news Communications Minister and Deputy PM Anthony Albanese and Finance Minister Penny Wong have called for the Coalition to submit its alternative NBN policy to the Treasury and the Department of Finance and Deregulation for costing, in the wake of news that the Parliamentary Budget Office found the policy too complex to cost.
The Parliamentary Budget Office yesterday confirmed it had decided the Coalition’s National Broadband Network policy was too complex to formally cost without significant and expensive outside assistance, leaving the veracity of the policy unclear, in the absence of government or private sector examination of it. However, this morning, Albanese and Wong issued a media release stating that there were alternative costing options which the Coalition could look at.
The release, sensationally entitled “Malcolm Turnbull and Coalition hide broadband policy from scrutiny”, sees the pair claim that the Coalition is hiding “a multi-billion-dollar time bomb” in its NBN policy.
“Mr Turnbull claims the Parliamentary Budget Office doesn’t have the expertise to look at his broadband plan, but that doesn’t stop him submitting it to the Treasury and the Department of Finance and Deregulation for costing under the Charter of Budget Honesty,” wrote Albanese and Wong. “This is just another Coalition excuse to conceal their real plans from Australians. If Mr Turnbull has nothing to hide, he should provide his policy for independent scrutiny.
“Clearly, Mr Turnbull shares the view expressed by Tony Abbott following the 2010 election: ‘… it is very difficult for the public service to understand Coalition policy …’.” Albanese and Wong said Abbott had made the statement at a press conference in August 2010.
“The Liberals are hiding their plan,” the pair added, “because they know full well that detailed scrutiny will reveal that: Their plan does not factor in the cost to acquire and maintain the copper network – something Mr Turnbull said in May 2011 could be “billions of dollars”; The cost differential between fibre to the premise and fibre to the node is less than claimed; and the Coalition fraudband network will be obsolete by the time it is completed and will need to be immediately upgraded, potentially costing billions of dollars.”
“It is time for Mr Turnbull to put his policy where his mouth is and submit his broadband plan to Treasury and the Department of Finance and Deregulation.”
A spokesperson for Turnbull was not immediately able to confirm this morning whether the Coalition would submit its policy to the Treasury for evaluation, but Turnbull has previously expressed his view that the financial underpinnings of the policy have not been substantially challenged, despite it having been released in April.
“Our plan has been out for more than 4 months. Nobody has published analysis faulting our assumptions or conclusions,” responded Turnbull.
In an effort to provide transparency around the Coalition’s policies, in November 2012 Shadow Treasurer stated that the Coalition would submit all of its policies to the PBO for consideration, with final costings to be released in the last week of the election.
Should Turnbull submit the Coalition’s policy to Treasury? Clearly there’s not a lot of incentive for him to do so, and clearly Labor’s demand that he do so is a political move designed to highlight the key differences between the two policies. I don’t think the general population will really shift its view on the two policies based on the issue of whether one is properly “costed”, whatever that really means in the context of the NBN debate, and one isn’t.
However, personally I think he should. If the Coalition is firm behind the numbers and details in its policy, as I think they are, then it really has nothing to hide here. In addition, it’s unlikely that the Treasury will be able to form a coherent view on the Coalition’s policy before the election. For a policy of this complexity, it’ll likely take longer than three weeks for the Treasury to be able to evaluate it in an independent fashion.