New Nationals leadership slammed copper as “redundant” in 2005


news The new federal leadership team of the Nationals unveiled late last week — Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash — personally criticised the use of copper for broadband services in 2005, it has emerged, telling the then-Howard Government to focus on the use of Fibre to the Premises technologies instead.

Late last week, Joyce was elected leader of the Nationals’ Federal parliamentary team, with Nash becoming deputy leader. The election means that Joyce will now become Deputy Prime Minister, with Nash to take positions as Minister for Regional Development and Minister for Regional Communications, working with Communications Minister Mitch Fifield.

However, as first reported by the Guardian last week, both Joyce and Nash have somewhat of a complicated past when it comes to their personal policies on the future development of Australia’s telecommunications system.

In 2005, the pair personally put their names to a research paper put together by the Page Research Centre, entitled ‘Future-Proofing Telecommunications in Non-Metropolitan Australia”. The full paper is available online in PDF format.

The document made the point that the lack of competition in Australia’s telecommunications market — which continues to be largely dominated by Telstra and Optus — meant that consumers were “forced to use technologies or infrastructure which is fast becoming outdated”.

“The copper line network is a case in point,” the paper stated. “Most are in agreement that copper line is becoming redundant, but few companies are now actively introducing new alternatives.”

The document proposes the option of replacing Australia’s copper line network with next-generation fibre-optic cable and then lease access to the infrastructure to telcos such as Telstra, in a model remarkably similar to Labor’s original Fibre to the Premises-based NBN model.

Nash went further in her first speech to Parliament in August 2005.

“In spite of what some might say, just saying, ‘Don’t sell Telstra,’ or ‘Do sell Telstra,’ will not fix services in the bush,” Nash said. “What will fix services is ensuring competition, ensuring that business can invest in telecommunications in the regions and ensuring that there is ongoing government funding to assist in the event of market failure.”

“We need to ensure that a solid platform is in place to deliver the technology that will take us into the future. The Copper Age was 5,300 years ago, and that is where copper belongs. We need to embrace optic fibre, wireless and satellite so that we have the right mix of infrastructure to take us into the future.”

Since that time, the Coalition Government under Tony Abbott and then Malcolm Turnbull has radically reshaped Labor’s NBN model. It will now integrate Telstra’s legacy copper network as well as the HFC cable networks owned by Telstra and Optus.

The paper was enthusiastically seized on by Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare. “Turnbull’s new Regional Communications Minister slams his second-rate copper NBN (before she got the job),” wrote Clare on Twitter.

Did Fiona Nash and Barnaby Joyce personally support a report back in 2005 calling for Telstra’s copper network to be replaced with fibre, and describing copper as “redundant”? Yes, they did, and Nash personally went even further in her maiden speech to Parliament.

However, as you may suspect, the situation is a little more complex than this.

For starters, one need hardly point out to Jason Clare that back in 2005, Labor — yes, Labor — also supported a copper-based National Broadband Network. It was Kevin Rudd and Stephen Conroy who developed a policy over the next several years which would see Labor take a NBN policy to the 2007 Federal Election based on Fibre to the Node — not Fibre to the Premises.

What we see then, in 2005, is a situation where, ironically, Nash and Joyce were advocating for Fibre to the Premises to be deployed around Australia, while Labor was actually supporting Fibre to the Node. How the worm has turned.

Secondly, the Page Research Centre’s report is a little more complex than one may suspect — it makes a whole raft of recommendations rather than just focusing on copper. The areas where it talks about copper are actually more about discussing the failure of telecommunications competition policy in Australia, including the forthcoming sale of Telstra, than technology versus technology per se.

Nash’s maiden speech is also relatively nuanced. Sure, the neophyte National Senator did slam copper, but she also noted that she supported the then-Howard Government’s telecommunications policy of the day.

And lastly, of course, it also appears that Nash’s opinion re fibre and copper has changed as the technology involved in FTTN has also changed. The Senator told the Guardian yesterday that she wasn’t in the habit of picking winners on technology and that people didn’t really care what technology was used, as long as they got better broadband. “I think we have the NBN policy pretty right in the platforms of delivery,” Nash reportedly said.

Still, there is a lot in that Page Research Centre report that rings true. Separating Telstra from its copper network; upgrading that network with fibre; reselling the fibre network access back to retail telcos for on-selling to consumers; not focusing on Telstra’s share price but instead focusing on developing competition in Australian telecommunications … there’s a lot of good stuff in there. Visionary. One does rather wonder whether it influenced Labor’s own NBN policy.

One could wish — for everyone’s sake — that the report’s recommendations had been followed rather more precisely than they have been.

Image credit: Office of Fiona Nash


  1. Why is all this time and attention given to what politicians think about how the NBN should be done, or communications commentators for that matter, sorry Renai. How about, now this might be a radical wild idea, but talk to someone who is in the industry and has the technical qualifications to have an opinion that isn’t just form by listening to a circle jerk of clueless company executives and even more clueless politicians.
    Also, what is with all the reports written on the NBN and Australian communications needs, a prerequisite for the job seems to be that they know as little as possible about the technology they are writing about.

    • Last time I checked they did exactly that for NBN.. the government at the time proposed a brand new FTTN network..

      A panel of industry folks basically said your throwing money down the gurgler for a network you don’t own and if you’re building from scratch go for FTTP.

      And then a bunch of suits w/ political leaning said they could “improve” the roll out by finding a “cheaper” option w/ “less risk”

      • “Last time I checked they did exactly that for NBN..”

        Yes, that was a long time ago and it was the right thing to do.
        Since then the press has been gong lip service and credence to a bunch of people who really should just STFU.

        Hey, I don’t mind if a bunch of suits crunch the data and work out costs, etc, etc. What they should be doing is generating the input data themselves, or paying equally ignorant people to put that “data” into reports to somehow legitimise it.

  2. The Nationals can talk as much as a want but as long as they keep voting what ever is decided in the Liberal party room they don’t matter and the are currently less relevant party in parliament, I’m including Ricky Muir and the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party in this assessment.

    • Not sure why you say that about Ricky, he has been key in blocking some of the worst of the bills put up by the LibNats

      • Sorry made I typo. I was trying to say the whole national party matter less than what some would consider a joke party like AME. Ricky actually matter the national don’t and won’t until they actually stand for what they believe in. I know recently there was recently some legislation that the Nationals party oppose in their policy statements but the only ones to actually cross the floor to oppose the vote where a couple of Rural Liberal members, all the nationals members in the House voted with the government like good little lap dogs.

  3. Most of the Nationals residents in rural Australia in regards to NBN infrastructure type would be targeted for fixed wireless and satellite, I am sure back in 2005 the Nationals and many others had no idea that fixed wireless and satellite had the speed capability it has developed to currently.

    • “Most of the Nationals residents in rural Australia in regards to NBN infrastructure type would be targeted for fixed wireless and satellite”.

      …How did you come to this conclusion?

      I think you’d be more likely to find that most Nationals residents would be targeted for FttN. Cities such as Bundaberg, Griffith, Rockhampton and Wagga Wagga. Some even have majority FttP like Coffs Harbour. Outlying areas may have fixed wireless but that isn’t a majority. Nationals held seats do have population centres focused around cities and towns like other Liberal/Labor/Greens held seats, and contrary to your apparent belief are not all giant farms or national parks. They too will be stuck with FttN along with everyone else.

      • I said rural Australia not regional, I understand many national areas are targeted for FTTN, the point about not knowing back in 2005 what fixed wireless and satellite is capable of 11 years later is pertinent.

    • @alain,

      Completely baseless conjecture (so typical)…

      @the rest here not on a blind political crusade,

      Strange to think Barnaby and Fiona (in the party that just tags along because they need to and subsequently really don’t get much of a say) were so far ahead of their dopey colleagues and the then opposition, that even they could see back in 2005 that FTTP not FRAUDBAND, was needed.

      So I don’t think they can be blamed for being shouted down by their vested interest, backward thinking partners who didn’t listen to them.

      But very interesting nonetheless. Not also Coalition politicians are retrograde Luddites.

      • Nash labeled FTTN back then as fraudband because Labor were doing it, now she has a different view, politicians change their minds all the time, well doh, yep got it.

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