blog If you were seeking to hire independent experts to conduct a cost/benefit analysis on an important piece of national infrastructure, you would probably seek to hire, well, experts who were independent, right? Experts who hadn’t previously formed a fixed view on what would be the best way to deploy that infrastructure? Wrong, at least if you’re Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. According to the Financial Review this morning (we recommend you click here for the full article), Turnbull will shortly appointed outspoken NBN critic Henry Ergas to sit on a panel examining the Coalition’s NBN. The newspaper reports:
“Former competition commissioner Allan Fels, outspoken national broadband network critic Henry Ergas and former eBay Australia chief executive Alison Deans will form the panel, which will shortly be announced by the federal government.”
Your writer doesn’t have a problem with Fels, the former long-time chief of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, sitting on the panel, and at least Alison Deans has concrete experience in online applications in the Internet age (you can find her biography online here). However, Ergas is well-known in Australia’s technology industry as an outspoken critic of the NBN. If you want to get a feel for the flavour of the economist’s poor view of the NBN, you would be well advised to read this opinionated piece he published in The Australian newspaper just one month ago.
Or alternatively, you could read up on what Ergas thought of NBN Co’s first implementation study published in 2010. At the time, the economist wrote (we recommend you click through to Communications Day for the full article):
“… the Study, with a degree of British understatement, rightly notes that the model the government has chosen – a public monopoly, extending, at least for the first dozen years, to the active service – “departs from the collective experience in most other markets” … Given the very high costs this project involves, and the fact those costs and risks must, on the Study’s own numbers, fall largely on taxpayers, a visitor from Mars might well wonder quite what we are doing.”
Or you could read about Ergas’ submission to the NBN Senate Select Committee in October 2009, where he argued that the costs of building the NBN exceeded its benefits by somewhere between $14 billion and $20 billion.
To be clear, I am not casting any aspersions on the competency of Henry Ergas. I believe he is very competent in his field, and he is certainly very experienced and successful in his work. However, it’s also quite obvious that Ergas has a very well-established and long-held view about the NBN that would play into his reported position on a cost/benefit panel examining the Coalition’s version of the NBN. My advice to Minister Turnbull would be to consider this kind of appointment very carefully.
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull