news Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has publicly accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of telling “shocking lies” about the National Broadband Network and the Coalition’s rival NBN policy, as election tensions continue to grow between the two major sides of politics over the issue of who’s telling the truth about the key project.
In a press conference in Brisbane yesterday, Rudd said: “… our new approach to the future is an NBN for the future, the other lot are saying they will disconnect the NBN … the National Broadband Network, we will connect it to peoples’ homes and businesses for free”.
“The National Broadband Network is there for all Australians and we will not have a divide between rich people and poor people, remote areas and inner city areas,” added Rudd. “We want to have fibre optic cable to lift peoples’ lives, to add productivity right across the country and we stand by our policy and are proud of it.”
It’s not clear what Rudd’s claim that the Coalition would “disconnect” the NBN was referring to, but it appears likely the Prime Minister was using the word “disconnect” as a figure of speech rather than as a hard technical term. The Coalition’s NBN policy features a markedly different “fibre to the node” rollout style, as opposed to Labor’s fibre to the premises approach, but the Coalition is not planning to disconnect any existing NBN infrastructure as part of its policy.
Rudd’s claim that connecting to Labor’s NBN will be “free”, implying that it won’t be “free” to connect to the Coalition’s NBN infrastructure, refers to a certain aspect of the Coalition’s policy.
The Coalition’s policy will see most of Australia covered by fibre to the node technology, where fibre is extended from telephone exchanges to neighbourhood ‘nodes’. The existing copper network will be used to deliver the last mile to home and business premises, but the rollout is expected to significantly boost broadband speeds and availability, with the Coalition pledging minimum speeds of 25Mbps by the end of its third year in office, if it wins the upcoming Federal Election.
Subject to certain conditions, one additional feature of the policy will see the Coalition offer Australians the choice to upgrade their connection to fibre to the premises as under Labor’s existing NBN policy. The Coalition believes it will be possible to offer this kind of service on a similar basis as it is offered in the UK, where wholesale telco OpenReach is offering so-called ‘fibre on demand’ extension services at a price depending on how far premises are from their nearby node.
According to OpenReach’s price list, costs for the fibre extension service include a £500 (AU$823) initial connection fee and ‘annual rental’ cost of £465 (AU$765), plus a specific charge ranging from £200 (AU$329) up to £3,500 (AU$5,762), depending on the distance premises are from local nodes.
Throughout the past several months, this has led a number of Australian Labor politicians, including then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard and then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, to claim that the cost of the Coalition’s FTTP on demand service will be $5,000, with the implication that unless Australians pay for this fibre extension cost, they will be getting broadband little better than that offered today on Telstra’s existing copper network.
However, the Coalition has strongly contested the claim, and in May, local fact-checking site Politifact agreed with Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the claim wasn’t true. Despite this, Labor politicians around Australia have continued to claim that the cost of connecting to the Coalition’s version of the NBN will be $5,000.
The Sydney Morning Herald has also published an article containing expert commentary backing the Coalition’s claims that Labor’s ads contain false information.
In a doorstop interview in Sydney yesterday, Turnbull strongly attacked Rudd directly for his statements on the NBN.
“In his first television advertisement, Kevin Rudd said he looked forward to a new, more considered style of politics,” Turnbull said. “But now on day two of the campaign, he has told two shocking lies about the NBN. He said that connecting to Labor’s NBN is free. That is a lie: It is not free. If you want to be connected to Labor’s NBN or any NBN – whether it is completed under a Labor Government or a Coalition Government – you’re going to have to buy a plan from a telecommunications company, Telstra or Optus or iiNet or someone like that. So it’s not free. Politifact, the fact-checking website, has found that statement – which Labor has made again and again – to be false. It is a shocking lie and the Prime Minister should correct it.”
And then later in Turnbull’s press conference: “Kevin Rudd knows what he is saying is false, so he’s lying. He’s not just getting something wrong, it’s not a howler, it’s not a blunder, it’s not a gaffe – it’s a lie. Kevin Rudd knows that broadband networks around the world typically have a range of technologies of the kind we are proposing. And if he doesn’t know that, he ought to. So what he is telling you about our policy is a lie. I don’t throw that word around lightly. But he knows what he is saying is false. He is saying it deliberately in the hope that people will believe him.”
Turnbull also heavily criticised Communications Minister Anthony Albanese, for having noted that NBN Co had some 4,500 contractors working for the company in August.
“A few months ago in Senate estimates, the NBN Co itself said that by June 30 this year it would have 7,500 contractors employed,” said Turnbull. “So there are 3,000 fewer people working for the NBN Co today than they thought were going to be working for it by June 30. Now that explains one of the causes for the NBN co missing its targets, for so many contractors walking off the job, not being able to make margin, for subcontractors not being paid. And for the rollout schedule being so far behind.”
“This project is in crisis. It is failing.As with so many things with Mr Rudd there’s plenty of promise. But after four years, precious little is being done to deliver fast broadband. Right now the NBN Co has connections, active connections, to about 33,000 Australians on their fibre network. That’s four years work. At that rate, Australians will be waiting decades to get their broadband upgraded. Under our plan, everyone in Australia will have access to very fast broadband by 2016. Because we’re going to take a cost-effective, businesslike approach that will get the job done.”
Turnbull also alleged mismanagement of NBN Co in general, especially with regard to the company’s at-times-difficult relationship with its contractors.
“There’s an air of unreality about the NBN Co, if this was a private company the directors would have all been gone, the management would have been fired and they’d have the auditors if not the administrators in trying to clean up the mess,” said Turnbull.
The news comes as both sides of politics have dramatically ramped up the level of national dialogue about the National Broadband Network over the past several days, since Rudd called an election for early next month. Both sides have entered full campaign mode. Turnbull and Albanese have already agreed to a debate on the issue of the NBN; likely to be held at the National Press Club.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull