news Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland has accused Malcolm Turnbull of being a “liar” and failing to “tell the truth”, with respect to the Communications Minister’s ongoing false statements about the cost of Labor’s National Broadband Network policy.
Turnbull and a number of other Coalition figures have recently made a number of ongoing statements claiming that Labor’s technically superior Fibre to the Premises version of the National Broadband Network would cost some $73 billion to build, would take four years longer than the Coalition’s version and would result in consumer broadband prices 80 percent higher than at present.
The Liberal MP repeated the comments in Parliament yesterday, stating that Labor’s version of the NBN would have had a peak funding requirement of $73 billion. “… we cannot recover most, if any, of the billions they have wasted to date, but what we can do is finish the project sooner, cheaper and more affordably. It will be cheaper for consumers and over $30 billion less expensive for taxpayers,” Turnbull said. The Minister has made similar comments recently during the Federal Budget process, in interviews on the Triple J and 2UE radio stations and in other communications.
However, as Turnbull is aware, some aspects of the Minister’s comments are inaccurate.
NBN Co’s Strategic Review document, published in December last year and available online in PDF format, provides a range of possible network deployment models. The report makes it clear that under almost every scenario, the NBN project as a whole will make a modern return on the Government’s investment in the project. This means that the Coalition’s policy would make slightly more money than Labor’s option — but neither would, in the long-run, actually cost the Government anything, with the money to be recouped through monthly broadband subscriber fees. The table containing the data can be seen here:
Furthermore, the Strategic Review also indicates that if NBN Co radically redesigned Labor’s FTTP model and an all-equity model was used to support the rollout, the total capital investment requirement for Labor’s model would be $54 billion, just $15 billion more than the Coalition’s model. Turnbull’s statement that NBN Co could not complete an all-FTTP model until 2024 is also inaccurate, with the Strategic Review stating that a reworked FTTP rollout could be completed by 2023 — just three years after the Coalition’s model. In addition, consumer prices on the NBN are not set to rise, with current NBN retail prices being comparable to other forms of broadband and NBN Co having locked in prices to the rate of inflation.
In Parliament yesterday, Rowland interrupted a speech Turnbull gave on the matter repeating his claims. “Rubbish! You’re a liar!” the Labor MP said. “Tell the truth! Try it!”
In addition, in a separate speech on Monday in response to a NBN-related motion moved by Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis (which largely repeated Turnbull’s claims), Rowland again accused Turnbull of “deliberately misleading” Australians regarding the NBN’s finances. You can watch the full speech online on YouTube.
“Looking at the motion that is before us, on every single point the mover has stumbled, perhaps unwittingly, into the realms of what I call Turnbullistan,” said Rowland on Monday.
“The minister—because this really does look like it was drafted in the minister’s office—likes to claim that the strategic review tells him that Labor’s plan for its NBN would cost $72.6 billion, increase prices for consumers and not be complete until 2024. On every single one of these claims made by the minister, he is wrong. He is deliberately misleading the community.”
Rowland said that NBN Co’s Strategic Review conducted under the new Coalition Government revealed two things about the cost of the project: That “the only real difference in the cost to the Commonwealth between Labor’s plan and the government’s plan is less than one billion dollars in equity financing”, and that “choosing levered peak funding inflates the result by including costs of debt”. Labor’s original NBN policy called for about $30 billion of government equity investments; the Coalition’s new model calls for about $29 billion.
“Therefore, it could be just as reasonably claimed that the strategic review showed that the fibre-to-the-premises NBN could be built for the capital expenditure included in the corporate plan,” the Labor MP said.
Furthermore, Rowland said, the Strategic Review itself did not represent the actual cost of building a Fibre to the Premises network (Labor’s version of the NBN). “It was a hypothetical exercise based on a series of forward projections and assumed that management of the project would not achieve any efficiencies,” the Labor MP said. Rowland added that Turnbull had also conflated several different concepts of cost used in describing the project.
Rowland also pointed out that the Coalition had previously falsely estimated the cost of Labor’s version of the NBN at being above $90 billion. Previous to the Federal Election, the Coalition’s rival NBN policy background briefing paper contained a number of estimates which caused the Coalition to estimate the cost of the NBN at $94 billion.
However, that figure has since been extensively critiqued as having been based on a combination of worst possible scenarios for the project and is no longer regarded as being valid. NBN Co’s Strategic Review, which pegs the cost of Labor’s NBN as low as $54 billion, is now regarded as being the authoritative estimate on costs.
“I would also note that this was the mob running around prior to the election saying the cost of the NBN was $90 billion,” said Rowland. “Even the hapless member for Moncrieff [Steve Ciobo[ used that figure in the House a few weeks ago.”
Rowland also pointed out that the Coalition had already acknowledged it could not meet its election promise of delivering 25Mbps speed to all Australians by the end of 2016.
“Before this government became expert on breaking election commitments, they were breaking promises on the NBN,” Rowland said. “We all remember the laughable press conference with the then opposition leader and the member for Wentworth and Sonny Bill Williams. During that press conference the now Prime Minister said: ‘Under the coalition by 2016 … there will be minimum download speeds of 25 megabits … we will deliver a minimum of 25 megabits … by the end of our first term.'”
“That promise was broken in December last year. It barely lasted a couple of months.”
Fantastic speech by Rowland here — I highly recommend you watch it online. The Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications was on fire. She is one of the most accomplished parliamentary performers when it comes to telecommunications issues.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting, NBN Co