news Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt has opened fire on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over his handling of the National Broadband Network, stating Turnbull has “fumbled” the catch on the NBN and let the project blow out to twice the cost and four years behind the delivery that Turnbull promised.
In a column published on the website of the Herald Sun newspaper on Wednesday, Bolt wrote that most of the blame for the NBN must land on the head of former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who the commentator said had worked out the NBN plan on “the back of a beer coaster” on the Prime Ministerial jet.
However, Bolt also opened up on Turnbull for his tenure leading the project.
“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has fumbled the rescue, delivering less than he promised for twice the price,” wrote Bolt. “Bottom line, Turnbull is still giving us an NBN that costs double what he himself promised and is running four years behind.”
The news represents one of the first times that Bolt has turned on Turnbull regarding his handling of the NBN project. In the past, the conservative commentator has been a long-time critic of Labor’s stewardship of the NBN.
In August 2012, for example, Bolt published a series of strongly worded blog posts arguing that the “gold-plated” National Broadband Network project was turning into the Federal Government’s “biggest financial disaster by far”.
Just two months later, Bolt published a blog post arguing that a new development in wireless technology revealed at the time could leave the Federal Government’s flagship National Broadband Network project looking like “the biggest white elephant in our history”.
And in February 2013 Bolt continued his ongoing series of attacks on the project, claiming that the project was behind target and describing the way it accounts for having finished network construction in a given area as being “rubbery”.
Australia’s conservative press — particularly News Corporation, which publishes the Herald Sun newspaper which hosts Bolt’s blog and his columns — has been strongly critical of Labor’s stewardship of the NBN project as a whole, on an ongoing basis. Throughout the Rudd and Gillard Governments, The Australian newspaper in particular strongly attacked the project on a daily basis.
It led Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in 2010 to state that The Australian’s coverage of the NBN didn’t have any “journalistic balance” or “journalistic accountability”. “… they have been maintaining this campaign to try and create uncertainty, to create falsehoods about the NBN and they are knowingly doing it,” he said.
Similarly, Fairfax newspaper The Financial Review continues to be similarly critical of Labor’s version of the NBN.
Last week the newspaper launched an extraordinary attack on Labor’s Fibre to the Premises-based National Broadband Network policy, describing it as an “expensive joke” and a “Kevin Rudd vanity project” and claiming that Labor has “no credibility” when it came to broadband.
Bolt’s comments represent one of the first occasions when Australia’s conservative media has directly attacked Turnbull’s stewardship of the project.
Is Australia’s conservative media about to start tackling Turnbull when it comes to the NBN? I hardly think so … the big end of town certainly does not want to use the issue as a stick to beat Turnbull with as it did Rudd, Gillard and Conroy.
Turnbull represents the mainstream center of Australian politics, and I suspect our major media outlets will be content to let him sit in the role for some time, certainly as a preference to returning to a Labor Government. Andrew Bolt is, in the current political environment, largely viewed as something of an extremist — and certainly much further out on the boundaries of the Liberal camp than he was during Tony Abbott’s Prime Ministership.
And yet it must also be said that where Bolt goes, others will follow. I would not be surprised to see other conservative figures start to attack Turnbull on the NBN issue — an area, after all, where he is vulnerable due to the ongoing problems with the project. We’ve seen conservative Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi dancing around this area recently as well.
It will be interesting to see if Bolt chooses to up the ante on this issue with Turnbull over the next few months. If that happened, Turnbull would be being attacked from both the political Left and the Right on the topic of the NBN. Not precisely a situation in which any sitting PM would wish to find themselves in.
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