coherent alternative to the NBN until April this year, when Turnbull and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott did much to neutralise the issue of the NBN by putting up a sensible and more modest alternative. At the time, a large chunk of Coalition voters appeared to be convinced by the Coalition’s rival NBN policy, and given the energy and intellectualism which Turnbull has brought to the debate, I could only see that trend growing over the months since.
NBN Co and its political masters also haven’t done much to help the public perception of the project in that time. The company has delivered a series of construction delays, missteps and disputes with its contractors, executive departures and even an asbestos scare; and it has not taken the front foot on almost any of these issues; preferring instead to bunker down and get on with construction rather than addressing the very public alarm bells ringing around its ears. Hell, NBN Co even sabotaged its own success-oriented media release last week, as ZDNet’s Josh Taylor so perfectly laid out in a separate article.
At the same time, Labor as a whole has been more concerned about its own internal power struggles than it has been selling projects such as the NBN; and when it has tried to sell the project to the public, it has often done so using the same kind of misleading scare tactic campaigns which we’ve seen so much of from the Coalition over the past several years. ABC Technology + Games Editor Nick Ross has done a good job of analysing the situation in an article for The Drum.
I’ve always said, and will continue to say, that Labor’s NBN policy is a much better option than the Coalition’s ‘LBN’ alternative. However, better policy doesn’t equal better project management, and better underlying technology doesn’t equal a better political communications strategy. The tragedy of the NBN is that it’s a great policy with popular support, but backed by a dysfunctional political party which can’t seem to manage NBN Co’s failures well or take credit for its successes. We’re sure the Earl of Wentworth, with his beaming, aristocratic smile, won’t have the same problem, if he does eventually become Communications Minister.
Image credit: Still from Gladiator