Despite the government already investing over AU$7.3 billion in the National Broadband Network to date, Palmer United Party leader Clive Palmer has said that the NBN could be scaled back to cost AU$7 billlion instead of AU$45 billion.
Palmer, a billionaire mining magnate who won the seat of Fairfax at the 2013 federal election will play a key role in whether the government's legislative agenda and budget gets through the senate from next month when Palmer's three senators and aligned Motoring Enthusiasts Party senator Ricky Muir hold the balance of power.
Speaking at the Committee for Economic Development Australia (CEDA) State of the Nation conference in Parliament House today, Palmer said that the government's claim of a "budget emergency" was not real when compared with the debt problem faced by comparitive nations.
"Generally speaking the budget economic criteria that we've got a debt problem is bullshit. It's just rubbish," he said.
"As an Australian, I don't think it's good for our government not to be true to its citizens and set up a policy debate all about nothing."
He criticised the deficit levy, and a number of the other measures contained in the budget to reduce the debt, and said were it up to him, the NBN investment would be the first to be cut in order to save money.
"What would I do if I was the prime minister?
"We've got the NBN, spending AU$45 billion on the NBN to get better internet coverage in Australia. If we have a look at the country, we break it down, there's really only about an AU$7 billion worth of expenditure where we need to go to places where there is no internet coverage for commerce and business and infrastructure to grow," Palmer said.
"If we look at places like Sydney, Melbourne, there is good domestic demand there and industry can meet those needs, and so they should. Government can't be efficient."
The government has indicated that over AU7.3 billion has been invested in the NBN to date, with many contracts already locked in place for additional investment in the project. Under the new multi-techology mix model for the NBN, the Coalition government has also capped its investment in the NBN at AU$29.5 billion.
As the government is also expecting to make a return on its investment in the NBN, the investment in the project is not on-budget.
Palmer also suggested that Australia switches to US submarines, scraps Prime Minister Tony Abbott's paid parental leave scheme, scraps direct action on climate change, and eliminate all duplication between the federal government and the states. He said that this would all total up to over AU$100 billion in budget savings.
"That gives us over AU$100 billion in savings. If our politicians had a political brain in their body, they'd realise any of those decisions I'd just mentioned to you are much more palatable than what we're doing in the current budget," he said.