news Federal Shadow Education Minister Christopher Pyne has declined repeated requests for him to retract an inaccurate comment he made on Triple J’s Hack program last week claiming that no customers had been connected to Labor’s National Broadband Network at speeds of 100Mbps, despite evidence being provided to the contrary.
In an interview last week broadcast on Triple J’s Hack program (the audio is available online in MP3 format; Pyne’s comments are around the six minute mark), Pyne was asked to respond to a recent suggestion by Prime Minister Julia Gillard that the delivery of the Labor Federal Government’s flagship National Broadband Network infrastructure would make it easier for teachers to deliver instruction in Asian languages to students through technologies such as videoconferencing.
Pyne responded: “The National Broadband Network is not up and running. They have connected six and a half thousand households in three years under the National Broadband Network, and not one household or school has been connected at 100 megabits per second, which was the promise.”
However, unfortunately Pyne’s claim regarding the lack of 100Mbps connections on the NBN is demonstratably false. In a Senate Estimates hearing several weeks ago, NBN Co head of product development and industry relations Jim Hassell revealed that the proportion of NBN customers signing up for 100Mbps speeds close to half of the connections made so far. “What we have seen is that the top tier – the 100Mbps service – has attracted 44 percent of services,” said Hassell.
Over the past week since Pyne made the comments, Delimiter has contacted Pyne’s office repeatedly via email and telephone to request that the MP’s inaccurate statement be retracted as it was “demonstratably false”. In response, the MP issued a statement addressing his figure for the amount of NBN active connections connected so far, but without addressing the 100Mbps claim.
“It is a demonstrable fact,” said Pyne in his new statement, “that as of September 2012 only about 6,400 premises were connected to the NBN fibre optic network according to Senate Estimates, making the multi-billion dollar taxpayer funded roll-out years and years behind schedule. If Labor want to pop open the champagne corks to celebrate that figure, then they are sadly out of touch with the expectations of Australians.”
The truth of Pyne’s comment that only 6,400 Australians had connected to the NBN in total so far is unclear, as NBN Co has not disclosed the break-up of connected customers on its fibre networks, as opposed to its wireless or satellite infrastructure. However, it is likely that Pyne’s estimate is approximately correct. In NBN Co’s corporate plan released in August this year, the company said at that stage it had some 3,500 active services connected to its fibre networks, and a further 10,000 connected to its fixed wireless and satellite networks. However, as the company has entered its rapid rollout phase, NBN Co has started rapidly connecting more users.
For example, NBN Co’s head of Government, Communications and Stakeholder Relations Kieren Cooney told a Senate Estimates hearing on 16 October this year that NBN Co had bolstered the total number of active users on its network to 24,000 over just a three month period. Over the next nine months to mid-2013, that number of active users is expected to increase four-fold, to reach some 92,000 active connections. By mid-2013, NBN Co is planning to have covered some 661,000 premises in total with its network infrastructure, with about half that amount being fibre infrastructure and about half being satellite or wireless. Not all those premises will immediately start using the infrastructure, however.
Pyne’s new comment that the NBN is “years and years behind schedule” may also be inaccurate. NBN Co’s latest business plan published in August shows that the project is only six months behind schedule, due primarily to delays in negotiating with Telstra over the terms under which it will transfer its customers onto the NBN and shut down its existing copper network. The broadband company’s rapid rollout phase has commenced in the latter half of this year.
Pyne’s comments come as a number of senior members of the Coalition continue to make demonstratably inaccurate claims with respect to the NBN in the media. For example, several weeks ago Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey repeated several times an inaccurate claim that the NBN’s funding could be treated as an expense in the Federal Budget, despite the fact that accounting standards require it to be treated as a capital investment. As Pyne did, Hockey’s office similarly declined to retract the statement, claiming despite evidence provided to the contrary that it was the Shadow Treasurer’s view that his statement was correct.
Hockey’s comments come as the latest in a long line of inaccurate and misleading statements the Shadow Treasurer has made about the NBN project. Earlier this month, for example, Hockey claimed the National Broadband Network could cost as much as $100 billion to build, despite the company’s own estimates showing that it will require around $37 billion of capital injection from the Government and eventually make a return, paying back the investment with some profit on top. In June, in another example, Hockey inaccurately claimed that 4G mobile broadband had the potential to be “far superior” to the fibre technology of the NBN.
Similarly, several months ago, speaking on Channel Ten’s Meet the Press program, Nationals Leader Warren Truss made a number of major factually inaccurate statements about the project, as detailed in this article by Delimiter at the time. In addition, Truss had previously made a number of inaccurate statements about the NBN over the past several months.
In mid-May, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott misrepresented the cost of connecting to the NBN, in comments which the Government claimed represented a deliberate attempt to mislead the Australian public on the issue. Turnbull similarly made a number of factually incorrect statements on the NBN throughout March, and in January Abbott got quite a few facts about the NBN wrong in a radio interview.
The fact that Pyne has chosen not to retract his false 100Mbps statement despite being presented with evidence that it was wrong — and in fact has chosen flatly ignore the fact that he made it in the first place — is unforgivable. Australian society places a high emphasis on honesty and on admitting when we’ve done something wrong. If the Coalition wins the next Federal Election, and Pyne becomes the Federal Education Minister, will the MP similarly be unable to admit mistakes, even small ones such as the one he made on Triple J last week, when they relate to important policy decisions? Surely humility would be the better part of valour, to misquote Shakespeare.
The Shadow Education Minister’s approach to the issue is also part of what appears to be a disturbing trend from the Coalition of continuing to deny the veracity of hard evidence when it’s put to them. When speaking to the offices of Pyne and Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey over the past several weeks, we’ve witnessed similar approaches where both have refused to acknowledge evidence showing that their views on matters pertaining to the NBN are inaccurate. This sort of denialist approach, to put it mildly, is not the sort of behaviour we like to see from leading Australian politicians. Sound government policy must always be based on evidence, not opinion; especially when that opinion can be shown to be inaccurate. To pursue any other path is to turn away from rational thought — which should be anathema for the leaders of any modern society.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull