news The Australian Greens have backed calls for the Government to allow public input into the upcoming strategic review of the future of the National Broadband Network, as pressure intensifies upon Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to support the previous Labor administration’s all-fibre NBN policy.
New Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, MP, several weeks held a media conference in which he announced the new NBN Co interim Statement of Expectations which will guide the company’s operations in the short term. In the conference Turnbull reiterated that the government will institute a strategic review of the NBN, to be conducted by the company itself and delivered within 60 days after a new board is appointed for NBN Co. With the appointment of NBN Co’s new interim board last week led by former Telstra and Optus chief executive Ziggy Switkowski, the 60 day deadline has been set.
The review is detailed in the Coalition’s NBN policy document (PDF), and is to set to estimate the cost and time to complete the NBN under its current model, as well as evaluating how other models could potentially reduce that cost and time to complete the rollout. Turnbull has said he had made it clear to NBN Co’s staff that he was “not interested in being given information that people may think will conform to my particular political agenda, whatever they may imagine that to be”.
“The goal of the strategic review, as you know, is to ascertain what it will really cost in dollars, what it will really take in years and months, to complete the project on the current specifications. And then, to assess, what options there are to reduce that cost and time, by using different techniques, different technologies,” the Minister said.
“As you know, as everyone knows, we’ve canvassed an example of that in our policy document, but let me say again, as I said to NBN staff today, I am, and the Government is, thoroughly open-minded, we are not dogmatic about technology; technology is not an ideological issue. We are completely agnostic about it. What we want to do is get the best result for taxpayers as soon as possible.”
Turnbull’s comments have been interpreted by some, including influential telecommunications analyst Paul Budde, as having opened the door for the Coalition Government to walk away from its predominantly fibre to the node-based NBN policy and to support Labor’s fibre to the premises model instead, as long as NBN Co can demonstrate that it can cut costs during the process.
However, in a statement today, the Greens called for the “public interest” to come first in the review. Greens communications spokesperson Senator Scott Ludlam said that telecommunications users, advocacy groups and industry must be consulted and the review of the NBN made open and accountable to the public.
“Malcolm Turnbull has purged the board and might seek to remake the NBN in his own image, but the NBN is public infrastructure paid for by the Australian people – and the public have a right to know what is happening and to make their voices heard,” said Ludlam.
“Users, a cross section of the industry, and advocacy groups – including representatives of remote and regional communities who need better telecommunications services – should be involved and the review must be open and accountable to the public.”
“The last time the Coalition privatised a publicly-owned telecommunications enterprise the results were disastrous. We don’t want to see a repeat performance with the NBN. The Greens secured safeguards against privatising the NBN in order to protect consumers’ rights. It would be gravely mistaken for the review to operate under the baseless assumption that a privatised network will deliver what Australia needs. We also urge the review to be independent, and not bring the Coalition’s foregone conclusion that a Fibre To The Node network is a good idea.”
Ludlam pointed to an interview conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald with Google Australia’s new managing director, in which the executive urged the Government to consider the broader economic benefits of the NBN rollout, rather than viewing the NBN rollout as a cost. “The NBN is an investment, one that will deliver great returns if it is kept in public hands and listens to what the public want,” the Greens Senator said.
The Greens are not the first organisation to call for the NBN strategic review to be open to outside parties to comment on. Several weeks ago, digital rights lobby group Electronic Frontiers Australia made much the same argument.
The organisation said at the time: “EFA argues that the best course of action is to let Australians have their say, fully and frankly, as part of a transparent strategic review that mirrors the openness of a Parliamentary Inquiry. Interest groups, institutions, corporations, and citizens should all be able to have their say. In short: don’t just inform us, ask us.”