news Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has avoided directly answering the question of whether the Coalition will submit its alternative National Broadband Network policy to the Treasury or any other organisation for costing purposes, instead accusing the Labor Government of not being transparent about its own numbers.
The Parliamentary Budget Office last week 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.
In the wake of the news, Communications Minister Anthony Albanese and Finance Minister Penny 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.”
Turnbull was asked directly whether he would submit the Coalition’s NBN policy to the Treasury for costing last week, in a press conference in Sydney. “Mr Albanese wants you to put your policy before Treasury as well. Will you do so?” a journalist asked Turnbull.
“Look our policy is available to Treasury,” Turnbull responded. “He has not asked Treasury to vet the business plan of the NBN, he has not asked them to do that and he has had our policy out there since April. If the Treasury want to have a look at it I’d be delighted to sit down with them and discuss it with them but it has been a public document for four and a half months. The real questions to Mr Albanese is why hasn’t the Treasury ever assessed your document, Mr Albanese, that’s the real issue. Because they have not. I’m sure they’ve seen a copy of it but they have no assessed the validity of the assumptions.”
Delimiter also requested a formal position from Turnbull’s spokesperson last week about whether the Shadow Communications Minister would submit the Coalition’s NBN policy to the Treasury, but has not yet received a direct answer on the issue.
The news comes as the Coalition continues to come under attack by Labor in general over its refusal to release detailed costings for its policies. In a separate media release last week, Wong pointed out a number of public comments by Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey in which the Liberal MP confirmed the Coalition had undertaken costings exercises into its policies.
“With less than four weeks to go, it simply isn’t good enough to make Australians wait until the last minute to learn what the Liberals would cut from health and education and infrastructure,” said Wong. “Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey are trying every excuse they can to hide their $70 billion in cuts because they know that if they come clean, Australians would think twice about voting for them. The [pre-election financial outlook] has been released. Their costings are done. There are no more excuses. It is time for Mr Abbott to tell Australians what $70 billion of cuts he plans to make if elected. And he needs to do it now.”
In response, the Coalition has revealed that it has had a trio of high-profile experts examining its costings over the past seven months. The figures are the former head of the prime minister’s department Peter Shergold, former Queensland auditor-general Len Scanlan and co-founder of Access Economics Geoff Carmody. However, it is believed that the trio, similar to the Parliamentary Budget Office, would not have the direct expertise required to examine the Coalition’s NBN policy, as none of the three have direct experience with infrastructure rollouts in the telecommunications sector.
At his press conference last week, Turnbull attempted to turn the spotlight on Labor over a report in the Financial Review newspaper that the NBN project had experienced a blow-out in its construction costs of about $5 billion. Turnbull also called for the Government to release the latest version of NBN Co’s corporate plan, which Communications Minister Anthony Albanese has stated NBN Co has not yet delivered to the Government.
“Let’s be quite clear Albanese’s credibility on this issue is shattered,” said Turnbull. “Everything he has said about the project this week has been proved to be false. Now the only questions is is he a fool or a nave? Did he know that that blowout was happening when he said the project was on time and on budget?”
“Did the NBN Co really not tell their shareholder the Minister about it before they told their own executives or is he so foolish that he didn’t take care to enquire of the NBN Co management as to what their latest assessment was before he said it was on time and on budget? I mean Albanese has no credibility on this issue at all, that was ended on the front page of the AFR website today.”
If Turnbull is going to demand increased transparency from Labor on the NBN, then he should commit to the same, and submit the Coalition’s NBN policy to the Treasury for costing. It’s not enough to say that the Treasury ‘could’ look at it if it wanted to — this is a formal process and one which Turnbull should engage in. As I wrote last week, if the Member for Wentworth believes in the veracity of his policy, what does he have to lose from Treasury taking a look at it?
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull