Opposition Leader Tony Abbott last night declared he was "no Bill Gates" in a lengthy interview on the ABC's 7:30 Report, as he confessed he didn't have technical expertise around the Coalition's broadband policy.
The Coalition yesterday unveiled its $6 billion rival broadband policy to Labor's National Broadband Network (NBN) project, with the central planks being a competitive backhaul network, regional and metropolitan wireless networks and an ADSL enrichment program that will target telephone exchanges without ADSL2+ broadband.
The policy immediately attracted fire from the industry and ministers from other parties. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy described it as "a blast from the past" while Greens Communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said it ran the risk of resulting in "a real patchwork of service delivery".
Questioned repeatedly about the details of the policy last night on the 7:30 Report, Abbott would only repeat the Coalition's top line messages about it.
"We don't think recreating a government monopoly is the way to go," he said, referring to NBN Co. "We want to see competition in these backbones, and then competition to these homes ... we are going to have broadband running past the same 97 per cent of households, and yes, we're not guaranteeing 100Mbps, but we are guaranteeing up to 100Mbps."
But when presenter Kerry O'Brien asked for details, Abbott claimed ignorance.
"I'm no Bill Gates here, and I don't claim to be any kind of tech-head in all of this ... I do not have the same level of technical competence in this area ... if you want to drag me into a technical discussion here, I am not going to be very successful at it."
O'Brien ridiculed Abbott in response.
"Don't you have to apply technical competence to budgets and the economy?" he asked. Then referring to guaranteed peak speeds promised by the Coalition's policy, he said: "Can you really offer that guarantee when you don't seem to know what peak speed is? It's quite an easy concept to understand."
Later, government campaign spokesperson Chris Bowen criticised Abbott's grasp of the subject.
"Tony Abbott showed on your network earlier today he doesn't understand broadband," Bowen told Lateline.
"He didn't seem embarrassed by the fact that he doesn't understand it."
Bowen said a leader did not need to be across all details of all policies, but broadband was a major issue.
"When your party is releasing a major policy in a major area of difference about an important piece of economic infrastructure, then you do need to be across it," he said.
The news comes as Conroy yesterday opened fire on Abbott personally, labelling him a "Luddite" for not appearing to have anything to do with his party's technology policies, on a day in which the Canberra press gallery also criticised the Opposition leader on the issue.
Abbott did not mention his party's broadband policy or Australia's technology sector in general during the Coalition's wide-ranging election campaign launch on Sunday, and yesterday's Coalition broadband policy launch was conducted by Shadow Communications Minister Tony Smith and Finance spokesperson Andrew Robb.
In addition, Abbott has seldom commented on the Coalition's attitude towards Labor's controversial filter policy, leaving it to Smith, Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey and Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull to detail the Coalition's decision last week to vote against the project.
The full interview is available online through ABC's website or iView streaming TV service.