NBN: Can’t we all just get along?


blog So far the National Broadband Network debate over the past several years since Malcolm Turnbull became Shadow Communications Minister has been broadly polite, with both sides rationally examining and critiquing each other’s approach in a calm manner, while engaging in a gentle friendly rivalry about who has the best policy. Oh, wait, I’m wrong. It’s actually become a a bile-filled cesspit of misleading statements, public slander, irrelevancy and flat-out lies. How could I forget? After all, I have the “privilege” of bathing my tortured brain in it every day. But at least things hadn’t quite descended to the level they eventually did this morning in ZDNet’s live debate between Turnbull and his opposite, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy (watch the whole thing online here). Most of the debate was civil, but News.com.au has a brief precis of some of the nasty bits:

Senator Conroy said Mr Turnbull’s policy of using copper lines was “the dumbest piece of public policy” he had encountered. Mr Turnbull said the minister had been “insulting the intelligence of people” with an un-costed, un-analysed NBN policy … “You are so desperate that all you can do is smear people. You poor fellow. Such a grub, Stephen,” Mr Turnbull replied.

Now, let me say that I’m far from what most people would call a responsible adult. I’m a journalist — already viewed by 90 percent of the population as amongst the lowest form of bottom-feeding gutter trash. And worse, I’m the kind who sticks by his convictions, which means even many of my fellow journalists by now believe I’m an “awful human being”. However, I am adult enough to know pathetic kindergarten insults when I see them. Messieurs Conroy and Turnbull, I feel I should make you aware that if your mothers were listing to this morning’s debate, they would have made you wash your mouths out with soap, and probably sent you to your room without dinner.

Plus there’s the fact that this morning’s round wasn’t even up to the pair’s usual high standards. Minister Conroy, I remind you that if you are planning to reprimand a member of the Coalition, that fine old Labor tradition (see: Paul Keating) demands you at least do it in a way that the rest of us find wryly entertaining. Almost two decades of service in the Senate should have delivered you a laundry list of amusing aphorisms that would boil the blood of silver spoon aristocrats such as Turnbull. We refer you to your previous Senate Estimates performances, if you’re seeking inspiration. And as for the Earl of Wentworth, we need hardly remind him that describing a senior member of the Labor Party as a “grub” is hardly befitting his blue blood status. Turnbull has plenty of examples of old blood lordlings such as Francis Urquhart to draw from in dealing with such common, unlanded riffraff.

Come on, chaps. If you’re going to have words with each other, at least use some decent creative licence. Or perhaps recruit a specialist consultant to help you come up with some crackers. As an ethical journalist, after all, I can’t be bribed with material goods. But I am usually inclined to think more favourably of politicians whose antics give me a good belly laugh from time to time. Perhaps this is, after all, the best we can hope for from 2013’s NBN debate: Not a better quality of truth about the project, but only a better quality of insult.

Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull


  1. Why can’t they get along? I thought we’d had this discussion over the past months.
    Isn’t it because Unca Rupey doesn’t want the NBN as Labor want to build it.
    It’ll spoil his plans for PayTV domination…

  2. Dammit, cannot these representatives of the people, who need to work together in the face of ignorance and sectional interests, for the benefit of the greater general populace, behave responsibly, maturely, intelligently and independent of bias, as they do in the peoples home of democracy, the federal parliament?

    … no, wait…

  3. Roll the eyes and mutter a bit. No not at you Renai. I mean if I could be bothered I’d start a campaign to have everybody in Australia just have their names crossed off and not actually vote.

    I think it would be “interesting” if 80% of the voting population didn’t. Though I suspect the winner on the 20% would carry on and crow about mandates and such regardless. Local State Federal they are all bloody useless.

    I seriously think the general feeling for politics and politicians is lower than it has ever been. Crap like this just drives me spare. Trouble is it’s pretty much the norm. Apathy rules because we let it. But life’s too short to to bother isn’t it. Waaaay too short.


  4. Well said Renai, the same applies to all the current crop of pollies of both stripes…

  5. Do what’s right for the Australian people? Well I never! :)
    Would be nice to get rid of all the old wood in parliment and fill it with younger people.
    People who catch the train/bus everyday to work, who will probably realise they will never own their own home, etc… Someone who actually has a clue as to what’s going on in the normal everyday life of an Australian.
    Sorry kind of started to go off there :)

  6. Cracker of an article. If you really want to make enemies then tell the truth.

    In fact, I find that’s the problem with this Labor government is that they do tell the truth most of the time and people don’t like it. Beating someone with a well thought out argument based on facts is definitely the way to make yourself the least popular person (amongst the great unwashed).

    The Liberals are the Facebook generation. Lie to everyone so they can all pretend to be happy. Just don’t remind them that reality is still waiting for them… :)

  7. I was quite the Joust and Conroy really managed to get under Turnbull’s skin which I found quite entertaining as he’s usually unflappable.

    My only complaint was that Josh needs to brush up on his Moderating skills as he let both of them run a bit wild on more than one occasion – personally I’d have cut their mikes while the other was speaking to prevent them talking over each other.

  8. Btw I thought this response from conroy really nailed it the difference between the two policies:

    There isn’t a Government enterprise anywhere in the world or non incumbent Telco doing what Malcolm is planning on doing – buying! Telstra’s Copper…. gotta be, “the dumbest piece of public policy” – I have seen in my 17 years in Parliament – Buying an asset you know is degrading in the ground

  9. re: “awful human being”.

    ah wouldn’t worry about it Renai, gizmodo is the today tonight of IT journalism.

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