NBN not transparent enough, says Oakeshott


blog Not content with repeatedly dragging NBN Co executives on a regular basis before parliamentary committees and poring over the many reports and documents the company has released, independent MP Rob Oakeshott has reportedly demanded NBN Co provide yet more information about its operations in an effort to be more transparent. The Financial Review reports (we recommend you click here for the full article):

“One of the key independent MPs who delivered Labor to government has warned that its national broadband network corporate plan must “start to really tell the truth” or risk a backlash from voters and Parliament.”

To be honest, I’m not personally sure where Oakeshott is coming from here. I mean, sure, it has been a while since NBN Co published a corporate plan, and the company is occasionally reticent about providing the most up to the minute information on its rollout and uptake figures. However, you can hardly blame it, when the Coalition and elements of the conservative media use any information release the company makes at all — no matter what the figures objectively show — to slam it repeatedly.

For my money, and I follow the NBN daily and obsessively, NBN Co is the most transparent organisation I’ve ever dealt with — more transparent than a “good company” like Internode, more open than any other government department or publicly owned organisation I’ve ever communicated with, and more transparent even than the non-profits or industry associations I’m in regular contact with. I don’t really know what more Rob Oakeshott wants from NBN Co: Lengthy diatribes which go for hours on public television and keep the nation on the edge of its seat as to election results, perhaps? But I suspect that there is no organisation in Australia which could live up to his standards.

Oakeshott’s calls for organisations to be more “open” are, we suspect, targeted at the wrong government organisation. When I think about government secrecy, NBN Co’s not the organisation which comes to mind. No, that would be the Federal Attorney-General’s Department.

Image credit: Alex Sims, Creative Commons


  1. I think Oakeshott comes across as a complete hick who likes a bit of attention. It’s a pity he ended up with the power that he did. I don’t think we would have heard of him otherwise.

    • Oakeshott is chair of the parliamentary NBN oversight committee. He may have gotten that position whether he held the balance of power or not. As the chair, he’s the correct person to make such a call if he feels it is a valid point to call.

  2. He could be referring to the new NBN corporate plan that Conroy has been sitting on.
    I suspect that Oakeshott (like myself and many others) is getting frustrated at the glacial pace of rollout.
    According to the Oz today, the new corporate plan will show that the NBN has rolled out less than 1% of what was forecast in the last 12 months.

    • Any single area takes 12 months to complete from the moment NBN Co says “go”, until the construction contractor says “done”.

      If any given month, 30 areas “start”, 12 months later, 30 areas will finish, so you’ll start hearing the completions dropping like flies within 12 months. Don’t forget, this is a BIG exercise.

      The network has only just left trial, and has been held up by the Telstra and Optus deals, and the stalling of the legislation through opposition filibustering in parliament. Anyone who remembers listening to the marathon senate session in particular will know what I’m talking about.

      Yes, we’d all like to see it run faster – but you don’t wake up one morning with a wish to land on the moon, and actually land on it the next day. It’s an engineering and project management task of huge proportions. The opposition would have you believe that making changes like this can be done in a year or two, and that of course is bulldust.

      And if – (as rumoured for some time) – NBN Co brings on second construction contractors for the eastern seaboard states, you’ll see the pace pick up even further. This could well be the “pleasing story” Conroy says is in the business plan when it is released.

      I didn’t mean this to sound like a dig at you Douglas…apologies if it did :)

      • @Michael Wyres:

        The NBN has rolled out only 1% of what they forecast they would have done by now in greenfield sites where Telstra isnt an issue.
        They missed their own forecast by over 99%.

      • Hi Michael,

        I realise it is a task of huge proportions.

        NBNCo have missed their OWN targets by >99% in the last 12 months for both rollouts and planned takeups.

        Telstra had an interim agreement with NBN that allowed NBN access to pits and pipes while the final agreement was being negotiated. You cannot just blame Telstra for everything.

        I am a massive Quigley fan, but he is the head of the NBN, and I think he really has some hard questions to answer about why they are 99% behind the targets they set THEMSELVES.

        If there are compelling reasons, as someone who has run a massive corporation like Alcatel globally, he should be explaining why he did not foresee them IMHO.

        • @Douglas

          I’m baffled as to how people can expect original predictions based on assumptions that have changed can be considered “a failure” outright, without taking into account the change OF these assumptions.

          Assumption 1- Telstra Deal completed & signed by Dec 2010
          Actual- Not signed until Sept 2011.
          Result- Unknown. Not likely a 9 month delay in construction, perhaps 2 or 3 months

          Assumption 2- Address data supplied to NBNCo. by the GNAF database is, as a whole, generally correct with minor alterations required (This data, after all, is used by MANY government departments AND private Telcos/Utilities….)
          Actual- Almost 1/3 of the GNAF data looked at was WRONG. NOT a prediction NBNCo. could’ve made.
          Result- At LEAST a 2-3 month delay looking into why it was wrong and what can be done. Result is, NBNCo. contractors will now walk/drive the streets when moving on to an individual area rollout to ensure the addresses are correct.

          Assumption 3- 14 POI’s
          Actual- 121 POI’s thrust upon them by the ACCC, thanks to lobbying by Telstra, Optus, iinet and TPG (main owners of Backhaul who stand the most to lose from smaller number of POI’s)
          Result- Network redesign during trials- possibly 1 or 2 months delay.

          Assumption 4- Greenfields Legislation locked up BEFORE Deal from Telstra was completed so NBNCo could seamlessly takeover on Jan 1st 2012
          Actual- Greenfields Legislation bandied about by Telstra and the government until March 2012. Meant NBNCo. could NOT takeover from Telstra for backlog Greenfields.
          Result- 3 Month delay MINIMUM in NBNCo. rolling out Greenfields. (over half the predicted 2011/2012 rollout)

          These were not foreseen. Could they have allowed extra time for them? Yes. But where does caution and prudence end and “stupidly long allowance so you can say you did it faster than predicted” begin?

          Please, take a pill of perspective on the NBN- The only longer (planned) infrastructure project in Australia’s history I can think of is the Snowy Mountains Scheme (on time, on budget) at around 20 years. And it was CONSTANTLY dogged by the Conservatives of being a waste of money, over-budget, over-time and ultimately pointless. And look what happened with it…..

          The NBN has been ACTUALLY rolling out for JUST over 1 month. By June next year, we’ll be seeing hundreds of THOUSANDS of Australians connected to it. It is not fair to simply call it a “massive delay”, when the trial and planning stage CANNOT be included in the start date. The start date for the NBN was July 2011. It was delayed by 1 year, almost exactly, because the assumptions the Corporate Plan was based on CHANGED. These couldn’t be foreseen. The only thing they could’ve done was increase the time given to each assumption for completion…..but then I’m sure the Coalition would’ve been complaining of “massive over-assumptions to fudge the numbers and make Labor’s NBN look less like manure than it already is.”

          • Its all because people have unrealistic expectations of how fast ‘any’ network can be built.

            We consistently hear it from both Optus and Vodafone executives. Drone drone drone … why isnt it going faster.

            The amount of planning, preplanning, scheduling and resources that needs to plan this sort of stuff ahead is immense. Now while Im not the network planner, I do see what is required – for mobile phone networks. Theres alot of resources involved and its never going to be a ‘flick of the switch’ process.

            Expectations will be unreasonable as long as it ‘seems’ that the rollout is not showing any results. Just because its slow on the surface, doesnt mean we’re all sitting around having coffee and eating crumpets.

        • “NBNCo have missed their OWN targets by >99% in the last 12 months for both rollouts and planned takeups

          These are the type of unfair figures that can only come from someone with an agenda to discredit the NBN or someone dogedly repeat the Coalition claims without thinking for themselves.

          It was a delay at the start of the rollout and since they rollout has just begun that makes the percentages huge. Are you going to clap them on the back as those percentages rapidly drop? In 5 years time you will be only able to say they are 5-10% behind, if they get a chance to continue the rollouted without being political idealised to a halt.

          Next time you have a one year project at work that is delayed by a contract signing by your way of calculating progress they should sack you after that week because you have made no progress and will never finish the project.

  3. Whilst I am a big supporter of the aims of the NBN, I am starting to get frustrated with the pace of the rollout.

    There is yet to be a person in WA connected to NBN fibre. Not sure anyone has even seen any fibre being rolled out in WA yet, 11 months after work supposedly started in Geraldton.

      • Geraldton was a second release site, so there could have been delays in start up.

        But don’t worry Muz, the NBN is still due to be compleated quicker than Duke Nukem Forever. (Just)

    • “I am starting to get frustrated with the pace of the rollout.”

      We really should have started building it in 2002. What do you say Muz? Unnecessary expense or smart thinking? I await your reply.

  4. “Lengthy diatribes which go for hours on public television and keep the nation on the edge of its seat as to election results, perhaps?” Oh god thanks for bringing that back to my memory! I almost needed a new TV after that episode :(

  5. I think Oakeshott is just being a bit fiddly here. He’s constantly been at NBNCo. to give more and more rollout coverage in the public domain. In fact, he’s spent the last 2 Senate Rollout Report’s doing little else.

    He doesn’t seem to understand that a company as large as NBNCo. (in scope, not employee size) cannot simply publish the day after they’ve rolled out, WHERE they’ve rolled out. They are working with contractors. Contractors are inefficient AND usually hopeless at keeping proper records. NBNCo. would be fighting, all the time, to get an accurate picture THEMSELVES at what is happening, let alone passing it onto the public, who would likely bleat even MORE if it WAS inaccurate….

    I think he needs to take a chill pill, get off his pedestal for a moment and get some perspective. The Corporate Plan will be with us tomorrow. I’m sure 90% of his questions will be answered then. In my eyes, he only said this with 1 day until the Plan is out to get some PR and seem like hes doing the right thing….

  6. One possible way for NBN Co. to improve it’s transparency would be to meet reporting requirements as if it was listed on the ASX.
    Such things as:
    Semi anual financial reports, and
    Quaterly operations and cash flow reports (required for “cash rich” start up companies).
    All that is currently disclosed are anual financial statements, committee submissions and the like.

    These additional financial and managment disclosures wil be able to be compared with the plan timelines and financial outcomes.

    This would give explicit information for both supporters and critics of the NBN to base their flamewars on.

    • @Lachlan

      Would that be fair on NBNCo. though? For a start, any ASX company that made 10 straight years worth of losses (as the NBN will, thanks to government objectives) would be considered a joke.

      I don’t think it is reasonable to ask a GBE to ACT like an Commercially listed company.

      • If you look at some of the listed companies, you’ll know that 7-10 years of losses is not unprecidented, Hutchinson Telecomunication has had losses from 2002 to 2009. Okay I’ll pay that as a bit of a joke.

        And given the long term nature of the NBN, and given that is projected in it’s business plan, the losses will be there regardless. If they tell people annually or quarterly, that won’t change the actual results. It will just allow people to check against the plan, and the NBN will be able to table the results to parliment each time they are called before them.
        Given that the company is projected to be eventuall listed on the ASX, it will need to meet these disclosure requirements anyway. Better design that reporting into the systems now, rather than later.

        • @Lachlan

          But that’s the point isn’t it- the LONG-Term nature of the NBN.

          The NBN, as an entity if allowed to continue, should be around for 26 years minimum before it makes a profit (overall). Most business plans work on between 5-7 years tops.

          If you treat it like an ASX company and expect quarterly statements, statements designed inherently for analysts to predict how much money people can make by investing in them, you will have people CONSTANTLY complaining. “Oh look! They expected 200 000 people this month, but they only got 175 000. LATE LATE LATE!!!!!”

          The NBN is not a commercial enterprise and should not be treated as such just for the instant gratification of impatient nit pickers.

  7. Abel Adamski got it right, right at the start.

    All this blather from Oakeshott sounds like somebody trying to cover his arse before the next election.

    And it’s not doing a damn thing to assist any genuine appraisal of the performance of NBN Co, which seems to have been reasonable but hardly spectacular so far. With all the known problems behind it now, the next twelve months should see a very different NBN story.

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