Abbott dodges repeated Tassie FTTP questions



news Prime Minister Tony Abbott has repeatedly declined to directly address questions about whether the Coalition deceived Tasmanian voters with respect to its support for an all-fibre broadband rollout in the state, in a tense press conference over the weekend in which journalists couldn’t stop asking about the topic.

Many Tasmanians believe the Coalition, specifically Communication minister Malcom Turnbull, committed the Coalition’s Broadband Network rollout (CBN) in the state to a full Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) deployment during last year’s Federal Election. 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 FTTP rollout 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 this month, NBN Co executive chairman Switkowski confirmed Fibre to the Node would be used in Tasmania. 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 the broadband issue could lead to the Liberals in the state losing the election.

Subsequently, Tasmanian Labor Premier Lara Giddings offered NBN Co free access to the overhead power poles of state-owned energy utility Aurora to incentivise a full rollout of Fibre to the Premises broadband in the state, as part of a package of technology policy promises associated with the State Election.

The deployment style mimics a trial carried out back from 2005 under Giddings’ watch as then-Tasmanian Minister for Economic Development. Called tasCOLT for the Tasmanian Collaborative Optical Leading Test-bed (PDF), the trial deployed optic-fibre broadband to some 1,250 premies throughout the suburbs of New Town, South Hobart and Devonport. At the time, Tasmanian electrical utility Aurora provided the infrastructure, with its retail telecommunications arm TasTel providing ISP services over the network. A full report on the trial can be found online here in PDF format.

Late last week, and following discussions with Hodgman, Turnbull finally confirmed he had spoken to NBN Co about the possibility of conducting FTTP trials in the state that would test Labor’s plan to deploy fibre on aerial electricity poles.

On Saturday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott held a joint press conference with Hodgman at the Tas Live Abalone facility in Hobart. The event was dominated by questions about the broadband issue. You can read the full transcription here, and some of the footage is hosted by the ABC here.

“Why did Liberal Senators then and candidates tell us before the federal election who would get full fibre to the home rollout?” asked one journalist. “Why do we need a trial on the Aurora rollout given that it was used in stage one,” asked another. “We’ve already actually done this in some places like Midway Point. Why do you need another trial?”

And a third asked: “Has Will Hodgman spoken to you about how politically damaging it might be if the NBN isn’t rolled out fibre to the home down here?”

In general, Abbott did not directly address the issues being raised. For example, on the issue of how politically damaging the FTTP issue could be in Tasmania, Abbott claimed that the rollout of Labor’s National Broadband Network project in Tasmania “stopped in July” and “was not going to start again” because of the “utter incompetence and ineptitude” of Labor and the Greens.

“It has started again, because Malcolm Turnbull has got it going,” said Abbott. “I give this guarantee – under the Coalition we will get the NBN going again and we will roll out the NBN past more houses in the next 12 months than Labor managed in the last five years.”

On the issue of statements made by Liberal representatives in Tasmania before the Federal Election, Abbott said only: “The important thing is that the NBN will be delivered here in Tasmania. That’s the point I want to make. The NBN will be delivered here in Tasmania and over the next 12 months under the Coalition you will get more homes and premises passed in 12 months than Labor did in the last five years.”

And asked about the previous Aurora trial — the fourth straight question on the broadband topic — Abbott appeared to lose patience on the issue.

“I think we’ve had a good go on this issue and we’ll go on to other issues if you don’t mind,” he said, stating that Tasmania would be better off with a Liberal Government because it could work better on the issue of broadband with a Coalition Federal Government. “If you want things done, if you want to go ahead as a State and as a nation let’s have the State Government and the Commonwealth Government working together,” he said.

However, the journalists at the press conference refused to stop asking questions about broadband.

“Do you accept that it’s a broken promise to no longer commit to full fibre to the premises rollout given what was said by Liberal Party candidates and members before the election?” asked another journalist.

“Are there any other subjects people want to ask questions about?” Abbott responded. “There are, but that’s a pretty straight forward question,” the journalist came back with. “We’ll come back to that one. Are there any other subjects people want to ask questions about?” the Prime Minister asked again.

Abbott concluded his press conference by once again avoiding giving a direct answer on the Tasmanian FTTP issue and whether the Coalition had misled voters on the issue.

He said: “Now, I’ll just go back to that question that you asked and this is the final answer I’ll give. Look, we will keep our commitments, we will keep all of our commitments because I want to lead a Government which is competent and trustworthy. The essence of political trustworthiness is to keep your commitments, so all of the commitments that we made pre-election will be kept.”

I’m planning a longer article on this topic today for Delimiter 2.0, but let me just say that this is the issue which refuses to go away for the Coalition in Tasmania. Abbott’s refusal to answer questions on the topic speaks volumes about the Coalition’s approach to the issue. Sure, Labor poorly managed the NBN rollout — that’s a legitimate criticism. But at least it didn’t actively mislead the Australian population (much) about that the issue. Turnbull and Abbott appear to be doing everything they can to play down this situation in Tasmania, but the truth is that this month’s events are likely to start to play out on the mainland before long. And the Coalition’s statements about “honouring” NBN contracts before the Federal Election will continue to haunt it.

Image credit: Screenshot of ABC coverage


  1. “I give this guarantee – under the Coalition we will get the NBN going again and we will roll out the NBN past more houses in the next 12 months than Labor managed in the last five years.”
    Better bookmark that quote! :)

    • He’s probably right, because the rollout has been ramping up for some time already, they don’t actually have to do anything to make that claim true. Changing to a FttN rollout could make it a false statement though ;)

    • Haven’t you been paying attention? By classifying HFC as NBN, the Coalition has already deployed the NBN to 33% of the population. They’re managing this so much better than Labor!1!11!

    • Wait… so now premises passed is a legitimate measure?

      You can look at Labor’s legacy in 2 ways. End of September, roughly when the LNP took over, or end of December, to reflect the existing non-LNP prefered FttH build. Double either number, and expect them to meet that by Sep or Dec 2014.

      Not sure they’ll get there when they are hitting 4k to 8k a week. Going to be close. And thats assuming the builds dont slow down, which will happen as they cement their 2015+ FttN plans.

      No new build contracts means work has to dry up at some point.

  2. Just more examples of how the people that are effective in opposition (1), are not always the best at leading the government. Dodge and weave boys, dodge and weave.

    (1): I may not agree with the Libs, but they persuaded the masses.

  3. “Has Will Hodgman spoken to you about how politically damaging it might be if the NBN isn’t rolled out fibre to the home down here?”

    Abbott doesn’t really care. He should. But he simply does not.

  4. This is out of Abbott’s league he doesnt understand how broadband works , yet what fttp means

  5. I personally feel it is all but lost now, the NBN in fttp form, at least for the better part of a decade where we will be billed again the same amount that we will pay today for the MTM, but in 2024 dollars to get what we should’ve got now. so pay twice and get it right once.

  6. $41billion for “up to” 25 mbit… vs our current “up to” 24 mbit… yeh I can see the value in that…

  7. You won’t get any statement regarding the NBN from Abbott because he has no fucking idea what he’s talking about and if it were up to him, it wouldn’t be happening at all. Election 2010 anyone?

  8. Give Abbott a break. He had trouble hearing the questions because Rupert kept talking into his earpiece about maintaining Foxtel revenues.

  9. In Tony’s own words, if isn’t written down and signed by him, it doesn’t mean a thing…

  10. The whole problem with absolutely anything Abbott or Turnbull say about the “NBN” is that they`re never talking about Fibre, they rely on the listener to think that “NBN” means Fibre, they have absolutely no intention of delivering Fibre to the Home to all of Tasmania whatsoever.

  11. “I give this guarantee – under the Coalition we will get the NBN going again and we will roll out the NBN past more houses in the next 12 months than Labor managed in the last five years.”

    That’s such a shitty comment; the NBN rollout is still running as it was when Labor lost the election, and the ramp up in connections is per the plan and a product of of that. To claim that an increase in connections is directly attributable to the change in government is disingenuous.

    • and yet people will eat it up.

      “make things idiot proof, and nature makes a bigger better idiot”

      Its evolution baby :)

  12. NBN Co said Tasmania’s NBN rollout (which was always understood to be fibre) was locked in.

    “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.” 26th March 2012

    Turnbull promised Tasmania fibre, as late as November 2013.

    “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.”

    It really cant be much clearer than that. Turnbull has lied. NBN Co has lied. They need to be called out on it. Good to see the media in Tasmania doing just that.

  13. Renai,

    Ziggy Switkowski has admitted today in the NBN Senate Committee hearing in Sydney that the original contracts for Tassie’s NBN were changed from FTTP to FTTN after election.

    People would argue that the varied/amended contracts are no longer the same as the original and hence Malcolm is definitely NOT honouring the original contracts!

    So do Tasmanian’s have a right to feel cheated?



    • “So do Tasmanian’s have a right to feel cheated?”

      Absolutely. They were very clearly lied to.

      As has been pointed out before, the contracts stipulated fibre. On election day the contracts said fibre. Turnbull said he would honour the contracts right through campaigning. After election day, he didn’t honour the contracts – he is giving them something different entirely.

      No one can seriously argue that Tasmanians haven’t been lied to, and don’t have a right to expect the fibre they were promised.

    • Renai,

      The Hansard of Senate National Broadband Network Public Hearing is up.

      Here is the Ziggy admission from yesterday:

      Senator CONROY: Okay. I want to talk about Tasmania for a second. You went on radio and said that the contracts did not specify fibre to the premises. I want to be clear about that. My understanding is that the
      contractors announced to the stock exchange that they were hired to build fibre to the premises. So I am confused about whether you have read the contracts or the companies misled the stock exchange.

      Dr Switkowski: My language needed to be more precise. When the contract was composed, the only technology that was contemplated was fibre to the premises. There was no alternative being considered. But the contract is written, as all these contracts are to provide the flexibility to the service partner and to NBN Co to vary any number of dimensions. There is history that we have done that in many cases. My interpretation of the contract, which has been confirmed, is that, while initially being a contract to deliver fibre to the premises, the contract provided room to change technologies.

      Senator CONROY: I just want to be clear. The contract specified, for instance, the fibre lengths because by definition you need to hire them to lay sufficient length of fibre to each home.

      DrSwitkowski: Do you know who can answer that?

      Mr Adcock: The contract was structured around population.

      Senator CONROY: But I presume you would have purchased enough fibre to reach the homes, given it was a purely fibre to the home rollout.

      Mr Adcock: The supply chain works on volume rolling forward on forecasts. There were no specific
      amounts; there were just projection volumes.


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