Albo refuses National Press Club NBN debate



news Communications Minister Anthony Albanese has rebuffed an open invitation to debate his opposite Malcolm Turnbull in a formal televised election debate at the National Press Club on the topic of the National Broadband Network, stating that he would prefer instead to debate Nationals Leader Warren Truss in the Infrastructure and Transport portfolio.

Last week Albanese, who holds the position of Deputy Prime Minister, as well as ministerial responsibility for the Infrastructure, Transport and Communications portfolios, used Twitter to challenge Turnbull, the long-time Shadow Minister for Communications, to a debate on Channel Nine’s The Today Show on the morning of Friday the 2nd August.

In response, Turnbull challenged Albanese to a nationally televised debate at one of the main forums for such events, the National Press Club in Canberra. The venue was the location for the first debate between Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott on Sunday night.

In response, Albanese posted on Twitter that he was “happy” to debate Turnbull again on what he described as Labor’s National Broadband Network policy versus the Coalition’s “fraudband”, but he also noted that Turnbull should talk to Truss, who would be expected to become Deputy Prime Minister under a Coalition Government, about organising a debate on the topic of infrastructure in general.

Turnbull noted on Twitter that he had booked the National Press Club for 14 August — today — for a NBN debate. However, the debate didn’t go ahead, and this afternoon a spokesperson for Turnbull confirmed Albanese had not consented to a National Press Club debate with Turnbull. Turnbull and Albanese did conduct a short debate on the ABC’s Lateline program on Monday night, but the format did not allow either side to make extended statements on their policy in the style of National Press Club debates, with host Emma Alberici asking a series of set questions.

Then-Shadow Communications Minister Tony Smith did debate then-Communications Minister Stephen Conroy on the issue of the NBN during the 2010 Federal Election at the National Press Club, with Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam also participating.

In a press conference in Launceston this afternoon, Albanese was asked about the issue again. “While you’re waiting for your debate with Warren Truss would you bring a bit of razzle dazzle to Launceston and debate Turnbull on the NBN?” a journalist asked.

“Well I’ve already had two debates with Malcolm Turnbull; one on Q and A and one on Lateline on Monday night,” said Albanese, referring to the pair’s appearance on the ABC’s Q&A program in early July, before the Federal Election was called. “What I’ve tried to do for six years – anywhere, anywhere at all will do – is have a debate with Warren Truss.”

“Well we want Turnbull,” responded the journalist.

“You might want Turnbull, but I’ll give you the big tip,” said Albanese. “Warren Truss is the alternative Deputy Prime Minister of the nation. Warren Truss is the Shadow Infrastructure and Transport Minister. He has shadowed me for six years. For six years he has avoided any debate. Warren Truss does not believe in investment in cities at all. Warren Truss does not believe in investment in rail. Light rail, heavy rail, any of it.”

“Warren Truss was part of a Government that last time they were in office, the first thing they did was cut $2 billion from the roads budget. And what we have from the Opposition is a so-called commission of audit; we know that is really a commission of cuts. Warren Truss, I just want one debate with Warren, happy to keep talking to Malcolm Turnbull, but I want one debate with the alternative Deputy Prime Minister and the alternative Infrastructure and Transport Minister.”

Albanese said the NBN was Australia’s largest infrastructure project, and that he and Truss could debate the NBN and other issues such as roads, rail, ports and various freight strategies. Aviation and shipping could also be discussed.

“We have developed a long term plan for all of those issues,” Albanese said. “Warren Truss has hid from all of those issues. They are trying to pretend that he is not the alternative Deputy Prime Minister.”

“And Malcolm Turnbull, I know he’s very popular because he tells me so. I know he’s very smart because he tells Australians so. And if anyone has a look at Lateline the other night, they will see him lecturing not just myself, but Emma Alberici because he thinks that only he understands. Well when it comes to the NBN, quite frankly Malcolm has got a dud brief. Malcolm, he is too smart to believe that copper is better than fibre in 2013. He believes in his NBN so-called plan, where he was given the job by Tony Abbott to destroy the NBN; that was the task in Tony Abbott’s words that he gave Malcolm Turnbull when he was appointed.”

“Today Malcolm Turnbull is trying to pretend that they’ve got just a slower and inferior system, but I’ve gone through the costings with you. I think Malcolm Turnbull is as fair dinkum in support for his NBN policy as he is when he says he’s opposed to an emissions trading scheme and he supports Tony Abbott’s ridiculous, costly and ineffective so-called Direct Action plan on climate change.”

Truss has emerged as a significant and long-term critic of the NBN project. Back in August 2010, as the cluster of independents were deciding which major party they would partner with to form minority government, Truss heavily criticised the project and supported the Coalition’s more limited broadband policy, which was largely rejected by the telecommunications industry and many ordinary Australians as not being ambitious enough to compete with Labor’s NBN vision.

However, it also appears that Truss is not as confident speaking about the NBN as Turnbull. The Nationals Leader has made several factually incorrect statements about the NBN over the past several years. For example, in May 2012, Truss inaccurately stated that no resident in his electorate would be able to connect to the infrastructure until “at least the latter part of this decade”. And in July that same year, Truss made a number of similarly inaccurate statements about the NBN project and his own party’s rival policies.

Albanese is right to attack Truss — the Nationals Leader, although he may shortly be Deputy Prime Minister of Australia — has been virtually invisible in the Federal Election so far, and the infrastructure area deserves far more attention than it has been getting.

But that doesn’t excuse Albanese from the responsibility of fronting up to debate Turnbull, and possibly Scott Ludlam, at the National Press Club for a nationally televised debate in the communications portfolio. The NBN is widely acknowledged to be a very significant issue in the election, and Albanese is more than competent to debate it with Turnbull. In fact, Albanese should welcome the opportunity. After all, Labor’s NBN policy is a significantly better and more popular policy than the Coalition’s much more limited fibre to the node-based vision. If I was Albanese, I would be lording it all over Turnbull on that issue right now.

It is also incumbent upon Albanese to explain how Labor would, if re-elected, keep the NBN on track. So far the project has repeatedly failed to meet its rollout targets, often for reasons more related to Federal Government policy changes (for example, with relation to greenfields estates, or the ‘outside-in’ rollout model) than NBN Co’s own performance. I think a lot of people would like to see Albanese make some commentary about governance when it comes to NBN Co, and how Labor will run a tight ship and roll out broadband fast.


  1. Turnbull proved at his mini debate on Lateline the other night that he sees the truth as optional ($24k a month for 1000/400 for instance) and knows that most of the audience don’t know enough about tech to realise he is lying. So it is probably a good idea not to give him more of an audience to do so.

  2. Although Labor has a far superior policy on the NBN, I am doubtful that this would become clear to the general public after a debate between Albo and Malcolm. It is very hard to have a serious debate with someone who continuously blows smoke in your face. All Mr. Turnbull would do is try and muddy the waters with lots of technical detail that would go straight over the heads of at least 90% of the population. The impression the uninformed viewer would get is that Malcolm really knows what he’s talking about. Couple that with his usual polished delivery, his charm and attempts at being funny, and he would have the audience eating out of his hand as is the case at most of his appearances. Most people would never realise that what he is proposing is actually a bunch of baloney. I think Albo has nothing to gain by debating MT.

  3. I said last week that this is what Albo was talking about, a debate on all infrastructure, not just the NBN. And lets face it, traditionally, the LNP aren’t that strong in this regard (outside of roads).

    Personally, I’d prefer to see some discussion on infrastructure outside of the NBN, while the NBN is important, it’s not the only thing Australia needs built…

    • “I said last week that this is what Albo was talking about, a debate on all infrastructure, not just the NBN. And lets face it, traditionally, the LNP aren’t that strong in this regard (outside of roads).”

      Albanese can do two NPC debates. One on infrastructure and one on communications.

      Albanese would get the chance to further explain his (and Rudd’s) theory that high speed broadband is a threat to Foxtel’s business model. He has an opportunity to detail the impact of OTT services on the digital economy and the wider implications that might have for this country. The debate with Turnbull doesn’t need to be exclusively about the NBN.

      • Albanese would get the chance to further explain his (and Rudd’s) theory that high speed broadband is a threat to Foxtel’s business model.

        It’s obviously a threat (as is the LBN). Why else would they be locking in overseas content providers to deliver via Foxtel, even to the point of swiping a lot of the BBC content from the ABC.

        At least with the LBN they don’t have to worry about HD/3D as much…

  4. Turnbull said he would debate anyone, maybe Lundy or Husic should go toe to toe with Malcolm.

    It is my impression that Kate Lundy is very across the NBN and the benefits it could deliver the nation, Kate is both Minister Assisting for Innovation and Industry AND Minister Assisting for the Digital Economy.

    The fact we haven’t heard much from her makes me wonder if she is not as confident with the public speaking side, I’m sure she would be a genuine threat to Turnbull.

    • +1

      Albo has helpers he can call on to take up the fight. Maybe it’s time for them to test their mettle.

  5. What is there left to debate?

    The NBN is running behind, the LBN isn’t high enough detail (because it can’t realistically be any higher – except perhaps by acknowledging some of the unannounced potential problems, cost of copper for example)

    Leaving us with a debate that is entirely political point scoring, comparing one in progress network with a proposed network that can change form to answer any criticism.

    Nbn does gigabit? Lbn has potential.
    Nbn built by 2021? Lbn 2019!
    Nbn futureproof fibre? Lbn pay extra of you want fibre!

    This is not 2010. In 2010 the plans were each as flexible. If the participants wanted, they could have declared that pigs can fly after being hooked up.
    In this debate only one party can declare flying pigs. The other one has to stick to reality.

    Sadly reality is never as saleable as fantasy. In reality projects face hurdles. The likes of which we have seen, the Telstra contacts, silcar implosion, asbestos pits, you name it.

    All of these things apply equally to both plans, but only one of them has to own them because it exists, the other plan gets to label it mismanagement and score points.

    • Sorry for epic rant, can’t see how rambleful I get on my mobile. If it weren’t for swipe keyboard I wouldn’t have got half of that mind fart down.

      • I think the problem is that both sides are pushing lies and misleading truths into the public eye.

        A debate at the National Press Club with Scott Ludlum(he would almost be acting as a bullshit meter) will get the facts out due as most of what the public sees is propaganda.

        If the public are so uneducated that they cannot tell the difference between technical fact and fiction, then it’s time for them to be educated.

  6. Why don’t Turnbull and Ludlam hold the debate anyway. Invite Albo, but if he doesn’t want to defend Labor’s plans that is his problem.

    You could also extend the invitation to Kate Lundy or Ed Husic, and maybe Wikileaks/Pirate Party and focus the debate on digital policy – all plans lead to faster interwebz, so how do they plan to regulate it? Question their policies on open gov, e-commerce, data retention, s313 crime prevention / censorship, online privacy and anonymity, defamation / bullying issues with online comments/journalism, classification of digital content, copyright, etc.

    • @Matt_Phipps

      +1, this would be the best debate plan i have ever heard, it would have IT nerds and eLiberals . Doubt it will ever take place though…

    • Turnbull would never agree to that, he knows Ludlam has the IT knowledge to be able to call him out on his misinformation.

      Anyone he debates will have a field day with his recent revelation that he refuses to submit his FTTN plan for costing with the PBO as well.

    • You could also extend the invitation to Kate Lundy or Ed Husic, and maybe Wikileaks/Pirate Party and focus the debate on digital policy

      Heck, go the whole hog and really spice things up, invite Julian Assange via a video feed :o)

  7. I wish that Conroy was still managing this Portfolio. I can’t help but feel we would have been seeing a far more accurate and factual representation of the various positions in these debates.

    • Of course, but wishes don’t build bridges ;-)

      Albanese doesn’t have enough depth of understanding of the NBN and the LNP alternative to debate it comprehensively with the king of spin and unapologetic misinformation. Not only would he need to know the major shortfalls in the LBN but he would need to understand the nuances and details covering both the benefits and weaknesses of both, because Turnbull will be both exaggerating the LBN benefits (where not simply making things up) as well as comprehensively attacking the NBN from all angles (most of which will be exaggerations or conflated facts that lead to dishonest conclusions, given his track record) while obfuscating every answer he gives. Only extremely comprehensive understanding of the issue will give Albanese the upper hand in a debate, and he simply doesn’t have the time get abreast of it.

      I also don’t think Lundy or Husic would be willing to risk their careers on this – again, unless they are extremely confident in their knowledge being comprehensive enough to be up to the job, they will be demolished by Turnbull.

      That’s assuming Turnbull would even debate them – a debate against the deputy Prime Minister is quite a lot different to one with junior Ministers. Turnbull probably wouldn’t consider it high profile enough.

      And for what? You can’t convince the uneducated based on technical arguments in a single debate, particularly when they have no frame of reference upon which to judge the efficacy of the statements being made. People who have a hope of understanding the NBN issue already do. Those who don’t now need to be won over with emotion and knee-jerk anger and resentment at some unforgivable mistake the other side has made (or promises to make), or sudden affection for something they like in what you’re presenting (preferably something they see right before they walk into a polling booth, because their memories are so short).

      Don’t like the ‘quality’ of debates and politics in general? You’re living in the wrong country, then – politics is about numbers, and the big numbers are held by the uneducated, the opinionated and the naive (with most being all three).

  8. Given the way the NBN has been misrepresented over the years, I don’t think a debate between serial BS artist Malcolm Turnbull and recent recruit to the cause, Albo, would be very enlightening.

    I’d rather see a debate between someone like Mike Quigley and an LNP-selected “expert”.

      • Care to elaborate? I mean, we’ve already had this:

        And that was more in the style of the last Keating/Hewson debate. A debate at the National Press Club will be a sterile affair like the recent Rudd/Abbott encounter where they largely spoke past each other. I don’t see it swinging any votes, either, as the media is almost certain to spin it as a win for Turnbull.

    • I agree full-heartedly. Turnbull has been talking to the experts and has had several years to get across the portfolio.

      This can be seen with the way he frames his arguments and questions. He knows what questions to ask, what areas to skip over. He does not leave many openings that may leave him on the back-foot. Going into a debate with Albo, MT will be going for the juggular against a fresh pup. Albo can’t answer questions unless he is 100% sure of what he is saying. Otherwise it will blow up in his face. There is a vast difference between knowing your portfolio and knowing it to a level which can withstand the type of attack the MT can thrust upon it. In a public debate there is no time to check facts, no ability to put items on notice. If you can’t refute BS from Turnbull then and there, Turnbull wins the point.

      A debate with the likes of even Quigley V Turnbull would be interesting to see.

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