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