news Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has accused his Opposition counterpart of intentionally spreading “hysterical claims” in comments made this week with respect to budget treatment of National Broadband Network funding, in the latest spat between the two over the high-profile infrastructure project.
In a statement issued this morning, Turnbull claimed that “well over a million premises” would not receive the NBN infrastructure on the dates promised in what he said was NBN Co’s “increasingly discredited” corporate plan delivered in 2012, basing the claim on figures pulled from Federal Budget papers published last night.
“The Budget reveals Labor has cut its planned equity investment in the NBN between this financial year and 2014-15 by $3.5 billion, or 20 per cent,” said Turnbull. “The gutting of the NBN’s funding is a clear admission it is disastrously behind the schedule unveiled by Stephen Conroy and Julia Gillard only nine months ago, in August 2012.”
“On 19 April, CEO Michael Quigley told a Parliamentary committee NBN Co was running fibre past established homes and businesses at a cost of about $2300 per premise. If Mr Quigley’s figure is accurate, the huge reduction in investment means 1.5 million premises scheduled to receive the NBN by June 2016 will not have it by this date. The Government must come clean today on which Australians expecting the NBN will miss out.”
“Julia Gillard must level with the Australian people, and provide an open and honest account of who will be affected by NBN Co’s latest massive fail – a colossal shortfall in its construction rollout now recognised by the Budget cutbacks. Last night’s figures confirm precisely what the Coalition has said for the past four years: The Labor NBN is unaffordable within the currently claimed budget and undeliverable on the currently claimed schedule.”
However, Conroy immediately fired back, stating that the Liberal MP’s “hysterical claims” were false and highlighted his incompetence. “Mr Turnbull’s latest effort suggests that a reduction in equity provided to NBN Co in the Budget somehow means people will miss out on Labor’s NBN,” Conroy said.
“The facts are NBN Co’s equity is appropriated each year and then drawn down as required. In the current financial year, equity requirements were less than anticipated, reflecting the reforecast rollout schedule.” In March this year, NBN Co revealed that it was three months behind its current rollout schedule.
“The Budget reconfirms the total government equity contributions to NBN Co will be up to $30.4 billion,” Conroy added. “This compares with the $29.5 billion that Malcolm Turnbull intends to borrow to build an inadequate network that will be obsolete by the time it is built.”
“Mr Turnbull also claims that the equity provided to NBN Co is only for rolling out fibre to established homes and businesses. Mr Turnbull is either incompetent or being deliberately misleading. Labor’s NBN is being rolled out to all Australians – in greenfields and brownfields, via fibre, fixed wireless and satellite technologies.”
Conroy said the Coalition’s rival NBN policy had been “dismissed as a lemon”, and the Member for Wentworth was now grasping at anything he could to try to discredit Labor’s NBN policy.
“The only way Australians will miss out on the NBN is if the Coalition wins the next election and disconnects 9 million households from getting fibre to the home for free.,” said Conroy. “Mr Turnbull’s claim can be added to a litany of lies that the Coalition has told to hide the fact that they are planning to build the broadband equivalent of a Sydney Harbour Bridge with only one lane. “Lies such as the NBN costs $90 billion; lies like the NBN should be on-Budget; and lies like Malcolm Turnbull can build his inadequate network for a third of the cost of Labor’s.”
Conroy is correct in that a number of senior Coalition members have made inaccurate statements about the NBN over the past several years. However, a number of senior Labor figures have also made inaccurate statements regarding the Coalition’s own NBN policy since it was released in mid-April, including Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
So who’s right here? Personally, I rather believe Conroy on this one. There is simply no demonstratable causal link between shifting NBN funds around in the budget and further delays to the project’s rollout schedule. Of course the NBN is already delayed, but for Turnbull to use budget statements to imply further delays — without any form of documentary evidence — is flatly ridiculous. It appears as though Turnbull is merely extrapolating a link which isn’t obviously there, and over-simplifying the NBN funding and rollout situation.
Budget statements from the Opposition are, every year (whether that year the Opposition is Labor or Coalition), often prepared at haste to get into the media cycle dominated by the Government of the day’s budget media frenzy. It appears as though Turnbull has let his standards slip and gotten himself into an unsustainable situation with this one.
It’s a pity — I was just starting to take the Earl of Wentworth’s media releases seriously again. I wasn’t even going to bother reporting this one, it was so bad, but Conroy’s own release at least provided enough material to give this pathetic little spat the lustre of the Senator’s classic ministerial contempt in action.
Actually, why not start a system of rating NBN press releases? Mr Turnbull, I give yours only 3/10. At least enough research was done to ascertain that NBN funds were being shifted around in the budget. But by dreaming up a direct causal link with NBN Co’s rollout schedule without any evidence, you lose seven points. On the contrary, I give Conroy’s press release 6/10. Unlike Turnbull’s, Conroy’s media release was mainly based in fact, but the Minister loses points for even bothering to respond to Turnbull’s unprovable claims to start with; and its insults aren’t contemptuous enough for a Senator of Conroy’s debating stature to really entertain me. Both sides can do better.