news Government frontbencher Paul Fletcher has praised Malcolm Turnbull’s stewardship of the National Broadband Network project in response to sustained criticism from the Opposition, stating yesterday that the project was on track and that Turnbull had done a “very competent” job of reforming it.
Yesterday morning, the Opposition distributed the latest in an ongoing series of damaging leaked documents from the NBN company which contained damaging allegations about aspects of the Coalition’s controversial Multi-Technology Mix approach to the NBN.
Communications Minister Mitch Fifield faced a hostile Labor party in the Senate about the issue in Senate Question Time yesterday. And during a debate on NBN legislation in the House of Representatives, Labor MP Ed Husic said the constant leaks from the NBN company were a result of the company’s staff being in “rebellion” against the MTM model.
In that same debate in the House, Paul Fletcher, Minister for Major Projects, Territories and Local Government, who often handles the Communications portfolio for Fifield and Prime Minister Turnbull in the House, painted a strong picture of the Coalition’s performance administering the NBN.
“I remind the House that when the previous Labor government left office, after six years in office, four and half years after they had first announced the NBN mark 2, they had managed to build up the network to such a tiny extent that only just over 300,000 Australian premises were in a position to connect to the network, should they have chosen to exercise that desire,” said Fletcher.
“The number now stands at 1.775 million and is increasing at an extremely rapid rate.”
Fletcher said under the Coalition the total number of premises that could connect to the NBN was increasingly rapidly, as well as the number of actual live connections, compared with what he said was a “pathetic” connection rate under Labor.
“… in less than four weeks, at the current run rate under this government, the NBN is connecting more people and more premises than was achieved in three years under the previous government,” he said.
Fletcher said the NBN company was currently led by an “experienced and competent board”, singling out chair Ziggy Switkowski for particular praise, as well as chief executive Bill Morrow.
“Across the management team there is a collection of highly qualified and experienced telecommunications executives,” the Liberal MP said. “You may say that this is surely a fairly obvious and basic thing to do. But, bizarrely, it was not done under the previous government and that is one clear reason why the rollout performance under the previous government was hopeless.”
“Under the overall direction of the Turnbull government and, previously, I might add, under the very competent direction of the member for Wentworth as Minister for Communications, what NBN Co is doing now is calmly, pragmatically and systematically getting on with rolling out the network and putting in place all the fundamental and basic corporate disciplines of planning, monitoring performance against plan and achieving against targets.”
Fletcher said the NBN company had met its published targets now for six quarters in a row, and the evidence showed that the Coalition’s preferred Fibre to the Node technology continues to be cheaper to deploy than Labor’s preferred FTTP model, and generated the same levels of satisfaction amongst users.
“The ultimate test is what customers make of the services, and we are seeing that customer perceptions are consistent with the strategy that the Coalition took to the 2013 election and the strategy that is now being implemented by NBN Co,” said Fletcher.
The Liberal MP said the Opposition continued to try to attempt to “whip up some version of events which is at odds with reality”.
“What we are seeing is a difficult and ambitious project, a project which we have consistently said is not one we would have started,” said Fletcher.
“We would not have chosen this as a starting point, but it fell to the Coalition, as it so often does, to clean up Labor’s mess. What we are doing is getting on with NBN Co managing this ambitious rollout in a systematic, methodical and business-like fashion. The results are there. There is a lot more to do. It is a big and ambitious project, but under the Turnbull government it is going very much in the right direction.”
Do I agree with most of what Fletcher has said here?
No, I don’t. I personally believe the NBN was more or less on track under Labor, and — more to the point — under the talented Mr Quigley. I think Malcolm Turnbull has been a disaster for the NBN.
However, it is also truth that there are nuggets of truth in what Fletcher has said here that do bear ongoing consideration in the overall truth of the NBN, especially the fact that Labor didn’t need to go down this revolutionary path of setting up a whole new Telstra to effectively restructure the old one. There were indeed other options open at the time, such as splitting Telstra from its HFC cable network and structurally separating its retail arms from its wholesale and network arms.
Then too, like Fletcher, I broadly regard Morrow as a very competent executive, even if I disagree with much of what he says.
I don’t publish Fletcher’s speech here because of any false and illusory idea of “balance” on Delimiter. That notion is not relevant to journalists who prefer to focus on a little something some of us like to call the “facts”, based on “evidence”.
Instead, I published Fletcher’s views here because I like to have my own views and opinions challenged by contradictory opinions. I like to have my own views set on flame with dissent and see if they survive the fires of verbal adversity.
I hope you do too — because if you don’t, you’re reading the wrong website.