news Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused the Government of targeting its own electoral seats in the National Broadband Network’s (NBN) rollout in Brisbane, where Labor suffered major losses in the recent Queensland election. NBN Co’s latest rollout plan for the next three years was announced several weeks ago.
“NBN Co roll-out maps released last week reveal an unmistakeable concordance with Federal electoral boundaries in Brisbane. But far from targeting marginal seats, the NBN rollout in Brisbane is almost entirely gerrymandered around Federal Labor’s safest Queensland seats,” said Turnbull in a statement on his site.
“In the greater Brisbane area, the Labor-held seats of Rankin, Moreton, Lilley and Griffith achieve significantly more coverage than the neighbouring LNP-held electorates of Brisbane, Ryan, Dickson and Wright. Yet many parts of the latter have inadequate broadband, such as Grange in Brisbane and Karana Downs in Ryan,” he said.
Turnbull added that the Coalition – which believed Labor’s NBN was too expensive, too detrimental to competition and would take too long to roll out – would offer a less costly alternative that would deliver better broadband sooner in areas that have poor service. “But to the extent that this network is rolled out, it should at least be targeting areas on the basis of their need for upgraded broadband, not to assist with Labor’s political survival,” he said.
Bowman MP Andrew Laming, whose electorate will not see much NBN activity prior to 2015, has also come out hard against the Government. In an article on the subject which had appeared to spur Turnbull’s rage, The Australian quoted the Liberal MP as saying: “The cold, hard reality in Brisbane is that households in Labor seats are eight times more likely to get the NBN than those in Coalition seats. Worse, the odds are around 50 per cent better if your Labor MP is a minister. This is a save-the-political-furniture strategy. They are not targeting marginal seats here. They are just trying to survive.”
“The cold statistical reality in Brisbane is that 9 out of 10 households in Labor seats represented by current or former senior Cabinet Ministers are in the rollout plan,” said Turnbull last week. “This compares to about 6 in 10 households in Labor seats held by backbenchers, and fewer than 2 in 10 households in Coalition seats.”
Communication Minister Stephen Conroy and NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley pre-empted the Opposition’s claims on the issue during the three year rollout announcement several weeks ago, stating that NBN Co’s engineers had no idea where the electoral map boundaries were.
The locations were chosen, according to NBN Co, firstly on the basis of meeting a number of policy objectives, namely that construction should take place across both rural and metropolitan areas; that construction should be across all states and territories; that the rollout in Tasmania should be finished by 2016 and that all new developments with over 100 premises should be covered.
In addition, NBN Co added a number of its own guidelines to help determine the schedule, ranging from the idea that the fixed wireless rollout should be completed in 2015 (it will target a small percentage of areas which won’t receive fibre); that satellite broadband via NBN Co’s own satellites should be available by 2015, and that areas where there were a large number of new developments should be prioritised, to avoid old technologies having to be installed — only to be replaced with the NBN later on.
Turnbull however, is not convinced. “In some places the NBN Co’s planned work boundaries literally follow the same major roads as Labor/Liberal electoral boundaries,” he said. “If this is because of clear differences in the broadband services available on either side of the road, rather than pork-barrel politics, then Labor should make public the hard evidence supporting that claim.”
I haven’t done any analysis on this issue yet with respect to the geographical boundaries, however I would find it very hard to believe that NBN Co’s engineers took the electoral map into account when they were drawing up their rollout planning. That behaviour isn’t consistent with the corporate attitude I have seen from NBN Co as a company, or the personal integrity displayed by executives such as Quigley and others.