news Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was this morning forced to answer questions about the Coalition’s controversial National Broadband Network policy, in the context that his much-hyped Innovation and Science Agenda released today barely mentions the foundational infrastructure it will rely on.
This morning Turnbull unveiled the National Innovation and Science Agenda at the offices of the CSIRO in Canberra. The document — which covers several dozen detailed policy initiatives — is already being hailed as a much-awaited landmark win for Australia’s technology sector, as well as innovation and entrepreneurship policy in general in this country.
However, the Prime Minister also faced questions at the event pertaining to the controversial Multi-Technology Mix model for the National Broadband Network which he instituted as Communications Minister.
Last week leaked documents revealed the cost of remediating Telstra’s copper network had blown out by a factor of ten times to $641 million, and the week before other leaks showed the NBN company has substantial concerns about whether the HFC cable network it bought from Optus at a cost of $900 million can actually be used as part of the infrastructure.
Turnbull’s model for the NBN — which relies on legacy technology such as the copper and HFC cable networks owned by Telstra and Optus — is seen as inferior to the previous model initiated by Labor, in which the best technology for the long term, fibre-optic cables, would be used.
The Innovation and Science Agenda mentions the NBN just once, noting that the Government is investing in traditional infrastructure. This lack of consideration for the NBN as part of the package comes despite the fact that the NBN’s infrastructure will underpin almost all of the other policies announced by Turnbull today.
It also led to hundreds of people posting messages online pillorying Turnbull’s approach to the NBN. “Turnbull calls for ‘ideas boom’ => ummm, how about an NBN that’s a little more advanced than tin cans and string?” wrote one on Twitter. And another: “Most innovative Australian project in last 50 years, with potential for most benefit, was FTTP NBN. [Malcolm Turnbull’s] vomit today is bilge.”
In this morning’s press conference, journalist Mark Riley asked Turnbull: “Assuming that a lot of this innovation is going to be underpinned by broadband services, how much of a drag on innovation is the $16 to $27 billion blowout in the cost of the NBN, the delays to the rollout, the slower upload speed that is going to downgrade revenues?”
In response, the Prime Minister said that all three of Riley’s premises in his question were “regrettably untrue”.
“I don’t know whether you want to go into the NBN here, but let me just say to you that the NBN project was the single most reckless project of the former Labor Government, it was undertaken without any realistic idea of how long it would take to build and how much it would cost,” Turnbull said.
“We inherited it. This is one of the very rare occasions where a bad project doesn’t get worse, and actually gets better.”
The Prime Minister went on to add that the Coalition’s version of the NBN was rolling out “much more rapidly” than it would have been under Labor’s previous approach. He said the network would be finished six to eight years sooner and would cost about $30 billion less than it would have previously.
“Those are not my numbers, those are the numbers from the management of the NBN Co,” he said.
Turnbull said he could assure people that the speeds — both upload and download — on the Coalition’s NBN were “very high”.
“And we’re seeing very strong take-up,” he said. “Last time I checked the rollout figures — they’re published every week — there is about one and a half million premises that are able to connect to the NBN. They are activating over 10,000 premises a week, with that activation rate increasing.”
“It is the most complex infrastructure project ever undertaken in Australia, you know, as you’ve heard me say before, we wouldn’t be starting from there, but we inherited it, and we’ve turned it around … it’ll be finished by around 2020, it’ll be finally complete by 2020, but obviously millions of people will have access to it long before then.”
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting