Abbott confirms Turnbull as future Comms Minister


news Opposition Leader Tony Abbott confirmed over the weekend that he expected Malcolm Turnbull to become Communications Minister and have responsibility for the National Broadband Network project in a Coalition Government, following his time as Shadow Minister since September 2010.

In a doorstop interview in Western Sydney on Saturday, Abbott was asked whether Turnbull would be made the Treasurer in an Abbott Government. Joe Hockey currently holds the Shadow Treasurer role, but Turnbull’s name is often mentioned in the context of the treasury role due to his past history as an investment banker and lawyer.

Abbott responded: “Malcolm is the Shadow Minister for Communications. He’s doing a really good job of exposing the fact that the National Broadband Network is a complete white elephant. He’s doing a very good job of promoting our real solution, which is national broadband that doesn’t involve digging up every street to deliver fibre to the home whether you want it, need it or can afford to pay three times the current price for it. He’s doing a very good job and I expect that Malcolm will be the Communications Minister in an incoming government.”

Abbott was also asked to respond to comments by Turnbull that an Abbott Government would follow a more consultative, Westminster style approach to governing, compared with Labor’s model. “Is that what you plan to do?” a journalist asked the Opposition Leader.

“Absolutely,” replied Abbott, “and look, Malcolm is doing an excellent job and I’m a traditionalist as everyone knows and I think if the current government had had more due process and less panicked and arbitrary decision-making, our country would be in much better shape. So, of course there will be a proper cabinet process operating under the Coalition. I think people want strong and stable government and they understand that cabinet government is there for a reason.”

The comments reflect the second time Abbott has praised Turnbull’s performance in the portfolio this year and hinted that he would be Communications Minister in a Coalition Government. In late January, Abbott backed Turnbull’s rival NBN policy (based on fibre to the node and re-use of the existing HFC cable infrastructure) and praised Turnbull’s performance as Shadow Minister.

“We won’t throw good money after bad but we won’t dismantle what’s been built. Our fibre-to-the-node plan will deliver superfast broadband for a fraction of the price and in a fraction of the time required to deliver fibre to the front door. And Malcolm Turnbull is the right person to give Australians a 21st Century network because he is one of Australia’s internet pioneers.”

The news comes as Turnbull has this week given further details about what his first moves as Communications Minister would be.

In an interview with 2GB radio host Ray Hadley yesterday, the full transcript of which Turnbull has published on his website, the Liberal MP said the waste of money and delays in the NBN project as it currently stands were “shocking”. “The incompetence is startling,” Turnbull added “… That is just a recipe to get skinned … The NBN Co’s management have no discipline. No financial discipline at all.”

“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do,” Turnbull added, in response to a question about how the Coalition would deal with the NBN if it won the election. “We are going to tell the Australian people the truth about the NBN. We will publish as soon as possible within literally within a few months if not sooner a full analysis of what it is going to cost in dollars and time to complete the network on Labor’s plan. And I think people will be shocked by that.”

“They will be absolutely rocked by it. And then we’ll publish how much time and money you can save by making certain variations and then what we’ll then do with that information we’ll then say right, these are the changes we can make and you can see why we’re doing it. And we’ll do the analysis, the cost-benefit analysis that these guys never did.”

Turnbull’s comments have been greeted by dozens of comments by members of Australia’s technology industry calling for the Shadow Minister to present evidence to back his claims that NBN Co’s management is incompetent and that the company is wasting money on its predominantly fibre rollout.

Currently the National Broadband Network Company plans to finish deploying its fibre network to most of the Australian population by 2021 (although its satellite and wireless components will be delivered much earlier, through 2015), at a total cost of $59.1 billion, including $35.9 billion of capital expenditure and some $23.2 billion of operating expenditure, although that operating expenditure will be offset by revenues in the same period. The company plans to use some government funding to complete the network and some private sector debt, with the eventual plan to pay back the Government’s investment with an additional return on top of seven percent.

Although the company has suffered some delays in its rollout, due primarily to the difficulty of finalising its agreement with Telstra and an expanded remit over greenfields estates, NBN Co currently appears broadly on track with its deployment plans. In addition, uptake of the NBN’s higher value plans has been stronger than projected, leading to suggestions that it may be able to repay the Government’s investment in NBN Co sooner or cut its wholesale costs.

“Malcolm’s ‘Shocking NBN truth’ is that he appears to have consistently and wilfully misrepresented the NBN while demonstrating that he hasn’t got a clue about the detail of his alleged alternative policy,” wrote one commenter on Delimiter in response to Turnbull’s comments.

“If Turnbull has evidence that NBN Co is wasting money hand over fist (and he is basically saying that he does), then lets see it. Now,” wrote another commenter. “NBN Co spending money to do the job they have been tasked with is NOT waste Malcolm. Furthermore, he’d best be careful with his words where no evidence exists.”

The news also comes as significant doubts have recently been raised as to whether the Coalition’s predominantly fibre to the node-based NBN policy (as opposed to Labor’s fibre to the premise-based rollout) is actually feasible and would deliver along the lines the Coalition has suggested. In an extensive article entitled The vast differences between the NBN and the Coalition’s alternative, ABC Technology + Games Editor Nick Ross drew on a large number of sources to show that by almost any measure — technical, financial or on outcomes such as productivity increases — the Coalition’s broadband policy was inferior compared with Labor’s current NBN strategy.

In a number of high-profile interviews over the past six months, Turnbull has repeatedly refused to disclose key details of the Coalition’s NBN policy, saying only that it is expected to cost significantly less than Labor’s policy and be rolled out faster.

By Coalition standards, it is probably true to say that Turnbull’s doing an “excellent job”, in that he has been successful at generating a debate about the fundamental dynamics of the NBN. However, by the standards of good policy, rational political debate and responsibility to the electorate, I would argue that Turnbull has been doing a shocking job. Turnbull has consistently made grand accusations against NBN Co and the Government in this portfolio, especially over the past six months, but without presenting significant evidence to back up his assertions, and without presenting the Coalition’s rival policy. I don’t call that an “excellent job”. I call it misleading the electorate and playing politics with Australia’s largest ever infrastructure project.

If Turnbull does become Communications Minister — and based on current polling, it looks like he will do — I can promise the Member for Wentworth that I will personally ensure the same rigorous fact-checking and accountability standards are applied to his tenure as Stephen Conroy was treated to during the first few years of his period in the post, when Conroy was the Rudd Government’s public face to sell its Internet filter project. I suggest the honourable member consult with his Labor colleague for his thoughts on the experience.

Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull


  1. I willing to bet that Abbott doesn’t have a clue wtf is going on and hasn’t paid any attention to broadband at all. Look at his comment which is nothing but a recycled compilation of misinformation he has said in the past. No effort at all. He’s taking your vote for granted.

    • We have one now, his name is Stephen Conroy.
      Ignore the filtering crap, its miniscule compared to what he has done with the NBN atm.

    • “When will we have someone in power who knows what thay are doing?”

      When you vote for me.

    • Well Labor MP’s are still parroting the tired mantra that the Coalition will ‘rip up the NBN’ despite Abbott and Turnbull saying they will not, and Turnbull talking it one step further and saying they will honor any existing contracts.

      • Where has Labor said that lately alain? Seriously, I havent seen it for a while so am curious as to where its been said. If it is still being stated, its as disappointing as Abbott’s claims. Though he’s still spreading far more FUD than Labor ever has.

        As for honoring the existing contracts, I’m still very dubious about that. Honoring contracts could simply be to complete rollouts where they have commenced, and renegotiate ones that havent started yet. I’m pretty sure he’s said something along those lines in the past.

        I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt at the moment, and hope that the 3 years of contracted rollouts will go ahead, but I wont be surprised if no FttH rollouts commence if/when LNP take power.

          • OK, the NBN zealot in me looks at that article and doesnt see the specific claim that LNP will rip it up, but the term demolish could be taken that way so not going to argue the point.

            In the contect of where its said, it refers to Abbott not spending any money upgrading, so I would take it as demolishing the ideals of the NBN rather than demolishing whats already been built.

            But as its a bit ambiguous, and I can see how it could be taken as ripping up whats been built, then I’ll agree to be disapointed. At the very least I’m disapointed that such language was used.

          • ‘But as its a bit ambiguous,’

            ‘They (the Liberals) will rip the NBN out of the ground’

            Nothing ambiguous in that one eh?

          • If you get back to this – I’m not seeing that line in the story alain. Might not be seeing the whole story, which can easily happen if there’s a paywall (no idea either way), but as I cant see that specific line in the story I’m at a loss.

            As I said, from what I can see, it can be taken a few ways, so not going to argue the point. If there is an extended version of the story I’m not seeing, then so be it. As I said, I’m disappointed they are still tossing that line out.

            I’d post what I can see in the story, but thats not part of the rules. The line you reference certainly isnt in the story I’m reading though. With that in mind, the article (ie, just seeing the ‘destroy’ lines) IS a bit ambiguous.

      • @alain

        Except that they will. No, not physically, that’s going a step too far. But they ARE ripping up the contracts and whole ideas surrounding the NBN to change it simply to be “different” from Labor.

        And from the point of view of someone who’s not yet got the NBN, but potentially going to until the Coalition comes in….they ARE ripping it up.

        • Where are they ripping up contracts, the Coalition are not in any position (yet) to rip anything up, or do you mean in some sort of meta physical ripping up of contracts?

          • @alain

            Changing a contract involves ripping it up and making a new one, even with substantial areas that are the same. And I think you’d be surprised how much will have to be changed to get FTTN.

          • We are referring to two separate things here, first of all Turnbull has stated all existing NBN contracts will be honoured, that means they remain as is, no ripping up no changes.

            Secondly any new contracts will be contracts in their own right separate from existing NBN contracts made before the election and these new contracts will be based on whatever Coalition policy is enacted post election, whether that be FTTN or FTTH or whatever.

            Constant use of the term ‘ripping it up’ over and over and over has some emotional impact when you are trying to gain argument traction but it’s not what has been stated by the Coalition is going to happen.

          • @alain

            Except for all intents and purposes they ARE ripping up the ONE contract that matters- 93% FTTP. Without ubiquity, it isn’t an NBN. It is just another network upgrade. And Coalition’s of teh past have been SO good at those….

      • alain, until Turnbull and Abbott bring forth policy, we cannot assume anything.

        The comments and statements have always stated that the NBN is a waste. Turnbull has just stated there is to be a “shock” post election regarding the NBN.

        These are not the words from someone whom has ANY intention of maintaining a Labor policy, of which the NBNco is a part. Until there is policy and clear direction, we can only, only go on statements; and those statements continue to sell the need to stop NBN, review and redo leveraging the CAN.

        I really wish you’d stop sugar coating the Liberal response as “you’ll be fine” – it stifles the debate and downplays what is at stake.

        • Of course the will be shock post election because when you change from a GBE to cash handouts all that. money has to go onto the budget current accounts and if you wind up the GBE you need to put any debt incurred onto the budget current accounts.

  2. If you think about it, it’s a smart move for Abbott to make from an internal party politics point of view. He’s given the only viable alternative leader of the Liberal party a portfolio with marching orders to demolish an extremely publicly popular policy. It will erode Turnbull’s support in the community and reduce his viability as a challenger to Tony Abbott. I’m half expecting Abbott to announce Turnbull will also be Minister for Immigration any day now…

  3. The promise means nothing. Abbott can change his mind and make Turnbull Minister for Shoes, Ships and Sealing Wax if he wants to after the election.

  4. If only the polls were closer… Currenty the LNP can do whatever they want with NBN policy and still hang on to a handy lead. If things were tighter they would be forced to adopt Labor’s NBN to ensure they get over the line. I know of plenty of people who would change their vote to Liberal if they agreed to keep Labour’s NBN. A leadership change would also help greatly.

    ^^^ All moot though, as the LNP can’t seem to do anything wrong at the moment and the polls show that they will probably walk it in.

  5. Well it about time the Labor reps and especially Conroy started telling the truth, LOUD and CLEAR. Get the facts out there to the public.

    I see them,at the moment, just sitting back and taking it. Get on the back foot people and prove that Turnbull is full of shit. Start shouting it from the rooftops and any where else. get on TV and explain the FACTS. Stop letting the BS artists win over the general public with empty rhetoric.

    At least Abbott has announced his policies….hahahahahha

  6. Why would Abbott come out and say this now? A few months ago he said the current front bench would be the front bench should they win the next election.

  7. yet only in australia where a sitting member of Parliament can own stocks in a telco internationally which likely has stocks in our local market and cause a shit stir in our own market, gets around slagging off this is what’s going to happen if we get in, when he knows he shouldn’t even have the portfolio he has got, dur to a conflict of interest..

    I know if a local gov or state gov official has a conflict of interest with business ties they are not suppose to be in the room and on the discussion panel, severe fines or disbarment can happen…

    • That sitting member of Parliment Wouldnt think investing in a company rolling out FttH is a good idea, yet thinks its a bad idea if Australia would he (or she)? Or personally back FttH through such a personal investment, yet politically do everything in his (or her) power to prevent it here?

      Couldnt happen, surely…

      • Those investment companies are also rolling out FTTN, so it is more like the Coalition plan than you think.

        • Sure they are, but The Turnbull invested in them specifically because he thought their plan to roll out FttH was a good one, and that there was no risk to his investment.

          Then turns around and says its bad if Australia does the same thing. Very hypocritical.

          If he is so against FttH then he should consider any major company rolling it out to be at risk, and sell his shares. But he hasnt.

          • But you missed the point or avoided it, those companies have a mix of products INCLUDING FTTN mobiles and wireless, to zero in on ONLY the FTTH product in their product range and say that means Turnbull should therefore support the Labor NBN rollout which is ALL about FTTH with a small percentage of wireless and satellite is really grasping at straws to make a case.

            I repeat if the Coalition plan is to have a private/ Government partnership mix of FTTH, FTTN wireless and satellite it is more like those overseas teleco’s than the wholesale only 100% Government owned NBN Co is.

  8. Renai, I know the following questions I am asking is off topic but could your readers education me please. I know the government is raising 27 billion in the form of government bonds and that 10 billion will be raised by NBN special bonds in the future and that 11 billion and the 800 million will be given to Telstra and Optus,
    Q1 is this 11 billion and 800 million included in the original 27 billion or is it separate.

    Q2 What do we get from Telstra for our 11 billion, I know they have to swap their customers over to fibre after its been available for 18 months and NBN has access to their pits, ducts and exchanges but I read somewhere that Telstra has to maintain the fibre for 30 years after its been completed is this wrong or right.

    • 1) The $27 billion is the government funded proportion of the $36b CAPEX. The $11 billion and $800 million falls under what is known as OPEX. Other OPEX to note is ongoing maintence.

      To be specific, CAPEX is money spent that produces an asset. OPEX is expenses that don’t. The total amount, including OPEX, is around $60b, however it rarely recorded in this manner because OPEX can usually be paid off (and there is no indications that this isn’t the case for NBNCo) directly from Revenue.

      2) We get access to the ducts and Telstra is obligated to perform remediation work on these ducts so that they are fit for purpose, exchange space and dark fibre for $5b for the next 35 years with options to extend.

      For a further $1b Telstra are relieved of the USO and fibre provisioning requirements set forth by the government.

      Another $1b is for retraining of staff and other “USO related activities”, whatever that means.

      Finally, the remainder, at $4b, is dedicated to, similar to the $800m given to Optus, for migration of their existing customer base onto the NBN.

      There is a good breakdown here. Including a note that a cancelation fee of $500 million will apply if more than 20% of premises have been passed. (Presumably this is why members of the Coaltion are on the record asking NBNCo not to sign any-more contracts because we get close to this 20% figure if NBNCo continues).

      • Little extra to clear up a couple of things that can confuse.

        CAPEX = CAPital EXpenses, or what it costs to build the thing.

        OPEX = OPerating EXpenses, or what it costs to run the thing.

        Budgetting-wise, there is a BIG difference between the two, and for the purposes of educating the masses, its important to differentiate between the two. Otherwise the $60b claim gains traction, and the project does appear to be far more expensive than it should.

        If people argue the $60b line, be clear to split the costs into ~$37b CAPEX and ~$23b OPEX, and point out that the OPEX costs are going to be incurred whichever model is rolled out.

        Anti-NBN (or pro-LNP, take your pick) try to make the comparison of $15b vs $60b by playing with these numbers in this way when the reality means the costs are going to be much much closer than they care to admit.

  9. Either way, I’m checking myself into a mental health clinic after the election. It’s too much for me to keep track of!

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