Fifield denies Turnbull asked NBN Co to create “distorted” info to attack FTTP


news Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has rejected a claim by the Opposition that Malcolm Turnbull asked the NBN company to generate “distorted” information to help the Coalition attack Labor’s previous Fibre to the Premises approach to the NBN.

Earlier this week, it was revealed that in April this year, then-Communications Minister Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann had written to the NBN company requesting that it prepare a high-level desktop analysis of an all-FTTP fixed line deployment scenario for the project.

Turnbull and Cormann wrote that they viewed this required examination of FTTP costs as an “important counterfactual” to the Multi-Technology Mix rollout which the Coalition preferred — in short, that they wanted the NBN company to create information about the cost of returning to a FTTP rollout for the NBN so that that information could be contrasted with the cost of the MTM network.

The two ministers went even further in their request, asking for the costing to be based on a fictituous FTTP model which had never previously been technically defined in the NBN company’s planning, and which they left nebulously defined. This was labelled as “Scenario 1.5”, being somewhere bewteen the Scenario 1 and Scenario 2 FTTP models previously defined in the NBN company’s 2013 Strategic Review.

Yesterday in Question Time in the Senate, Labor Senator and chair of the NBN Senate Select Committee Jenny McAllister asked Fified to confirm that Turnbull and Cormann had written to the NBN company to request it include in its corporate plan a “distorted version of Labor’s NBN plan as a so-called counterfactual to the government’s policy”, noting that it was Labor’s view the costing for the plan included “inflated assumptions” about the FTTP rollout model.

McAllister later asked Fifield whether it was the case that the only reason this counterfactual had been developed was to “provide a political fig leaf, given the NBN has blown out by as much as $26.5 billion” under Turnbull’s tenure as Communications Minister.

The NBN company acceded to the request, and the FTTP ‘counterfactual’ did make it into the published version of the 2016 NBN corporate plan, finding that it would cost many billions of dollars more and take many years longer to complete the NBN with its original FTTP model, than with the Coalition’s technically inferior MTM model.

However, despite the previously undefined nature of ‘Scenario 1.5’, Fifield denied the analysis conducted by the NBN company was “distorted”.

“The government asked NBN Co to analyse a switch to an all fibre-to-the-premises rollout,” the Communications Minister said. “The government expects that NBN Co should periodically consider the best mix of technologies to roll out fast broadband as quickly as possible and at least cost. NBN Co agreed to the request and included the results of its independent analysis in its 2016 corporate plan.”

Fifield said that the NBN company had confirmed that the technology mix in its 2016 corporate plan — which includes elements of Fibre to the Node, HFC cable, Fibre to the Premises, satellite and fixed wireless — was “the most cost- and time-efficient means of completing the network”.

“NBN Co’s consideration of an all fibre-to-the-premises scenario provides a point of comparison against which to evaluate the mixed technology approach,” Fifield said. “It is important for all policy decisions regarding the NBN to be informed by the rollout experience, technology developments and market knowledge which the company can draw upon, having now rolled out the network, under the Coalition’s watch, to more than one million premises, which is, indeed, good news.”

Fifield said he could not see how asking the NBN company to periodically compare its approach and technological mix with an alternative scenario to ensure the company was delivering the scheme in the best and most cost-effective way was “anything other than good practice and good process on a project of this magnitude”.

“On this side of the chamber we just want to make sure that taxpayers get good value for money,” said Fifield. “We want to make sure that taxpayers get that which they want as soon as is possible in the best possible fashion. I think that is unremarkable.”

Video credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


  1. Hello. I’m Sergio your friendly mechanic. I’ve “completed” your car repair. Here’s your ute with four spare emergency tyres, four plastic Dodgy Brother doors from IKEA, and a car radio from the tip. I’m proud of the job that I’ve done for you. It’s so…complete. Look at those plastic doors. So shiny. And the spare tyres. You can drive on them for hours.

  2. “On this side of the chamber we just want to make sure that taxpayers get good value for money,” said Fifield

    Good value for money, is not what ‘this side of the chamber’ wants. It’s a pathological desire to follow a model that will continue to haemorrhage funds, that has stoically sold itself as an ‘alternative’ to the solution that it will eventually need to be replaced with.

  3. “On this side of the chamber we just want to make sure that taxpayers get good value for money,” said Fifield. “We want to make sure that taxpayers get that which they want ”

    Well they failed on both accounts there. .!

  4. An ex work college of mine left NBNCo about a year after the new team took control. They worked at NBNCo from near day one. There job was report and document writing. They left late last year. They had just had enough, describing what the NBNCo had become was like Utopia (sorry Simon, they called it the other way around to you, and they worked under both management teams, so unlike you they are qualified to comment on the previous one). Rather than correlating data and producing documents, their job had become to constantly revising, cherry picking and massaging what data was presented and in what form to give a predetermined picture of reality. They just had enough of the whole joke and left after about 9 months of it.
    No, I do not know specifics of what was done to do this and why, people from NBNCo, and working under the Coalition government in general, tend to be pretty closed lipped about this sort of stuff in case it effects their future job prospects.

    • Why are there no whistle blowers, though? Even anonymous ones? Surely they can see the vast public interest in exposing facts on the ground? I know NBN employees are forced to sign non disclosure agreements and contracts stating they will never talk to anyone, especially the press, about their job, but so do Centrelink employees – if they are really that scared about speaking out that is essentially blackmail – if it’s not a threat to national security, such clauses have no place nor legal standing in a democracy. And as I said, there are ways to get the story out there anonymously these days…

  5. “Scenario 1.5” ????

    Oh God! This is just BS piled on BS. Both the Liberal Govt and NBNCo have lost all credibility!

  6. All while ignoring the benefit and demand that have been demonstrated in FTTP deployments overseas.

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