High-profile Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull has slammed Labor's National Broadband Network policy in impassioned comments to a Sydney audience, describing it as "a gigantic torching of taxpayers' money" and claiming most of Australia doesn't want 100Mbps fibre internet.
Liberal MP Malcolm Turnbull says most of Australia doesn't want 100Mbps fibre internet. (Credit: Liberal Party)
"The reality is, there simply isn't demand at the household and every small business level for internet at that speed, at a price which would make it even remotely financially viable," the former opposition leader told a forum he convened in Sydney on Saturday to discuss Labor's mandatory internet filter policy.
"You'll spend $40 billion plus, and you'll get an asset that's worth $10 billion," he said.
Describing the NBN as "a colossal white elephant", Turnbull said he was fundamentally a "free enterprise" person — believing the market would provide most services that consumers wanted, and the government should provide subsidies to aid the market where it could not provide needed services and make a return.
Turnbull said the market for universal 100Mbps fibre internet was not there, but there was explosive demand for wireless broadband, at which point he held up his Apple iPad device, on which he had been tweeting during the forum proceedings. "This requires a very different sort of architecture," Turnbull said of wireless broadband.
The Liberal MP said it was the Opposition's view that in terms of broadband, government policy should focus on areas, such as in rural Australia, where commercial services were never going to be able to provide broadband at an affordable price. He mentioned the former Howard Government's OPEL project as one which had the potential to improve services in this way, noting the Rudd Labor Government had "canned" the OPEL deal with Optus and Elders.
"I think that was a great pity," he said.
Liberal MP Paul Fletcher — formerly an Optus executive in charge of regulatory affairs before his ascension to the parliament — agreed with Turnbull. He argued the NBN policy was "dreamt up on the back of a beer coaster" by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy in a plane flight.
"It's an attractive high-level vision," he said, but when you "dig into the practicalities, what is proposed has some problems".
"Yes, it would be wonderful if the surgeons at St Vincent's just down the road here could supervise brain surgery remotely in Alice Springs," said Turnbull. "But sitting in your apartment in Bondi, you are not going to want to be supervising brain surgery in Alice Springs, in all probability, and so in a sense, it's just totally over-engineered."