news New polling data released over the past several weeks has shown that national support for Labor’s version of the National Broadband Network is weakening, in the context that Australians appear to strongly approve of the job that Malcolm Turnbull is doing as Communications Minister.
Historically, Australians have strongly approved of Labor’s version of the NBN, which focuses on a near universal Fibre to the Premises network. For example, an informal online poll taken by the ABC shortly after the Coalition’s rival policy launch in April 2013, for example, appeared to have shown that voters had already rejected the Coalition’s rival NBN policy, with 78 percent of some 5,700 readers noting that they didn’t support the policy.
In March 2013, a poll taken by research house Essential Media showed that support for Labor’s NBN project had risen to a total of 73 percent, with even a majority of Coalition voters supporting the project at that stage, and that same month research in the early stage NBN rollout zone in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick showed that 89 percent backed the NBN as “a good idea”.
However, new polling released by Essential Media over the past several weeks has shown the trend reversing, with the Coalition Government appearing to make headway with the electorate with its radically redesigned NBN model, which partially uses the technically inferior HFC cable and Fibre to the Node and Basement technologies.
In a poll released yesterday, Essential surveyed some 1,028 respondents online. It put the following question to readers:
“The Government’s National Broadband Network plan is to more quickly roll out fibre to local nodes and let Telstra’s copper network carry Internet traffic to households, compared to Labor’s plan to roll out fibre to every household outside rural areas, which would cost more and have taken longer but produced higher speeds. Which plan do you believe is best for Australia?”
In response, 38 percent thought the original Labor NBN plan was best for Australia, while 29 percent through the Coalition’s plan was best. 33 percent did not know.
Support for Labor’s plan was highest amongst Greens voters, 66 percent of which supported the original NBN policy. 43 percent of Labor voters supporter it. 63 percent of Coalition voters supported the Coalition’s policy. The views were consistent across age groups.
The news comes as Turnbull has also been achieving significant success with voters. A similar poll taken by Essential in mid-August showed 47 percent of respondents approved of the job the Liberal MP was doing as a Government Minister. This placed Turnbull second behind Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop on 56 percent, but a ways ahead of the next cluster of ministers on between 27 and 31 percent (George Brandis, Scott Morrison, Christopher Pyne, Greg Hunt and Joe Hockey).
This week’s poll is not the first time that new data has shown growing levels of support for changing the NBN model.
For example, a poll taken in July 2013 showed that 29 percent of Australians believed at that stage that then-new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should either “dump” or “change” Labor’s NBN policy, representing a rise in anti-NBN policy sentiment. 50 percent of respondents, however, believed the policy should be kept. 15 percent did not know.
It appears that the Coalition’s message with respect to the NBN is getting cut-through in the electorate and that Turnbull’s personal levels of support are still strong.
Why is this happening? Well, unfortunately it’s a problem which Labor dug with its own hands in Government. The global approach to upgrading telecommunications infrastructure appears to have largely focused, so far, on separating incumbent telcos from their retail and wholesale operations and incentivising them to upgrade their copper networks and open them for access to competing retail telcos.
The best model for the previous Rudd and Gillard Governments to have taken in Australia would have been to work with Telstra on this kind of solution — perhaps also forcing Telstra to divest its HFC cable network. However, for whatever reason, Labor was unable to work with the Telstra management team of the day (featuring former chief executive Sol Trujillo). So it went down an extremely time-consuming and difficult path to setup a new NBN company to build a nationwide network from scratch.
Delays and problems inevitably set in, and — even though Labor clearly had a technically superior model — Turnbull and the Coalition have been able to capitalise on those delays and problems. It’s politics 101.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting