Coalition Leader Tony Abbott has warned Prime Minister Julia Gillard that the Opposition will be "hyper-vigilant" in monitoring Labor's National Broadband Network (NBN) project for screw-ups.
The revelation yesterday afternoon that rural independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor will support Labor to form government means the NBN is likely to go ahead, with both citing the flagship project as one of the key reasons they decided to support Labor above the Coalition.
But in a press conference held after the independents' announcement, Abbott warned Labor that the NBN wasn't on easy street.
"You can be absolutely certain that the Opposition is going to be hyper-vigilant in this area," he said. "My strong suspicion is that the NBN is going to turn out to be school halls on steroids."
The Liberal leader further referred to the potential for the NBN to become an "absolute minefield of waste and incompetence" and said that no government should commit $43 billion in funding, the total anticipated cost of the NBN, without a full cost-benefit analysis, which Labor has repeatedly dismissed the need for with respect to the project.
One aspect of the deal between Labor and the independent duo is that wholesale pricing equivalence will apply between rural areas and the city with respect to the NBN.
Journalists immediately quizzed Gillard on the matter in a separate press conference yesterday afternoon, asking whether the pricing equivalence meant those living in metropolitan areas would be subsidising the bush.
But Abbott did not jump at the opportunity to take Labor to task on that particular matter. "I understand that it is often necessary to subsidise services in regional and remote areas," he said. "Certainly our policy envisaged subsidies in regional and remote areas."
He said that the important thing was that the Australian people got the right broadband solution at the right price, which he didn't think the NBN project represented.
Abbott's comments came after Gillard invited Australians to reflect on the significance of the NBN project going ahead, with its potential to deliver equivalent telecommunications pricing for the bush with metropolitan Australia.
"Whether you're on the broadband in Tamworth or on the broadband in CBD Sydney, the wholesale price on broadband will be the same," Gillard said. "What it means is that every Australian is going to get access to the same wholesale price and opportunity ... this is unparalleled since the days when we were talking about building railroads."