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