news One of the Coalition’s most vocal critics of the National Broadband Network, former Treasurer Joe Hockey, has used his final speech to Federal Parliament to praise the previous Labor Government for initiating the project, which he described as “a very significant commitment”.
Over the past several years in his time as Shadow Treasurer and then Treasurer under the Abbott administration, Hockey emerged as a significant critic of the NBN, which was initiated under the first administration of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
For example, in June 2012 Hockey inaccurately stated in a radio interview in Tasmania that 4G mobile broadband had the potential to be “far superior” to the fibre technology Labor’s version of the NBN used, in a controversial interview in which he also claimed that it could cost Australians up to $1,000 to connect to the NBN.
Hockey later claimed that the comments had been taken out of context, but over subsequent years the Liberal MP would make a number of other comments highly critical of the NBN.
In October 2012 the outgoing Member for North Sydney claimed that the NBN could cost as much as $100 billion to build, despite the company’s own estimates at the time having shown that it would require around $37 billion of capital injection from the Government and eventually make a return, paying back the investment with some profit on top.
Also that month, Hockey further heavily criticised the funding model for the NBN, maintaining that the funding should be treated as an expense on the Federal Budget, despite direct evidence to the contrary, including the acknowledgement of fellow Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull.
And in July this year, Hockey described the NBN as initiated by Labor as having “massive structural problems”.
However, in his valedictory speech to Parliament on Wednesday, Hockey changed his tune with respect to the NBN, using a segment of the speech to openly praise Labor for initiating the project.
The former Treasurer told the House of Representatives that earlier this year he had released the Intergenerational Report, which detailed the challenges and opportunities that Australia’s ageing population brought.
“… we need the infrastructure to support the change in demographics,” Hockey said. “Over the last 20 years, mobile phones, coupled with better, more affordable broadband, have been a technology and lifestyle game changer. Over the next 20 years, battery technology, energy efficient technology and driverless cars will be revolutionary.”
“Unless we build the infrastructure now that facilitates the future, rather than languish with infrastructure that impedes the future, we will fail our children.”
“I want to pay tribute—at some risk to my safety in getting out of this building!—to the previous, Labor, government for initiating the National Broadband Network. It was not fully paid for, and the Prime Minister did a great job repairing it, but it was a very significant commitment.”
I’m in two minds about Hockey’s comments here.
On the one hand, obviously the outgoing Member for North Sydney is being tremendously hypocritical. Hockey bashed the NBN on many occasions, fudging the numbers and fudging technical details in order to do so. He has been one of the main MPs on the Coalition side of the fence to regularly criticise the project. It must gall those on the other side of the House of Representatives Chamber to hear him praise the project and Labor for initiating it.
It is particularly appalling for Hockey to praise Turnbull in particular for “repairing” the project, when Abbott reportedly gave Malcolm Turnbull the task of ‘demolishing it’ — a task which many in Australia’s technology sector believe Turnbull did a rather good job of.
However, it is also true that politicians are not always able to say what they really think — sometimes they need to toe the party line. It was Hockey’s job to attack Labor policies of all varieties, and he did that job with respect to the NBN. Your writer suspects that Hockey is actually quite a technological progressive — he was one of the main forces behind the Coalition’s decision to block Labor’s Internet filter, and I’ve seen him mention technology such as tablets and smartphones on several occasions.
Hockey’s also quite young — only 50 — and he has young kids, so it’s not a massive surprise that he would understand modern gadgets.
In this light, I think we can view Hockey as somewhat of a professional by the standards of modern day politics. He certainly did his job attacking the NBN as a Labor project, but was also big enough to admit that the project had merit upon leaving politics. We have to give him some kudos for that.
Video credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting