NBN questions needed for Q&A



blog hey everyone,

as quite a few readers have written to me requesting that I highlight this, I thought I would do a quick post noting that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be appearing on the ABC’s Q&A program tonight. If you have questions that you would like to see the Earl of Wentworth respond to, on any issue, but especially the hot button topic of broadband policy, then I recommend you submit those questions as soon as possible online here.

To make this easier for y’all, I’ve included a list of questions below which you can draw inspiration from:

  • While in Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull regularly criticised the previous Labor Government for going ahead with its National Broadband Network project despite the lack of a cost/benefit analysis into its policy. Does the Minister consider it extremely hypocritical for the Coalition to do the same, as it recently announced it would?
  • Why is the Coalition seeking to drastically modify Labor’s NBN project, when opinion polls and telecommunications industry experts have consistently supported the project as the best model for Australia’s future broadband needs?
  • In mid-April Malcolm Turnbull stated in an interview on Triple J that the Coalition’s MTM model for the National Broadband Network project would be $32 billion cheaper than Labor’s established all-fibre model. Will the Minister acknowledge that this is incorrect, given that NBN Co’s Strategic Review states the project will make a return on its investment, under almost all scenarios?
  • NBN Co’s Strategic Review published in December 2013 shows that Labor’s technically superior all-fibre version of the NBN could be completed just three years later and for just $15 billion more than the Coalition’s technically inferior MTM model. Both models will also make a positive return on investment. Given that NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski has acknowledged portions of the MTM model will need upgrading within five years, why is the Coalition determined to pursue a rollout approach which appears to represent poor value for money?
  • In Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull stated that he had “grave misgivings” about the previous Federal Government’s data retention proposal, stating that he felt it “seems to be heading in precisely the wrong direction”. Can the Minister comment on what steps he has taken since becoming Communications Minister to address community concern around data retention and electronic surveillance of Australians?

To be honest, I don’t anticipate getting any satisfactory answers to these questions. When it really boils down to it, it is apparent that many of the decisions being taken with regard to NBN Co right now relate to politics, the over-zealous application of ideology, or even just sheer bloody-mindedness from a senior politician who often seems determined to believe that he is right, despite evidence to the contrary.

Malcolm Turnbull is one of Australia’s most successful politicians, as well as being an able businessman and lawyer. In person he is charming and has certainly displayed his gift for the gab on Q&A many times before. Each time he’s been on the show, the Member for Wentworth has typically been able to use populist humour to charm the audience and duck the hard questions about actual issues that matter. The brief back and forth discussion format of the show means that such entertainment is usually rewarded, while deeper issues often go unaddressed.

I don’t expert tonight’s performance to be any different. Turnbull will probably escape unscathed. Then too, Turnbull has been asked some of these questions before. Sometimes his answers haven’t made much sense. And the consequences have not been severe.

But despite this, it’s worth submitting some NBN-related questions to Q&A anyway. We live in a first world democracy; a privilege not shared by every human being on this planet. While I suspect most Australians find the current state of that democracy to be distasteful due to the lack of integrity being shown by our political leaders, one thing is certain: If we do not utilise our democratic rights — fundamental freedoms such as voting and questioning public figures through forums such as Q&A — then those rights will eventually be taken away from us. We need to let those in power know that we are watching. Historically, it is the only factor which has kept them within the bounds of rationality.

Image credit: Screenshot of the ABC’s Q&A program


  1. My prediction: No questions on the NBN at all. This is evidenced by the email that Q&A sent out that made no mention of the NBN.

    At the moment there is an embargo on the NBN, I dare say some threats of cutting off journalists access to politicians has been made by the Coalition. They’ve already done this to The Guardian, as in no Coalition MPs will talk to them at all.

      • In general Turnbull has defended the ABC when many other LNP pollies have been attacking it. I would not be surprised of some unspoken agreement that the ABC goes softly softly on Turnbull given his support …

        also, wasn’t Nick Ross (of the ABC) highly critical of Turnbull in the past ? maybe he and other ABC journos have been told to pull their heads in …

        • @Pascal Grosvenor

          Maybe in the past Turnbull hasn’t been too harsh towards ABC. However, he has been just as bad as other Coalition MPs of late – post Snowden revelations.

  2. Answer #1 to your question “Well the wind was good for a sail that time of day, it was a very nice day indeed” o_O
    Good points Renai, and yes we shall see, either way, it will make for some good reading tomorrow :)

  3. “To be honest, I don’t anticipate getting any satisfactory answers to these questions.”

    Exactly what I thought. Why bother asking him anything about the NBN plan? He will just dodge and weave and lie. On a show like Q&A you will never be able to get a straight answer from him.

    “It is apparent that many of the decisions being taken with regard to NBN Co right now relate to politics, the over-zealous application of ideology, or even just sheer bloody-mindedness from a senior politician who often seems determined to believe that he is right, despite evidence to the contrary.”

    There’s the line of questioning. When it all gets down to it, the real line issue is the above. The press needs to stop not mentioning the elephant in the room or Kings lack of cloths, and put it to him.

  4. Good luck to you for trying but unless someone knowledgeable is there to respond to / pick him up on his answers I’m not sure there’s a point. All he’ll get is a chance to air his view.

  5. Why don’t we write his likely answers now?

    It’s all Labour’s fault, talking to the men on the ground, Facts (unrelated to the question)… etc. We are passing more houses than Labour did… (momentum from pre-election).

    More amusing will be the lack of some of his standard responses. I doubt we will be hearing anything about Labour not performing a CBA, nor any comments about NBN transparency, or appointments to the board.

    Who was it that used to grill politicians and say outright, they hadn’t answered the question, and ask it again? Willisee? Whoever it was, had a few get up and walk out on him, because like Turnbull they were unwilling to provide a straight, relevant answer.

  6. I’d like to see him asked what proportion of Telstra’s copper network is 0.6mm, and 0.4mm? What are the likely performance impacts on VDSL of using the thinner wires? I expect Telstra to know what thickness wire is where, and I expect NBN Co to have access to this data as part of any due diligence research they have re using these wires.

  7. I also predict that there will be nothing substantial regarding the nbn. He is to slippery and shonky to allow a real nbn question to come up.

  8. I would like him to clearly state that a wireless NBN is not viable- lets kill the wireless argument forever and get on with the informed debate he says we need to have.

    I want to hear him state what speed (up and down) will be required in the next decade and then further state that this speed is achievable by the LNP broadband policy.

    Oh, and is it too obvious to play some videos of Ziggy describing the copper network as 5 minutes to midnight?

  9. I’d dearly love to contribute an NBN question for Q&A, however I dont believe it is worth the effort as Turnbull never answers them, never takes responsibility for his actions, never admits that data/bandwidth requirements are predictable, never admits that a knowledge economy requires universally available speed, link quality & Upload ability and always turns everything into a blame Labor session.

    I dearly wish there was someone on the Q&A panel who could really cut through Turnbull’s crap and show his deceit, waste and hypocrisy for what it is …. I wont be holding my breath waiting tho. :-(

    • Dear Mr. Turnbull,

      Verizon is doing FTTP for about $500 to $700 per customer connected. On your website, you say France Telecom is doing their FTTP rollout for $240 per household passed. Why did you assume in the strategic review that NBN Co’s rollout costs $2000? Why are the reasons why it’s costing $2000 censored with black bars – and completely contradicting NBN Co’s previous claims of a recent design revision bringing it to $1050?

      Why is there only a 1 or 5 Mbps – no one knows – guarantee of upload speeds by 2020 for the majority of Australian households, when currently the average in Russia in early 2014 is 22 Mbps and the Australian Bureau of Statistics has shown again, three weeks ago, that data amounts are still increasing exponentially, quadrupling every three-ish years? With a quadrupling of speeds of speeds likely for the average user under the coalition scheme, why are $40-odd billion being spent to keep up with growth for around three years only when FTTP is more cost effective, cheaper to run and upgradeable in the first instance?

      • Right, submitted shortened versions of the two. And no, I don’t have any expectation that anything on the NBN will be asked. Maybe one very easy to deflect token question the response to which will be summed up as “LABOR BAD AND INECOMPETENET AND BAD. LABRO BAD”.

  10. Given a question to put, I’d choose this.

    “Mister Turnbull: Are you prepared to legislate the minimum upload and download speeds an NBN solution must provide to most Australians by 2020? 2030? 2050?”

    Followed up with:

    “Given that you are unwilling to put firm commitments in place and guarantee them via legislation, why should Australian businesses risk R&D into developing new technologies and services that require these speeds?”

  11. Renai,

    At the risk of distracting you from your mission with Turnbull, there are some important matters worthy of reflection that relate to the NBN, or perhaps more importantly, the assumptions used in setting the NBN direction in the first place. Fred Hilmer spoke of some of this in this morning’s AFR, in case you haven’t seen it.


    Responding to your earlier post of how to cover the NBN, what would be worth consideration, is understanding the constraints the new government is operating to in trying to set its direction. Some of these we know about, such as fiscal constraints. The above is another, which is the economic model of a regulatory monopoly to provide broadband. Others are contract bindings with Telstra and many others that are costly or high risk to exit; legislation which may be difficult to change without control of the senate. There are likely to be others.

    The character assassination approach may be good reading for some, and the technical superiority discussion great for others, but personally, I would get a lot more benefit from research, analysis and opinion on topics such as the above.

    • Paywalled out of that AFR piece ;) Otherwise I would read it, although I don’t really have a lot of respect for Hilmer, as compared to someone like Graeme Samuel etc.

      Regarding the issues you’ve mentioned, I’m not quite sure what the point is right now. Firstly, there is quite a lot of detail on these subjects already included in NBN Co’s Strategic Review and existing business plans, as well as some of the analyst reports we’ve reported on over time. The economics of the NBN are quite well understood at this point, especially when you make international comparisons etc.

      You may be right that I play a bit too much of the man instead of playing the ball. But secondly, as I wrote about in that piece you mention, the bigger issues have largely become irrelevant here in any case due to the fact that Turnbull is trying to shape the entire project to fit a certain agenda, rather than looking at what the project as a whole actually requires from a commercial/regulatory model (either via FTTP or FTTN).

      It’s an ass-backwards way of looking at things. Probably the best example of the madness is contained in the Strategic Review, which actually did a pretty good job of recommending FTTP, but which Turnbull and Switkowski claimed only recommended FTTN/HFC.

      We can debate the specific details of the NBN’s economics, technology, commercial and regulatory models ad infinitum etc. I love doing all that. But the problem I have with that right now is that Turnbull just tends to throw it all out of the window whenever he feels like it, for no good reason. This means the debate is meaningless, because we are trying to ask questions about the project’s dynamics rationally, but the paradigm is constantly being shifted by the Coalition based on ideological reasons, making the footing uncertain for any such rational discussion.

      Over the past six months, due to this instability, I’ve seen a huge dropoff in the kind of commentary you’re talking about. Right now the telcos, the financial analysts, the competition commentators and the technology analysts, which all used to pump out a lot of this kind of analysis are all kind of holding back and waiting. They know that it’s pointless doing much NBN analysis right now because things are changing on a drastic basis day to day — there is no predicting it. We’re all in a holding pattern, and that serious analysis can’t take place right now.

      Wish I could help more. It frustrates me as much as it does you.

      The only thing left to do is point out continually how insane things are. Personally I think we’ll reach a critical point eventually where Turnbull will be forced to resign due to the public perception that he’s wrecking this incredibly positive project.

      There was a huge public silence from the industry and the Coalition after the two most recent articles I wrote about him (the ‘I don’t know’ piece and the ‘lies on Triple J’ piece). That speaks volumes and indicates a lot of people are seriously concerned about what’s happening. If people weren’t concerned then they would be talking openly instead of behind the scenes. I think a lot of people have their head down right now because they see Turnbull as a chaotic wrecking ball. I think people are waiting this one out.

      There are only so many articles along these lines that Turnbull can suffer from so many outlets, before his position eventually becomes seriously destabilised. The silence over the past several weeks indicates the impact is being felt. And I’m not the only person writing along these lines. We’re gradually reaching a tipping point. Perhaps the next Minister will do a better job. I can only hope. Because the current one is doing the worst job possible.

      You can say what you want about previous Liberal Communications Ministers — Coonan, Alston etc. They did a terrible job at times. But they certainly didn’t undercut the stability of the entire telco sector. That’s what we’re seeing right now, and it’s a tragedy in action. Paralysis of the highest order. Eventually Turnbull will need to right things or he will need to get out of the way. Progress can’t be held back by one person. This stuff is too important.

      • I have sent you a copy for personal viewing. Regardless of your views about the author, there are some valid points he makes.

        You have referred to me being frustrated, but I never did state that. I do understand your frustration though, and that of some of your readers. I was more disappointed seeing the continual missed milestones of NBN Co in the recent past. Right now, I am waiting for the new government to get their head around the problem and set a proposed direction. It is clear they are not there yet. For all new governments, left or right or any type, this is normal… at 7 months in.

        I do agree that there is a big and important problem that needs to be solved with the NBN, and there is an understandable view within the government and the community at large, that just repeating the previous approach of NBN Co will not work. This is a big complex problem, and more complex than many give credence to. Not resetting the new direction in a well considered way will mean that the future will be worse than the past. Whether Turnbull is equally big enough to do that, we shall see.

        You can play the man and back winners and losers as much as you like. I have no problem with that. And I can choose to read Delimiter or not. I have no problem with that either. But you did ask for input on how to cover the NBN. In my opinion, continuing along the protagonist’s path will limit the depth of discussion available; and limit the contribution of views from those who don’t 100% agree with you. Hence, my suggestion is to move on from it, despite the fervour from some of your fans to frame every discussion in that way, and the engagement you get from them as a result.

        Also, to be clear, I didn’t say anything about previous Liberal Comms Ministers. I know that you know that, but your response does imply otherwise.

    • If ever there was a politician that has made it about ‘the man’ it is Turnbull. Far from being the model of transparency that he said he would be he totally shut down discussion about his portfolio and the single most important project to Australia’s future prosperity (my opinion). Fortunately you can’t control people’s actions and the response to this vacuum that HE created is a whole lot of question marks over behaviour and decision making that just doesn’t make sense. When people raise those questions with the minister, they get shut down – hence the only response is to question ‘the man’.

      He has replaced decent, qualified and dedicated people with cronyism. He wailed about a new government monopoly being created; beforehand NBN had cautious industry support as an exercise in faith that it was working for the best interests of the community. Under Malcolms hand picked cronies, the signs are that it will act like like a great big monopoly, prior to being wedded to the even bigger private monopoly that is Telstra. Under such circumstances, who can blame TPG for trying to get ahead?

      Hopefully, Malcolm’s supreme arrogance, ill-preparedness and single-mindedness will soon come to an end. He is much better at sweet talking the chattering classes on panel discussions than being a communications minister so I would point him in that direction for his next job.

      *Not that I’m a LeMay fanboy (aww, maybe just a little) but I thought the response was excellent.

  12. Are users in certain non-remote rural/regional areas who may have expected fixed wireless or better going to get stuck with satellite?

    Nobody really wants satellite, since the … latency .. kills .. you ….

    Very few people should have to put up with it, since outside the cities, most people should get fixed wireless.

    And yet, a third satellite is being discussed: http://delimiter.com.au/2014/04/22/nbn-co-considers-third-satellite/

    Surely the demand is temporary, and will recede as fixed wireless is deployed?

    Or is the problem a lack of spectrum for fixed wireless, as discussed at http://www.afr.com/p/technology/ericsson_delays_re_not_to_blame_sZhhJd4UTgmngf1hmSBuXP

    Meaning more people will get stuck with satellite than was ever initially intended?

  13. Here is an interesting quote from page 88 of the strategic review.

    “The primary upgrade paths from FTTN that can be foreseen at present include upgrading to FTTP, and upgrading to FTTdp (emerging technology such as G.Fast has shown speeds of 1Gbps over short loops under 100 metres in tests). If FTTP is chosen as an upgrade path: At the average Cost Per Premises for Capital Expenditure and Operating Expenditure for FTTN and for Radically Redesigned FTTP discussed in this Review, it will be more economical to first build FTTN then upgrade later as long as FTTN can be used for several years before upgrading. Specifically, the 10-year present value of costs at an 8% discount rate is lower to build FTTN now and later upgrade to FTTP provided FTTN is used for more than 5 years before upgrading and distribution fibre can be re-used. ”

    Key to my FTTN opposition is the belief that it would cost more in the long run. This seems to directly contradict my belief. I would like this statement to be elaborated on.

  14. Well… there you go.

    Everyone has given up on the NBN. Not one question on the NBN for Malcolm.

  15. Wow…. Just wow.
    I’ve been watching Q&A on & off for a few years, more religiously since the election.
    I only watch because I’m keen to see some informed debate over the changes to the NBN.
    Since September there have been quite a few politicians from both camps who have had some kind of connection to the telecommunications portfolio & the subject has never been broached. Finally we see everyone’s favorite politician, who just so happens to be the minister currently in charge of said portfolio, & not only was the entire portfolio ignored, but the conversation was intentionally redirected whenever someone tried to steer the conversation in that direction.
    An absolute disgrace.

  16. Wow, what a waste of time that was! Tony Jones did everything he could to steer the debate away from the NBN!!!

    I shouldn’t be surprised, I’ve never once seen TJ ask a Liberal Minister the hard questions! What a shame Kerry O’brien doesn’t host Q&A, then we’d have a real debar that actually covered ministers portfolios and not side issues like Fighter Jet purchases!

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