Mere hours after he was appointed Shadow Communications Minister, Liberal stalwart Malcolm Turnbull has come out swinging in the portfolio, slamming Labor’s National Broadband Network and filter projects and describing himself as “an internet junkie”.
“I am a notorious internet junkie — I love it,” Turnbull told the ABC’s PM radio program this afternoon. Turnbull was famously an investor in one of Australia’s first major ISPs — OzEmail — from which he made a fortune in the late 1990s. And the MP also carries around an iPad, which replaced his Amazon Kindle.
“I have been involved in the internet since 1994, so I’m very committed to it, and I’m very committed to the amazing things we can do with technology,” he added.
However, Turnbull said — referring to the NBN — what he wasn’t committed to was “wasting tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money”.
Turnbull said everything he had seen with respect to Labor’s NBN project demonstrated that the financial investment in the effort could not be justified. He highlighted the NBN Implementation Study produced by consulting firms KPMG and McKinsey and the low levels of take-up of NBN services so far in Tasmania — just hundreds of households so far — as examples.
According to the MP, the NBN would eventually be worth between a half and quarter of the total estimated cost of the network — normally put at $43 billion, although NBN Co expects its deal with Telstra to cut that price down significantly.
In a separate statement, Turnbull called for Labor to put together a cost-benefit analysis and business plan for the project.
“At the heart of this issue is not a question of technologies, but a question of democracy itself. What price democracy, accountability, transparency or the new “sunshine” era of Federal Parliament if a $43 billion investment can be embarked on by Government without any financial analysis capable of demonstrating the money will be well spent?” he said.
“Senator Conroy has not yet been honest with the Australian people about these financial implications for the NBN of Labor’s negotiations with the independents. He must do so now.”
Turnbull claimed the new rollout schedule for the NBN — agreed with several of the independent MPs who helped Labor form government — would also hurt residents in outer metropolitan areas, as it would see fibre rolled in from the bush instead of out from the cities. In addition, Turnbull said, this approach would “greatly increase” the amount the Government would need to invest in the network.
On the matter of whether Telstra should be separated into wholesale and retail arms, Turnbull said many people had argued for a separation. But he said it was not necessary, as long as there was an access regime where rivals could gain access to competitors.
The Coalition’s own broadband plan was widely slammed by sections of the telecommunications industry and the business community when it was released during the election. On radio, Turnbull said it wasn’t for him to comment on whether it wasn’t sold well — but he described the Coalition’s plan was being “certainly superior to the NBN”.
Many consider Labor’s internet filter project dead, with both the Coalition and the Greens having vowed to block the proposal in the Senate. However, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has committed to pushing ahead with the project.
Turnbull has previously pilloried the filter project — holding a special forum during the election to address the issue — and reiterated his comments today to ABC PM.
“I am absolutely and utterly opposed to it — it really is a bad idea in all respects,” he said. “I have nothing good to say about the filter. The best thing the Government could do is drop it.”
Turnbull said the filter would slow down the internet and create a false sense of security, where parents would believe it was safe to let their children use the internet without supervision because of the filter. He said the filter would not catch much of the objectionable content distributed online, because it would not be funnelled through the world wide web.
The former Opposition Leader was also questioned on one other point — would he ever challenge for the Liberal leadership again?
“I support the leader,” he said, referring to Tony Abbott. “I’m very happy being communications shadow, and I’m delighted to have that role.”
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull