Abbott would ‘dig NBN cables up’, says Gillard


Prime Minister Julia Gillard this morning claimed the Opposition was still determined to destroy her government’s flagship National Broadband Network project, and would take a policy to the next election of literally ripping the initiative’s fibre-optic cables up from where they had been laid.

“The Opposition is determined to destroy the NBN,” said Gillard this morning at a press conference in Canberra. “I anticipate the Opposition will go to the next election saying they’ll dig the cables out of the ground.”

Gillard’s comments came at a press conference in Canberra, where the Prime Minister, flanked by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, Finance Minister Penny Wong, Telstra chief executive David Thodey and NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley announced the Government and NBN Co had finally inked their $11 billion with Telstra to use the telco’s infrastructure and transfer customers onto the NBN fibre.

However, Gillard said Opposition Leader Abbott had given Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull instructions to “destroy” the NBN. “You destroy the NBN by ripping up this agreement, ripping the fibre out of the ground and keeping this nation in the past,” she said. “Our intention is to build the project; you can talk to Tony Abbott about destroying [it]”.

Gillard said she understood that it was the position of the Opposition that it wanted to “end the NBN, dig it out of the ground, take us back to the past”. “It is incumbent upon them to explain to Australian taxpayers how they would go down that incredibly reckless path,” she said, stating the Opposition’s approach would be “reckless” in terms of Australia’s economy and health sector, as well as “certainly reckless” in terms of the future of regional Australia.

The Prime Minister said the roll-out of the NBN was essential to ensure Australia didn’t fall behind global standards. “How do you think our economy would be going today if we hadn’t rolled out [Telstra’s copper telephone network] and were still relying on messenger boys?” Gillard asked. The Labor leader stated if that had occurred Australia would be less than a third-world economy — noting that nations needed the technology of the day.

The news comes as last night Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull told the ABC’s 7:30 show that the Government’s approach to the NBN would make it “difficult” for future Governments to take what he described as “a more cost-effective, responsible” approach. Turnbull said at some point, there would need to be a “redesign” of the NBN.

This morning on ABC radio, the Liberal MP was asked whether the Telstra deal would make it difficult for a Coalition Government to unwind the NBN. “Well I don’t think we want to unwind in the sense of go back to ground zero,” he replied. “… what we want to do is get the broadband objective delivered at a lower cost and that would involve at least in part redesigning the network. Now I think these contracts will make that more difficult but I don’t believe they’ll make it impossible.”

This morning, a journalist told Gillard that Turnbull had said “quite clearly on radio this morning” that it wasn’t the case that the NBN would be ripped up. “Don’t you believe him?” the journalist added.

Gillard replied that Abbott’s instruction to Turnbull had been to “destroy” the NBN. The pair might have “day to day differences” when it came to their approach, the Prime Minister said, but that had been Abbott’s policy. Turnbull’s office has also been invited this morning to respond to Gillard’s claim.

Finance Minister Penny Wong said this morning that in relation to any future termination of the NBN contract with Telstra, the Government had negotiated a one-off “break fee” which would reach a maximum sum of $500 million — and would only be able to take effect after the national fibre rollout hit 20 percent of premises.

For Telstra’s part, the telco’s chief executive David Thodey said it would be “pretty straightforward” in the event the NBN contract was broken — noting his company was subject to the policies of the Government of the day. “They’re commercial contracts, they have exit clauses, and it’s really no more difficult than that,” he said.

Image credit: NBN Co


  1. Gillard’s going a bit far with the “dig cables up” rhetoric. More likely many would be just be left laying there unfinished. However as an analogy, it’s certainly true.

    It’s interesting to note Turnbull slowly coming around. At first it was all about destroying the NBN. Then he said they may keep sections of it, now he’s giving some flaky story about “redesigning it”. How he plans to redesign a network building project in full motion is anyone’s guess. Other than disassemble NBNCo and create their own lesser funded poor man’s NBN.

    In any case this is a good day for NBN progress. The Naysayers must be squirming.

    • Yeah, I think Gillard shot herself in the foot this morning with those comments. They will now become much of the story, on a day on which Labor should be triumphant. She just looks ridiculous. As if anyone would actually pull cable out of the ground once it’s been laid. It shows her lack of technical understanding.

      • Oh give us a break Renai ! Shot herself in the foot ?? She indulged in a bit of over the top rhetoric, or exaggeration, call it what you will. But really …. ????
        Your viewpoint would be plausible if you applied the same standards to the Liberal party commentary.

        Oh, just read your other article wherein you report on Gillard’s comment and then devote the following 95% of the content to Turnbull’s response. (And I see where you got the ‘shot in foot’ comment from.)
        Don’t see much commentary on Turnbull’s claims either.
        Things become clearer.

        • I disagree. I support Gillard and the NBN but I still think it was a stupid thing to say. IMHO that’s half her problem. Gillard validates Abbott by making equally stupid statements.

          • I agree with that BH, you have to differentiate yourself from Abbott, not do as he does, come election 2013 you don’t want voters taking the attitude ‘ party leaders are the same – full of BS’, so it’s not leadership perceived competence or personality that determines their vote.

    • You don’t take a billion dollar asset and just “hand it to Telstra” (for example). No, he means redesigning who finishes it, and how.

    • “He means redesigning who owns it.”

      I thought the article was quite clear about that.

      Quoting Malcolm Turnbull – “that would involve at least in part redesigning the network”

      Seems quite clear what Malcolm Turnbull was saying to me, he intends to redesign the actual network. (i.e. from FTTH to FTTN for one example or fible backhaul for wireless networks – or however else they see fit).

      Also, the owner of the network would always be the government? At least at first anyway until it may or may not be sold off.

      • I am pretty sure Turnbull was talking about redesigning the network so it didn’t cost as much — for example, shifting to fibre to the node, maybe, rather than fibre to the home. I’m not that sure what the Coalition’s view is on ownership of NBN Co, but I know they are in favour of private sector development etc.

        • Yeah thats pretty much how I interpreted his comments Renai. Perhaps I should have used the word repurpose instead of redesign.

          While we don’t exactly know what the Opposition’s plans regarding the network are, I find it likely they would simply repurpose whatever has been constructed by the time the next election comes around and incorporate the fibre that has been installed into their broadband scheme – whatever that may be. Whether that is shifting to FTTN or propping up private sector investment we will have to wait and see.

          Its probably a good question to ask at this stage though, because as much as I would like the NBN to go ahead unhindered by changing governments until completion, the recent polling is looking decidedly grim for Labor unfortunately. So the prospect of the Opposition entering government at the next election and following through with their plans to “redesign” the NBN is looking like a definite possibility. And its something that we should probably be prepared for.

          • Nah, they’d have to re-negotiate with Telstra for the copper, cancel outstanding contracts with undetermined compensation and then fork out 1/2 a billion for the cancellation of the existing rollout.

            Here’s what happens:

            Coalition wins. Malcolm commissions ‘independent’ cost benefit analysis which says that the cheapest route would have been to do FTTN but with the existing ‘wasteful’ contracts and compensation factored in the cheapest route is to complete the NBN. And life goes on.

            Previously it has been all about people politics, but by the time the end of 2013 rolls around there’s a lot of skin in the game from a lot of telcos and business even without the compensation factor, and by the time he commissions and completes a CBA we’re through the best part of 2014. Then he needs people to put in submissions to build an alternative network. Who is going to do that? But even if they did, by the time that happens we’re well into 2015.

            Turnbull’s only interest is in making people think that somehow their hard earned tax dollars are being burnt up in a wasteful project, and getting him elected will make all the difference.

          • “Turnbull’s only interest is in making people think that somehow their hard earned tax dollars are being burnt up in a wasteful project,”

            Well that bit will be easy.

          • Well yes – because people don’t seem to understand that it’s not coming from their taxes, but borrowed money.

            If I borrow money to buy a business it’s the banks money not mine. Apparently that distinction is lost on most people, and the FUDsters just want people to believe that this new monopoly will be miraculously unprofitable and end up being paid for out of the annual budget.

          • Well people do understand that if you borrow money from the Bank they want it back with big interest on top in a specified time, the taxpayers underwrite any loans and pay it back including the interest.

          • Except “the taxpayers” will do no such thing and you know it. The debt will be repaid with revenue from subscribers.

    • If the Liberals sold the NBN back to Telstra to recreate a vertically integrated monopoly that would be monumental stupidity.

      Not impossible or out of the question though.

      • What makes you think Telstra would want to buy it when it can use it 100%, retail it at a nice margin as a base component with all its other add on goodies packaged up with a nice big ribbon and let some other sucker (i.e. the taxpayer) wear the substantial risk on ROI.

        • Oh I forgot it can now line up at the ACCC with other ISP’s complaining ‘it isn’t cheap enough’.

          • The ACCC is only interested in whether something is priced “fairly”, not “cheaply”, otherwise you could complain to them that Ferrari should be forced to sell at Toyota prices, since it isn’t “cheap” enough.

        • But the Coalition could speed up the partial or full privatisation of the NBN timeline and change the detail of of how would be done, the ACCC would have more of a say in determining who the buyers can be rather than the Liberals.

          • Contradiction much? The Coalition would want to make it privatised, but the biggest ISP, the one best set to afford the purchase of it, won’t want it. So who exactly is going to buy what’s left of NBN Co Alain?

          • They might go the Singapore model.

            Sell it off in two parts. Layer-1 fibre ownership to a utility style company similar to one that owns an electrical distribution network. In fact a company like this will potentially be quite well placed as they can use common ducts, poles, personnel to maintain both electrical and fibre infrastructure.

            Then sell off the much less costly layer-2 GPON equipment to traditional IT providers. The likes of NextGen, PIPE/TPG, Optus would be able to afford it.

          • @Nightkhaos

            “The Coalition would want to make it privatised, but the biggest ISP, the one best set to afford the purchase of it”

            It doesn’t have to be a Telco/ISP that buys it, a Bank/s or a investment consortium could buy it and as I stated I am sure the ACCC would not let Telstra the biggest ISP and wireless provider in Australia by a country mile have a controlling stake in the NBN.

        • LOL. this $50 P.O.S. will have to be sold at a massive discount to book value…

          a future “seller” can’t afford to be too picky and will have to accept the highest bid that minimises the loss to taxpayers.

          thank you Labor for this future fiscal mess we’re inheriting!

  2. “However, Gillard said Opposition Leader Abbott had given Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull instructions to “destroy” the NBN. “You destroy the NBN by ripping up this agreement, ripping the fibre out of the ground and keeping this nation in the past,” she said. “Our intention is to build the project; you can talk to Tony Abbott about destroying [it]“.”

    Oh god.
    I don’t have a problem with the government having a go at the coalitions approach to the NBN. They deserve it but crap like this doesn’t win the argument. It just gives the coalition the chance to say the the Government is not being honest.

    I’m sure if the Libs win the next election they may change how the NBN will be rolled out, but they’re not going to rip the fibre out of the ground.

    This is one thing that Labor seem to be getting right but they just don’t seem to be able to sell it.
    Tell people the positive things about the NBN instead of speaking crap about what the other mob may or may not do with it.

      • Yup they’re both just dog whistling to a block of voters who won’t understand what the NBN is until they have an IPTV box plugged into it.

        Tony’s all dog whistle and no substance but Gillard just plays into his hands by going down that route.

    • Like clockwork.

      “However, in a statement early this afternoon, Turnbull said Gillard’s claims that the Coalition would rip the NBN fibre out were “false”. “That the Prime Minister needs to make such ludicrous statements about what the Opposition may do once in Government shows her political style is not heavily dependent on rational debate,” said Turnbull. “Unlike Labor, the Coalition would never waste taxpayers’ dollars to win a political point.””

  3. Whenever the Government feels threatened and sees a failure in itself, Tony Abbott’s name is in every sentence the PM speaks. It is so irritating to see all labor mob blame Tony Abbott on nearly everything they can’t acheive. The Government doesn’t have a good policy but this policy works for them,”Blame Tony Abbott for all our failures”. The Tax payers are not dumb and stupid. We see what is going on and this NBN wiil be a disaster.

    • @Good guy,

      The reason that Tony Abbott is in every sentence the PM speaks is because its time to point out the obvious – he stands for nothing but his own power. He has no policy. He is a liability to his own party. And his opposition to the NBN is the clearest and most damning proof that he will be negative and oppose anything no matter how good it is as policy.

      • Exactly. He blocks for the sake of blocking. His entire time as opposition leader has not been to assist in making Australia a better place for the beloved taxpayers he craps on about every day, but rather in bringing down the government, by criticising their every move, so he can bring them down and have his time as king. To achieve that he blocks absolutely everything, and tours Australia lying about the impact of a carbon tax, and repeating corny one liners while operating various large machines in front of the media.

        Gee. what an inspiring politician you are Abbott.

  4. That’s not a Prime-Ministership talk…and I am waiting for that one interview where Julia Gillard and the Labor mob would be able to answer questions without mentioning Tony Abbott’s name.

    • @ Good Guy…

      No I think what it is, is the government at last trying to get on the front foot!

      Because by saying Abbott will “dig the cables out of the ground”, the onus is now squarely on Abbott…

      He “obviously” only has two actual answers (sans political banter), yes we will dig them up! Or no we won’t (again obvious).

      So If he says they will dig them up, then their entire NBN waste argument is completely down the drain along with his credibility.

      But if they say, no we wont… the government can then say, “well what exactly ARE you going to do”? Or, oh “so you are going to keep the so called ‘white elephant’ after all are you”?

      Again it is probably the first time the government have had a real opportunity to attack… but having seen their woeful selling thus far they either won’t take advantage or “I’m reading too much into it and simply giving them waaay too much credit”…!

  5. For the benefit of honest speculation you need to consider the following.

    1. The Greens will have the balance of power in the Senate. So if the Coalition win in the House of Representatives they will have regulatory but not legislative power.

    2. Much of the structure of the NBN and the separation of Telstra is committed to legislation.

    3. The people who run NBNco, especially Quigley, are there because they believe in what they are doing. If the Coalition attempted to use their power as shareholder to influence the design of the NBN, this will result in mass resignation of NBNco’s management.

    4. Many organisations will have a deep stake in the continuation of the NBN as a FTTH network. Not the least of which will be Telstra. There are already estimates of how much Telstra shares would fall if the Coalition were to win government. But by 2013 there will be many major organisations with a stake. Optus, the wholesale aggregators, the service providers, institutional investors and perhaps most importantly the tens of thousands of people whose jobs depend directly or indirectly on the construction process.

    5. By 2013 almost everyone will be in a position of least knowing someone who has the NBN connected. Social networks and word of mouth are as important to voting intentions as as the media. Yes, there’s still going to be lots of skeptics and people who just don’t get it, there’s going to be a lot of ordinary people who by then will be thinking “when can I get it.. I want it!”

    6. In the environment where the NBN is only partially built there will be growing demands to hurry it up and individual towns, communities, local progress associations will be lobbying. Its an issue that will split even Liberal voters because there’s nothing that drives some people more than the “good for business” angle.

    7. There’s going to be lobbying within the Liberal Party itself to just simply back-flip and a lot of that will come from within business lobbies.

    8. The media, whilst it has its bias and outright partisanship is mostly just looking for the “the next big story”. Yes, the media has been easily manipulated by the Liberals but at the end of the day, with some other big picture issues out of the way the NBN is going to become a prime story. Even if some of the reporting is negative, as they say, no publicity is bad publicity. In the end the biggest stories will come from the loudest voices, as above pleas from organisations to keep the NBN and pleas from people and communities saying “we want it too”. There’s a very powerful motive in envy and if the Liberal Party threaten to just stop the NBN in its tracks, its going to divide the community between those who already have the NBN and those that are on the list to get it next.

    9. Speaking of media, one hopes that by 2013, the media are going to start asking over and over the question “ok, so you want to save money on the NBN.. so where’s your CBA?” “Oh, so you’re going to have one once you get in, but what if it says we should have fiber”… etc

    10. Consider this very carefully. Most put pragmatism over ideology. But some won’t. We got WorkChoices thanks to a group of hardliners who put their need for “reform” over their own best political interests. Abbott was one of those. Despite the possibilities of backpedaling before the election or pragmatism after the election, don’ assume Abbott won’t just simply be a vandal.

      • @Tosh…

        That was a jaded reply…

        Where is your usual point by point rebuttal, straight form the Lib FUD handbook…

        And before you scream personal or troll, just look above to your reply to ungulate… was that really necessary?

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