The former Premier of Tasmania and one of the architects of the early National Broadband Network rollout in the state has slammed what he has described as “stupid, uninformed debate” from much of Australia’s media over what he saw as tiny issues in the rollout of the network over the past year.
David Bartlett is a former IT worker who served as the state’s Labor Premier from 2008 through to January this year, right through the period when the current NBN policy was developed and implementation commenced made the comments in a passionate speech to the CeBIT trade fair and conference series in Sydney this morning, in one of his first major speeches since quitting state parliament entirely several weeks ago.
The politician said he was concerned by the “constant attention” on issues such as NBN take-up rates in the early stage rollout Tasmanian towns of Smithton, Midway Point and Scottsdale, with the media reporting often that rates for the take-up of NBN services of 19 percent, or 50 percent for fibre infrastructure connections, weren’t enough.
To illustrate his view of this line of reporting, Bartlett told the audience that when the state constructed its first hydroelectric power plant in 1916, the state’s Premier at that stage, (believed to be Sir Walter Lee) gave “a fantastic speech” in support of the initiative, which Bartlett had personally memorised.
“At that time, when the first poles and wires were taking electrons across the wires to industry, do you think a sensible question from a journalist would have been that nobody has taken this up yet, so the project’s been a failure?” he asked. Bartlett pointed out that it took Tasmanian residents and businesses time to migrate off previous forms of energy such as gas and on to the new electricity standard. And yet, in 2011, he implied, electricity usage was universal.
“It would seem a fairly ignorant question in retrospect, and I would put the general media commentary about take-up rates in a similar basket in that respect,” he said.
Not only were the Tasmanian take-up rates higher than expected, Bartlett said – a fact, he noted, that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy had repeatedly emphasised – but many of the residents he had spoken to in Midway Point were currently locked into contracts for 12 months with their existing ISPs – typically Telstra – and were waiting for those contracts to end before switching to the NBN fibre.
Bartlett singled radio host Alan Jones our particularly for a poor understanding of the NBN.
Last week, Jones referred on air to a research breakthrough in Germany which could see optic fibre speeds boosted dramatically as a negative, in what appeared to be a misunderstanding to the effect that the technology the researchers were using was the same technology being deployed as part of the NBN. Jones claimed that the German discovery showed that the NBN would be 2.6 million times slower than what could be possible through the new research.
“I recently heard Alan Jones talk about the NBN with “lasers”,” said Bartlett, raising his hands above his head and motioning quotation marks in what appeared to be a mocking fashion. “This is what we’ve come to, we’re going to come to take engineering advice from talkback radio,” he said.
“Of course, there will continue to be debate, and should be debate about an expenditure of this size and scope — but lets not kill the goose which laid the golden egg with stupid uninformed debate about this piece of infrastructure.”
The comments come as debate continues to swirl within the political arena about a book published this year by former Finance Minister and long-term Labor MP Lindsay Tanner, which criticised the media and politicians for the shallowness of the current national debate.
“After spending much of my life dedicated to the serious craft of politics, I have to admit that I am distressed by what it is becoming,” wrote Tanner in the book, titled The Sideshow: Dumbing down Democracy. “Under siege from commercial pressures and technological innovation, the media are retreating into an entertainment frame that has little tolerance for complex social and economic issues. In turn, politicians and parties are adapting their behaviour to suit the new rules of the game — to such an extent that the contest of ideas is being supplanted by the contest for laughs.”
Stay tuned for further coverage of Bartlett’s wide-ranging speech.
Image credit: Delimiter