news Conservative newspaper The Australian Financial Review has launched an extraordinary election attack on Labor over police raids of Labor premises, slamming the Opposition for what the AFR claimed was an irresponsible NBN policy based on the idea that “people would think fast internet was cool”.
The NBN project was initiated by the Rudd and Gillard Labor Governments from 2007, although the best-known Fibre to the Premises version of the network was not formalised as a concrete project until April 2009.
The NBN policy was a complex initiative designed to meet a number of high-level national policy objectives. It aimed to deliver high-speed broadband to all Australians, unlocking productivity gains and boosting the nation’s digital economy.
However, it also aimed to rein in the power of giant telco Telstra, restructuring the telecommunications industry to allow a more even level playing field for competitors.
Much of the need came about due to the fact that successive Coalition Governments had not structurally separated Telstra during its privatisation phase in the early 2000’s (as happened in other countries such as the UK) or blocked Telstra’s duplication of Optus’ HFC cable rollout, meaning Telstra continued to maintain dominant market power in Australia.
At the time, a hostile Telstra management team led by American executive Sol Trujillo was refusing to upgrade its own broadband network unless it was allowed to lock its competitors out of accessing it, in a move that essentially forced the Rudd Government’s hand on the NBN.
However, this morning the Financial Review newspaper published an extraordinary attack on the Labor NBN policy which appeared to completely ignore this context and history. Delimiter recommends readers click here to read the full article.
In its masthead editorial, representing the view of the entire newspaper (an article normally checked by senior editors), the AFR wrote that if Labor’s original NBN plan “seems ridiculous”, “it’s because it was”.
Referring to the Australian Federal Police raids last week on Labor premises designed to identify NBN whistleblowers, the AFR wrote that Labor was attempting to use the raids to embarrass the Government over NBN cost blowouts under the Coalition’s watch.
“What really sticks in the craw is that Labor still has many of the same characters that embarked on a broadband scheme that took every lesson learned about state-owned monopolies since the 1970s and ignored them,” the AFR wrote.
“All because it thought people would think fast internet was cool.”
The AFR’s view appears to be that Labor figures such as former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, viewed as the father of the NBN, are hypocritical to complain about NBN cost blowouts because they initiated the project to start with.
However, the newspaper neglected to mention the regulatory and industry structure history behind the NBN project, or the fact that the Abbott and Turnbull Coalition Governments have themselves markedly changed the NBN project since taking power in 2013.
The AFR’s article was immediately met with a strong degree of criticism on social media.
“Was that really the whole article? What a pointless, bullshit ideological spray,” wrote one commenter on Twitter.
The AFR has a history of flawed reporting on the NBN.
In February 2013, for example, the newspaper left critical information out of a story attacking Labor’s NBN policy, while in December last year Communications Minister Mitch Fifield labelled an AFR article about a NBN sale process as “wrong”. A NBN spokesperson said the article was “delusional shit-stirring”.
In August 2012, faced with AFR criticism on the NBN, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said those interested in accuracy with respect to the NBN had better read broadband forum Whirlpool, rather than the AFR.
I don’t know who wrote this bizarre AFR NBN rant, but they certainly did an appalling job.
The piece doesn’t even make much grammatical sense when you read it, let alone comprise an insightful analysis of Australia’s telecommunications regulatory environment.
I’d say today’s piece was more “delusional shit-stirring” from the AFR, to quote NBN general manager of corporate affairs, Karina Keisler, but to be honest I’m not sure today’s AFR effort could be dignified with even that label.