news The chief executive of the NBN company has made an extraordinary intervention into the pre-election national political debate over the National Broadband Network, warning Labor that it would need “a good explanation” to change the NBN model imposed by the Coalition.
The NBN was initiated as a project by Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and continued during the Rudd and Gillard administrations for four and a half years. However, when the Coalition took power in September 2013, it radically overhauled the NBN model, mandating the use of technically inferior Fibre to the Node and HFC cable infrastructure as part of the rollout.
Speculation currently abounds that both the Government and the Opposition are planning to announce new NBN policies during the period ahead of this year’s Federal Election. It is considered likely that both will maintain the HFC cable aspect of the NBN, but will shift the FIbre to the Node aspect to a technically superior Fibre to the Distribution Point model, which will allow significantly higher speeds to NBN customers.
However, in an article published by The Australian this week, NBN chief executive Bill Morrow explicitly attacked the Opposition for any proposal it might have to change the NBN’s model once again. Delimiter recommends readers click here for the full article.
The executive pointed out the Fibre to the Node model for the NBN was well-advanced, and it would cost “not billions, but a lot of money” to change the model.
“It would be material,” he added. “Now would they do that? I don’t know. But they would need a good explanation if they did.”
Under Labor, the NBN company’s founding team led by chief executive Mike Quigley had repeatedly backed Labor’s technically superior Fibre to the Premises model as being the best approach for Australia in the long term.
However, the current management of the NBN company — appointed during Malcolm Turnbull’s time as as Communications Minister — has repeatedly defended the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix model for the NBN, reversing the company’s public stance on its model.
Under both Coalition and Labor Governments, the NBN company has developed a history of intervening during Federal Election campaigns.
For example, during the 2010 Federal Election campaign, then-NBN company CEO Mike Quigley revealed in a major speech that Labor’s model for the NBN was capable of gigabit speeds, in a move that was criticised by some as potentially breaching the Caretaker Conventions which constrain the behaviour of government companies such as the NBN company during an election period.
The NBN company also held frequent launch events during the 2013 Federal Election campaign, at which Labor’s original NBN policy was highlighted.
Similarly, the NBN company has already begun explicitly assisting the current Coalition Government with election events.
In one example, in late-March the NBN company joined Telstra at an election event held by Environment Minister Greg Hunt in his electorate of Flinders. The NBN company also assisted with an election campaign event in Woy Woy in NSW, attended by local Liberal MP Lucy Wicks and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
In another move, the NBN company included a quote from Nationals MP John Cobb in a media release in March announcing the official start of construction on nearly 18,000 premises in the area of Orange. Cobb is the Member for Calare, which includes a number of regional NSW centres, including Orange.
I don’t think it’s a huge stretch to guess that Labor will not be retaining a number of current NBN senior executives (possibly including Morrow, although I’m not sure about that), if it wins the upcoming Federal Election.
Not only do several have close personal links to Turnbull or the Liberal Party, but the tone of the company’s public communications has been quite hostile to Labor’s preferred FTTP model for some time.
If Morrow wants to keep his job in a Labor administration, I would caution him not to continue to make these kinds of statements in future — they are inappropriate comments to make towards a party which may shortly be in Government. It is up for the Government of the day to set policy and the NBN company to implement it — not the other way around.
Image credit: NBN company