news Opposition Leader Tony Abbott this week said the fact that the Australian population overwhelmingly believed long-time rival Malcolm Turnbull would be the best choice for leader of the Liberal Party indicated that Turnbull was doing “a really good job” as Shadow Communications Minister, including his ongoing attacks on Labor’s National Broadband Network project.
Polling released by Galaxy Research this week showed that 60 percent of those polled believed Turnbull would be the best choice for leader of the Federal Liberal Party, with only 29 percent believing Abbott would be the best choice and 11 percent uncommitted. However, support for Turnbull was much higher amongst Labor supporters, with 75 percent believing him to be the best choice. Amongst Coalition supporters the pair were neck and neck, with 51 percent preferring Turnbull and 45 percent preferring Abbott. The survey canvassed about 1,000 voters and is intended as a representative sample of the Australian population.
Turnbull was previously the Leader of the Opposition from September 2008 through December 2009, before he narrowly lost the leadership to Abbott. Since September 2010 he has served as Shadow Communications Minister, attempting to hold Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and flagship Labor initiatives such as the NBN to account.
This week Abbott was asked to respond to the polling in a doorstop interview in Canberra (the full transcription is available online). “I think that Malcolm is doing a really good job as the Shadow Minister for Communications,” Abbott said, “and the fact that more and more people are realising that the National Broadband Network is the wrong way to go about giving Australians faster and more affordable broadband is in large measure a testimony to his effectiveness in prosecuting that case.”
Since his appointment to lead the communications portfolio for the Coalition, Turnbull has regularly attacked the NBN project on a number of issues ranging from the speed of its rollout, to the management performance and credentials of NBN Co’s executive team, to the fundamental technology underpinning the network infrastructure rollout, the competitive outcomes expected to result in the telecommunications industry from the NBN and a host of other issues.
However, polling over that time has consistently shown that the Australian population continues to support the project. The latest research was conducted by Essential Media in September. It found that 43 percent of Australians felt the Labor Federal Government had made a good decision in pursuing the NBN project, with 28 percent believing it had been a bad decision. 22 percent said the decision was neither bad not good, while seven percent didn’t know. And a number of other polls conducted by Essential over the past year have found similar results.
A similar study conducted in October by the Swinburne University of Technology asked those surveyed to respond to the following question: ‘Do you think the development of the National Broadband Network is a good idea?’ According to the report, 35 percent strongly agreed with the proposition, and 32 percent agreed. Some 13 percent sat in the middle with an answer of ‘neither’, while 13 percent disagreed, and 7 percent strongly disagreed. An independent report commissioned by the Federal Government and delivered in May found that rural and regional Australian communities were strongly committed to the NBN project, with a focus on maximising the potential of the infrastructure when it arrives in their area.
Turnbull’s vision for the future of the NBN, should the Coalition win the next Federal Election, would see the Coalition ask the Productivity Commission to investigate the best way in which next-generation broadband should be rolled out to Australians. It is then likely that the Coalition would modify the NBN rollout to focus on fibre to the node instead of fibre to the home technology, as well as stopping the closure of the HFC cable networks operated by Telstra and Optus, and using satellite and wireless technologies to serve rural areas.
However, much of the policy detail has not yet been disclosed, and it remains unclear whether Turnbull’s vision is fully supported by the Shadow Cabinet, with several senior Coalition politicians expressing views of broadband policy that may diverge from Turnbull’s vision – such as Abbott’s statement last week that Australia’s broadband situation was best addressed by the competitive market. In addition, The Australian newspaper has reported that there is “widespread” concern within Liberal Party ranks about how effectively Turnbull has made the case against the NBN, with some reportedly believing that Turnbull’s policy platform was too close to Labor’s own vision.
Does Tony Abbott really believe that Malcolm Turnbull is doing a “really good job” in the Communications portfolio? I’m not sure, to be honest. However, I suspect that Abbott doesn’t follow events in the portfolio closely enough to really be able to judge whether Turnbull is having an impact on the National Broadband Network debate and the public’s perception of the NBN or not. Abbott usually appears to completely ignore the portfolio, and at times his understanding of Coalition broadband policy appears to be quite out of date.
I interpret his statement this week about Turnbull’s performance as being a basic attempt to divert attention from the fact that the Australian population has long preferred Turnbull as the leader of the Liberal Party over Abbott. I can’t tell you how many people, when they find out I report on Turnbull a fair bit because of his position, immediately tell me that no matter how they usually vote, they would vote for the Coalition in the next Federal Election if Turnbull was its leader again. That fact hasn’t gone away, and both Abbott and Turnbull are painfully aware of it. The fact of the matter is that, especially against Labor led by Julia Gillard, a Turnbull-led Coalition would win the next Federal Election pretty handily. I’ve long believed it is only a matter of time before Abbott stumbles one too many times and the Liberal Party is forced to turn back to Turnbull to keep its election hopes alive.