Liberals admit: Turnbull CBN plan could lose Tasmanian election


news Tasmanian Liberal Leader Will Hodgman has made the extraordinary admission that the Federal Coalition’s unpopular broadband policy could cost the party the upcoming Tasmanian State Election, in the latest in a series of ongoing signs that the policy is not going down well in the island state.

Many Tasmanians believe the Coalition, specifically Communications Minister Malcom Turnbull, committed the Coalition’s Broadband Network rollout (CBN) in the state to a full Fibre to the Premises deployment during last year’s Federal Election campaign. However, in fact, Turnbull never explicitly made such a promise; stating only that a Coalition Government would honour construction contracts signed by NBN Co. Some Tasmanians took this statement to mean that the Coalition would commit to a full rollout of Fibre to the Premises broadband in the state.

The Coalition has always stated that it preferred a Fibre to the Node and HFC-based alternative to Labor’s NBN project. In mid-December, NBN Co delivered its Strategic Review, recommending that Labor’s all-fibre approach to its broadband network be replaced by a mixed FTTN/HFC cable/FTTP approach under the Coalition.

Speaking on ABC Radio in Tasmania last week, NBN Co executive chairman Switkowski confirmed Fibre to the Node would be used in Tasmania. “Obviously in the previous model, the infrastructure was going to be an all fibre infrastructure,” he said. “Post the election and post the strategic review, we’ve now agreed on a multi-technology model where we’ll seek to use a existing copper network where we can.”

In a separate statement last week posted on his website, Turnbull himself attempted subsequently to pin the blame for the issue on NBN Co contractor Visionstream, which is deploying a majority of the CBN infrastructure in the state.

However, the issue is still a hot one in Tasmania, which is shortly slated to head to its state election. At this stage, every political party in Tasmania has lined up in support of a full FTTP broadband rollout in the state, including Tasmanian Liberal Leader Will Hodgman, who said last week that he had spoken directly to Turnbull arguing “strongly” that Tasmania needed a full rollout of FTTP broadband technology.

At a press conference yesterday, the situation intensified further, with multiple media outlets reporting that Hodgman was overheard telling his colleague Jacquie Petrusma the issue could cost his party the election. “It could cost us the election, anyway that’s democracy,” he said. Asked about the issue, Hodgman stated that the topic was “a critical issue for Tasmania”. You can watch the video clip online of Hodgman’s comments at the ABC here.

History repeating
The Tasmanian population is highly aware of broadband as an issue and has consistently raised its voice on the broadband topic as a unified group far louder than other states have. Broadband was also a critical issue in the state during the 2010 Federal Election. Tasmania has historically suffered from very poor levels of high-speed broadband compared with mainland areas, partially due to an unwillingness by rival telcos to invest because of high backhaul prices charged by Telstra across Bass Strait.

After the 2010 Federal Election, former Howard-era Minister Peter Reith produced a report on the Coalition’s election loss. The majority of the report does not mention broadband, but one section quotes extensively from a similar report produced last year by Sydney academic Julian Leeser into the Tasmanian leg of the election, which has been reported in brief.

“The failure to properly explain the Liberal Party’s broadband policy and the Labor Party’s effective scare campaign was a major cause of the party’s failure to win seats in Tasmania,” the report states. “This was the nearly universal review of people making submissions to the review and is borne out by research undertaken by the Liberal Party. In the view of many, the party’s policy amounted to a threat to come into people’s homes and rip the Internet out of the wall.”

The report added that broadband policy had a particularly strong effect on Tasmania for a number of reasons. For starters, the fibre network was already being rolled out in some towns, and Tasmania is also often behind the mainland in receiving new technology — so the early stage NBN rollout under Labor was seen as a boost to the state, as well as having flow-on effects in terms of jobs, for example.

In comparison, the Liberals’ policy was not as clear-cut as Labor’s. “One of the problems of the broadband policy was that nowhere in the policy document was there any carve-out for Tasmania or any explanation of what the Liberal Party would do with existing infrastructure,” wrote Leeser in the report. “Numerous senior Liberals in Tasmania had raised the issue of broadband in Tasmania with senior Federal Liberals in Canberra, but a carve-out for Tasmania was forgotten.”

“The broadband policy was written at the last minute without a set of Tasmanian eyes cast over it. The party needs to make a clear and unambiguous statement about its intentions on broadband infrastructure in Tasmania in the future.”

he news comes as a new comprehensive study of public attitudes towards Labor’s National Broadband Network project published this month found the initiative still enjoys very high levels of widespread public support from ordinary Australians, despite what the study described as an “overwhelmingly negative” approach to the project by print media such as newspapers.

When asked ‘Do you have a positive or negative opinion of the National Broadband Network in general?’ respondents expressed an overwhelmingly positive opinion. 26.1 percent responded with “very positive”, 38.2 percent responded with “positive”, 14.8 percent responded with “neutral”, and only 12.6 percent and 8.3 percent responded with “negative” or “very negative”, respectively.

The analysis also considered whether political affiliation would produce any difference in attitudes to the NBN, by asking ‘Which party did you vote for in the 2010 election?’ Respondents who voted for the Liberal and/or National Parties at the 2010 election had a more negative opinion of the NBN than Australian Labor Party (ALP) voters, with ALP voters twice as likely as Liberal voters to hold very positive opinions on the NBN. However, NBN support amongst Liberal voters was still very strong, with 48 percent of that voting base supporting the project.

A number of other surveys conducted over the past 2-3 years have consistently shown strong support for the NBN project amongst Australians, and even Coalition voters.

Wow. It doesn’t get very much more high-profile than this for the broadband issue. Losing elections is a pretty big deal. We live in extraordinary times when the general population is fired up enough to change their vote depending on whether their area is slated to get Fibre to the Node or Fibre to the Premises. Incredible. Of course, I’m on record as stating that I believe Tasmania should get FTTP (Delimiter 2.0 yarn).

Image credit: Tasmanian Liberals


  1. Actually, Tassie’s broadband, with T$’s anti-competitive resale pricing for the backhaul to the mainland in particular, is a prime example of just how bad the “market” has failed Internet access for Australians in general, over the past 15+ years.

    Now that so much of the CBN is dependent on wholesaling T$ infrastructure (copper and HFC), I can’t wait for the inevitable pitch from NBN Co. tring to convince the powers that be that the ACCC need no longer be involved in regulating the Internet market.

  2. I wouldn’t call it “High Profile” issue

    NBN cost the Coalition the previous election. And were reluctantly forced to create their own “CBN” to placate the masses. Whether it’s a real policy or a smokescreen is another issue all together…

    People voting against Coalition again because of broadband? It’s just Deja Vu

  3. Today, Paul Fletcher (Malcolm Turnbull’s assistant Minister, now responsible for Regional NBN) met with representatives of Tower Action Groups to explain why Ericsson NBN Co is wasting taxpayer money, installing towers that can’t work & jeopardising the conservative vote where a tower is installed and not FTTN that was promised by Malcolm Turnbull’s now infamous (and now proven untrue) statement ‘locations with <1000 premises will be considered for FTTN'.

    Ericsson has confirmed in a 'please explain' address to Lismore City Council that they will NOT hand over the region to another team, to deliver or even investigate, FTTN.

    Let's see how that went – I can't wait. I think it will be published on North Coast NBN Tower Action Group FB Page.

    PS. most small towns in the Ballina, Lismore, Coffs region already have unused fibre-optic laid in the middle of villages.

  4. All I can say Is if they buy anything this government says, and vote in the LNP then more fool them…

  5. From the article…
    However, in fact, Turnbull never explicitly made such a promise; stating only that a Coalition Government would honour construction contracts signed by NBN Co. Some Tasmanians took this statement to mean that the Coalition would commit to a full rollout of Fibre to the Premises broadband in the state.

    That is an interesting analysis of it I think Renai. Do you believe that Turnbull was not trying to allay concerns those from the Apple Isle might have had?

    In my opinion it is the intended received message of the communication more than the precise language that was used. ie If Turnbull chose his words carefully to convey to the average punter that their FTTP could be safe then I think that is the standard he should be held to.

    Also I don’t believe that varying the contract (if that is what happens) is the same as honoring the current contract. A variation is, in essence, a new contract.

    Lastly, yeah, I am heartened to see that some Tasmanian Liberal Party politicians see the CBN as electoral poison and I hope it extends to the Federal Liberal Party.

    • He said precisely the same thing he said on the mainland … the wording did not alter. Tasmanians took it to mean what they took it to mean. I did an extensive analysis at the time.

      • As has been pointed out before, the Tasmanian contracts, unique among all the other contracts, was for the entire remaining FTTP build in that state.

        Look at this logically.

        Turnbull guarantees he will honour contracts.

        In Tasmania, the contract is for full-FTTP
        On the mainland, the contracts are not full-FTTP, only FTTP for the areas already “locked-in”.

        The outcome, therefore, is different, even if the guarantee made is exactly the same. Tasmanians are right to make a different conclusion to mainlanders about what that guarantee entails for them.

        I am happy to call it “Turnbull deceives Tasmania on the NBN” because that is undoubtedly what has happened; but Mr Creosote makes a fairly convincing argument that it was a deliberate lie, using Malcolm Turnbull’s own words.

        • @Relim: Whilst I am in the same “annoyed” boat since my area was dropped from the map here in the mainland. Renai is still technically correct.

          The problem here is that it was very easy to “move the goal posts” so to speak when it came to “contracts vs builds”. And MT pretty much did the exact same thing – “honoring” only those classed as “build commenced to built”.

          Which sets us up w/ the usual dilemma…policticians don’t “lie”. They embellish

          • So the issue comes down to what “honouring” contracts means. On that I agree. Turnbull has tried to deceive everyone on what “honouring” contracts actually means.

            But I don’t think there’s an argument that the Tasmanians were not (not) promised something different to mainlanders. That’s what I’m disputing here.

          • “honour construction contracts signed”

            It all depends on how you define “honour”, “construction”, “contracts”, and indeed, “signed”.

            Bill Clinton would be so, so proud.

        • I think the biggest problem was that people assumed (wrongly) the contracts already existed for all of Tas. Malcolm just decided not to correct that assumption and let people do his work for him.

          Can’t blame him for peoples assumptions being wrong, but you can blame him for being sly.

          • “I think the biggest problem was that people assumed (wrongly) the contracts already existed for all of Tas.”

            But they did…


            26 March 2012

            NBN Co has locked in the construction contract that will see Tasmania become the first state in Australia where the National Broadband Network will be rolled out in its entirety.

            Visionstream Australia, part of the Leighton Holdings Limited group of companies, has been awarded the contract to replace old-fashioned copper telephone lines with the high speed fibre optic broadband network in cities, towns and suburbs covering around 200,000 homes and businesses.

            The assumptions were not wrong.

          • Either way, Malcolm has to surely change the terms of the contract – the contract (for FTTP through ALL of Tasmania) existed – people who made the assumption that Tasmania would be fully-fibred-up were justified to make that assumption. They were fooled about what “honouring contracts” meant, but there should be no ambiguity or argument about whether or not the un-modified contracts would have resulted in a fully-fibred-up Tasmania. Tasmanians were not wrong to make the assumptions – they were only wrong in their assumptions.

          • He doesn’t have to change the terms of it, most NBN contracts are for a limited time, with options to extend them. He doesn’t need to extend them to be held accountable for the ‘letter of the law’ to what he said. He is, however, being a sly bastard and not sticking to the spirit of what he said.

      • I don’t know why people keep saying Turnbull has not committed to fibre. Its in black and white in his blog.

        “Prior to the election I said that the Coalition would ensure the NBN Co honoured all of its existing contractual obligations including those with respect to the Tasmanian rollout.

        I also said that we did not have access to the terms of those contracts.

        The NBN Co has advised me that it has a contract with Visionstream to run fibre past about 190,000 premises in Tasmania, of which around 18,000 have been already passed by Visionstream making a total of 32,000 passed in Tasmania.”

        He clearly says the contracts he has said he will honour are for fibre past homes. Tasmania shoud rightly expect no less. They are taking Turnbull at his word. If Turnbull rolls out FTTN, he is a liar, and should be called on it. Plain and simple.

        • No doubt that blog post will be “disappeared” shortly, better make sure you copy it!

      • However, in fact, Turnbull never explicitly made such a promise; stating only that a Coalition Government would honour construction contracts signed by NBN Co.

        16th August 2013
        As stated to TasICT in May: “We intend to honour existing contracts – the alternative would be to breach them and that is a course we would not countenance”.

        This is not just a commitment to honour contracts where construction is under way – but all contracts which have been entered into. (my emphasis)

        This is the last I will post on the matter, but I am satisfied that Turnbull deliberately tried to convey to Tasmanians that FTTP would be safe.

  6. Let’s hope that this marks a “turning point” for FTTP. We need to ensure that the Tas. citizens make their voice heard *very clearly* wrt FTTP.

    Is there time for GetUp to stir up the good citizens of The Apple Isle to vote for the appropriate NBN (via the appropriate political party with an appropriate “landslide”)?

    Surely someone over there can get the ball rolling?

  7. Malcolm’s “I didn’t technically say that” (I tricked you all) attitude is not sitting well with anyone, it is offensive and smarmy. I partially agree with you Renai, we could have read between the lines the Malcolm did not intend to rollout FTTP by honoring Visionstream contracts. However most of us were under the impression that this meant we would be getting the network per it’s original design (Significant design changes are required for FTTP). This accompanied with the feeling that a Malcolm wouldn’t imply something regarding such a sensitive topic then back-flip on it, which is what he has done, and we are going to punish him accordingly, through whatever means available, he has by very definition committed political suicide.

  8. Almost everything I predicted about the coalition has come true except this one.

    I actually was convinced there was no way in the world they’d truly drop the NBN fibre to the premises thing because its such an technological, economic and policy absurd thing to do. My guess was having defeated labor they’d quietly drop the FTTN policy in committee and continue on with FTTP

    No. Turns out the libs are more incompetent, more petty, more narrowminded, and frankly bigger fruit loops than even their biggest fans had predicted.

    God help us.

    Actually stuff it, God help the libs. They are bombing hard in WA too , something that almost seemed implausible a year ago. Turns out us folks in the outliers don’t like extremists, and when people are promised conservatives and get radical right wingers instead, it wont be forgotten and wont be forgiven easily.

    One term Tony. Maybe less, if labor provokes him into pushing the double dissolution button.

  9. There’s no doubt the Turnbull shifting of the goalposts is deception. Pure and simple. Let no-one be further fooled by the Fiberals in this area. They are Luddites that will hold this nation back technologically and educationally. The signs are all there in the processes already under way. Just unbelievable that they think they have a mandate to do whatever they like and one-term Tony will find out to his horror at the next election.

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