Update: Malcolm Turnbull has clarified that his comments as reported in this article refer to the actions a Coalition Government would take if it won the Federal Election in September. For further background on the Coalition’s plans to conduct analysis of the NBN, also see this article.
news Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday said a Coalition Government would, following the election, release a full analysis of what Labor’s NBN project would actually take in time and money to complete, an accounting which he said would leave the Australian public “shocked”.
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.
However, 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 come as the Liberal MP has recently rejected out of hand a suggestion by NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley that Australia’s telco industry independently back a study into the best technology to deliver Australians the next-generation of broadband infrastructure, with the Shadow Communications Minister describing the NBN Co chief executive’s move as a “cheap stunt”.
Several weeks ago, as one part of a speech given to the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia, Quigley noted that there was likely to be an increasing debate in Australia this year about the merits of different broadband technologies. The Coalition is currently pushing a fibre to the node-based model for Australia’s NBN, in contrast with Labor’s more ambitious fibre to the home vision.
Having that debate was a “good thing”, Quigley said. “The choices we make about our nation’s underlying telecommunications infrastructure will have an impact on how we live, work and compete.” Quigley noted that telco industry representative body the Communications Alliance was currently considering whether to embark on a study of the different options for broadband in Australia, and added that this might represent an opportunity for the industry to have its say on the matter.
“The telecommunications industry is uniquely well-placed to provide context to various policy choices,” Quigley said, noting that the Communications Alliance had long been a forum for discussion and deliberation with respect to these kinds of issues, and might help “bring commercial reality to the theoretical debate” and give policy-makers the advantage of he best information and analysis which could be made available — not just on technical fronts, but with respect regulatory and commercial areas as well.
As he has previously, Quigley noted that it was possible to deploy a number of different technologies to serve Australia’s broadband needs — from the existing FTTP model, to the FTTN approach preferred by the Coalition, to satellite, fixed wireless and HFC cable options.
However, Turnbull instantly rejected Quigley’s comments, in a fiery statement published shortly after the NBN Co chief’s speech. Turnbull believes such a study would be more properly carried about by the Productivity Commission. “This is the most bizarre twist yet in the debate over broadband policy. Even more bizarre because Mr Quigley has made the announcement without obtaining the agreement of the Communications Alliance to commission the inquiry,” Turnbull said.
I used to have a great deal of respect for Malcolm Turnbull’s intellect; his integrity and the respectful way he appeared to be going about his role as Shadow Communications Minister. However, over the past several months that respect has been totally eroded as Turnbull’s statements regarding the NBN have grown more and more wild and outlandish.
If we go back six months to a year, Turnbull appeared to primarily be engaging in research with respect to the potential options which the Coalition could pursue with respect to the NBN. He was examining different areas of potential policy, looking at international examples, and speaking in depth to the local telecommunications industry.
In recent months, however, the Member for Wentworth’s approach has drastically changed. At the moment Turnbull appears to be spending a great deal of time speaking to radio shockjocks such as Ray Hadley and generating sound bites, while avoiding the more serious parts of the media which are more focused on the actual nuances of policy.
We see, in this new style of interview, that Turnbull has turned away from the kind of evidence-based approach to policy which regular readers will know Delimiter is so fond of. Without the slightest skerrick of evidence or context to back his statements, the Shadow Communications Minister has accused NBN Co of the grossest kind of financial and project mismanagement possible, and the Federal Government of basically burning bales of money when it comes to the NBN.
To say that I am disturbed by this new approach from Turnbull is an understatement. Right now, as I will elaborate on in further detail in another article shortly, what the NBN project most needs from the Coalition is a pledge that it will be a safe pair of hands for the project to go forward with. What we’re getting from Turnbull at the moment is a ludicrous level of baseless fire and brimstone completely out of proportion to the situation at hand. The Member for Wentworth is rapidly destroying what credibility he has had in the portfolio.
I want the rational-thinking, calm-headed, intellectual Malcolm Turnbull of days past back. This new Turnbull, the friend of radio shockjocks who seems content to throw accusations around without evidence to back them, reminds me a great deal too much of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.