news Malcolm Turnbull has taken the extraordinary step of accusing his opposite Jason Clare of not having the “courage” to question him about the National Broadband Network project in Parliament, in response to building allegations that the Communications Minister and other Coalition figures are openly lying about the project in public.
Yesterday Clare, the Shadow Communications Minister, issued a statement stating that Turnbull had “lied” to the Parliament again on that day.
In Parliament yesterday, Turnbull was asked by Liberal backbencher Ross Vasta what impact Labor’s National Broadband Network project had on Australia’s debt burden, and how the new Coalition Government would deliver the project “sooner and more affordably”, in a friendly question known as a ‘Dorothy Dixer’.
Turnbull responded that as at the date of last year’s Federal Election, some six and a half billion had been borrowed by the Government and put into the NBN project “to deliver a service to less than three percent” of Australian premises.
“The Labor Party’s approach to the NBN is all on the same level as its approach to the budget—denial of reality,” the Minister said. “At the time they lost office, they said that this project was on time and on budget. Every single forecast, every single target had been missed. It was running way behind time, way behind forecast and way over budget. The strategic review which was published in December, an independent piece of work, demonstrated that the Labor NBN, had they been allowed to continue, would have cost peak funding and the total amount it would have cost, the most money—$73 billion. That was a hit on the taxpayer. That is all money that had to be provided or serviced or guaranteed in some way by the taxpayer.”
In response, in a statement yesterday, Clare stated that Turnbull “replaced facts with an outright lie”. “Mr Turnbull claimed the peak funding of the NBN needs to be “provided, serviced or guaranteed in some way by the taxpayer.” That is a lie,” said Clare. “The only call on Commonwealth funds is the equity funding. As noted in the NBN Co Corporate Plan the company’s debt financing will be without explicit guarantees from the Shareholder Ministers.”
“Mr Abbott needs to be concerned – Mr Turnbull is rapidly closing the gap in the competition to be the greatest liar in the Parliament.”
The evidence shows that Clare is correct when he states that Turnbull is lying with respect to the Minister’s claims about Labor’s NBN policy. Turnbull has been shown to have made a number of statements recently — in forums as diverse as Triple J and the ABC, as well as through statements published on his own site and on the site of the Department of Communications — which are demonstrably untrue, and which the Minister is aware are untrue. The ‘guarantee’ claim which Turnbull made in Parliament yesterday, as Clare pointed out, was inaccurate.
A good example is the $73 billion claim, which was restated by Turnbull yesterday. NBN Co’s Strategic Review, which Turnbull has read and is familiar with, states that almost all of the options for deploying NBN Co’s infrastructure will make a modest return on the Government’s investment — they will not cost billions, and certainly not $73 billion. In addition, the Strategic Review shows that Labor’s Fibre to the Premises plan could be reworked to cost $54 billion — only $15 billion more than the Coalition’s technically inferior ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ option.
In response to Clare’s statement, Turnbull posted on Twitter yesterday directly to Clare: “And once again won’t have the courage to ask me a question about it not so much fibretothepremise as jellytothespine”.
A number of Twitter commenters responded sharply to Turnbull’s comment. “I note that you didn’t actually response to his funding point. Why is that? Is he correct?” wrote one respondent. “When did @TurnbullMalcolm descend to the schoolyard insults? Been associating with Abbott and Pyne for too long?” added another.
“What’s the point of asking you @TurnbullMalcolm never get an honest answer anyway @JasonClareMP has more courage in his little finger,” wrote a third.
The news comes as the Government appears to be wheeling Turnbull out personally to help convince minor parties — which have been unwilling to support the controversial Federal Budget unleashed earlier this month — that they should get on board with the Budget. The Daily Telegraph last night published photos demonstrating that Turnbull had had a dinner yesterday with Palmer United Party chief Clive Palmer and Head of the Treasury, Martin Ferguson. Palmer has stated that the Budget was discussed.
I have to say, this is pretty disappointing behaviour from Turnbull. All Clare did was point out that Turnbull had made an inaccurate statement to Federal Parliament. In response, Turnbull chose not to address Clare’s claims, but to instead accuse him of being a coward. Hardly the response you would expect of someone of Turnbull’s supposed stature. But then, experience has shown that the Minister tends to develop a bit of a potty mouth when he feels he is under pressure.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting