Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull yesterday slammed the $43 billion National Broadband Network project, saying that if any business person behaved in the way Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had, he'd find himself in hot water with the nation's financial regulator.
Malcolm Turnbull (Credit: Malcolm Turnbull)
Turnbull called the NBN the "absolute peak, the ACME in economic recklessness and inconsistency" during a speech at the National Press Club yesterday.
A $43 billion vision without any business plan, without any way of knowing how or whether it can be paid for ... is a very dangerous delusion indeed
The opposition leader said that despite earlier comments from the Rudd Government that public infrastructure investment required decision making based on rigorous cost-benefit analysis and transparency, the newest plan hadn't been based on those at all.
"He made all these claims about a $43 billion plan without any business plan at all, not a line," he said. "If any of the business people here today or watching this broadcast on television were to do that themselves, they would find themselves down at ASIC so fast, dealing with some very unpleasant issues about their conduct — this was recklessness of the highest order."
Turnbull also slammed Treasurer Wayne Swan for not knowing the day after the proposition was announced how many people could be expected to take up the service or what they would be charged.
Turnbull believed the $43 billion had been plucked out of the air and said that with realistic assumptions it couldn't possibly commercially viable.
"Now it's often said that a vision without resources is a hallucination. Well let me say a $43 billion vision without any business plan, without any way of knowing how or whether it can be paid for, is more than that, worse than that, it is a very dangerous delusion indeed," he said.
He also took Communications Minister Stephen Conroy personally to task in response to a question on when the Liberal Party might bring in some young blood for fresh ideas.
"Stephen Conroy appears positively youthful," Turnbull said. "This is a man that has completely bungled the National Broadband tender and presumably suggested to the Prime Minister that they announce a $43 billion broadband project without any financial analysis at all."
"Now, I don't think either of those two parliamentarians [Conroy and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon], relatively youthful though they may be, deserve to be any longer ministers or even in parliament based on their capacity and performance," he said.
Malcolm Turnbull has got 1000 one-liners but no plan
Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner
In response to Turnbull's comments, a spokesperson for Conroy said that Turnbull didn't even know where he stood. The spokesperson said Turnbull was always lamenting the lack of Labor government infrastructure spend, while heaping dirt on the National Broadband Network proposal, which was the kind of economic infrastructure spend Turnbull was calling for.
Conroy's spokesperson also claimed that Turnbull had walked on both sides of the street where in some speeches he highlighted the possibilities of communications infrastructure, while in others expressing the opinion that current broadband speeds were good enough for his needs.
In a doorstop yesterday, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner also heaped scorn on the opposition leader, saying "Malcolm Turnbull has got 1000 one-liners but no plan".
This week, however, the opposition won a small victory in the communications arena by convincing the Auditor-General to commence a preliminary review of the National Broadband Network process that was terminated when the new plan was announced in April.
"We welcome the preliminary review to be undertaken by the Auditor-General but note that his previous review already found the RFP process to accord with Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines," the spokesperson for Conroy said.
That preliminary review, conducted at the request of former Shadow Communications Minister Bruce Billson at the beginning of last year, didn't raise any significant issues with the process.