Clare warns of Gonski-like backflips on the NBN

Clare warns of Gonski-like backflips on the NBN

Summary: Ahead of the completion of NBN Co's strategic review, Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare has told ZDNet that Labor is concerned the government will rescind its NBN promises, as it did for education funding.


In one of his first interviews since taking the role of shadow communications minister, Jason Clare told ZDNet that if NBN Co's strategic review allows Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull to backtrack on the election commitment of 25Mbps for all Australians by 2016, it will represent another broken promise from the new government.

(Image: Jason Clare)

NBN Co's strategic review is set to be handed to the government by next week, which will detail the current state of the network and possible directions forward, including a switch from a majority fibre-to-the-premises network to fibre to the node. In a week that has seen the Coalition backflip on its pre-election promises around school funding, Clare said he would be holding the government to account if it uses the strategic review to back out of its National Broadband Network (NBN) election commitment that every premises will have access to at least 25Mbps download speeds by the end of 2016.

"There's no getting out of the commitment that everyone will have access to 25Mbps by 2016. He said it, Tony Abbott said it, and it is no good saying before an election and now change your mind after the election," he said.

"Malcolm Turnbull won't be able to get away with what Christopher Pyne is trying to do and say one thing before an election and change his position afterwards.

"They promised everybody in the country will get access to 25Mbps by 2016. If they come out next week when they release the strategic review and say 'we can no longer do that', well, that is a lie; it is another broken promise that the people of Australia should hold them to account for."

He said that the 25Mbps promise will end up hanging like an albatross from Turnbull's neck.

"I think the government will find that very, very difficult to meet. I suspect they know that already, and I suspect NBN Co are telling them that already."

He said that the strategic review will also be a failure if it doesn't contain an independently audited assessment of the condition of Telstra's copper network, which will form a key part of any future fibre-to-the-node network.

"You can't build a fibre-to-the-node network and know how much it is going to cost unless you know how much it will cost to fix and remediate the copper network. So the report must give us that information. It can't just estimate. It can't make assumptions. It needs the information from Telstra, and that information needs to be independently audited," he said.

Clare's last role in the former Labor government was the minister for Defence Materiel, but he had also been the minister for Home Affairs and the minister for Justice. After Bill Shorten was elected the leader of the Labor party, Clare requested that he be given an economics portfolio, and landed in the high-profile area of communications.

A relative newcomer to the portfolio, Clare said he has been drawing on the experience from the Labor caucus, including from Kate Lundy, Ed Husic, Stephen Conroy, former Telstra senior manager and new Labor MP Tim Watts, and Shadow Assistant Minister Michelle Rowland.

"They've all got enormous experience in the area, and they're really helpful," he said.

Clare has spent the last few weeks meeting with industry both locally and internationally, and he said that while Labor continues to believe that fibre to the premises is the ultimate goal, he is open to hearing the industry's view.

"I don't know everything. No one knows everything. I'm the new kid on the block and I've only been in the job for a couple of weeks, so I'm keen to know everything I can," he said.

"I think the [fibre-to-the-premises] policy is the right one. Everyone I've spoken to so far thinks that fibre to the home is the end game. That's where you need to get to. The question is whether you get there in one stage or two.

He said that the Coalition will realise that fibre to the node is more complicated than first thought, and Labor's job will be to hold the government to account on the "mistakes made and damage done" to the NBN, while Labor formulates its policy on the NBN closer to the 2016 election.

"We'll develop that policy closer to the election, but the fundamental principle that we believe is right is that we need a fibre-to-the-premises NBN, and if this government doesn't do that, then we'll eventually have to come back and finish the job."

While an online petition for the Coalition to keep the project in its current form gained over 270,000 signatures, an NBN national day of action on Tuesday to visit the offices of 145 MPs across the country to deliver the signatures was considerably less popular, seeing just 20 people turning up to deliver the signatures to the office of Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Clare said he would encourage those involved in the campaign to keep fighting, and that the small turnout wasn't an indication that the NBN isn't popular.

"One thing you learn if you're a member of a political party is that people live busy lives. Everybody cares about the future of the country, they'll sign a petition to demonstrate that; not everybody can get to a rally during the day or the meeting of a political party at night time. It doesn't mean people don't care, though," he said.

"We need to change the way democracy operates nowadays. That means, for example in the Labor party, branch meetings on a week night don't work anymore. You need to find a way to communicate online."

He said this is why the petition had proven to be so popular.

"It doesn't matter if you're in Broken Hill or Double Bay, this petition gives you a chance to have your voice heard."

He said people power has already managed to shift the Coalition's thinking on the NBN.

"Three years ago, the order from [then-opposition leader] Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull was 'demolish this'. What's obviously happened is Malcolm Turnbull has gone back to Tony Abbott and said 'this is too popular to destroy, we have to keep it if in name only, and build a smaller version of it and call it the NBN'," he said.

"We've had a lot of success over the last three years, and now we need to keep campaigning and saying 'don't damage it, keep building it'."

But this is not a campaign that could be led by Labor, Clare said.

"It's not a political campaign run by a political party. That's what makes it so important; it's a genuine campaign by people who care about having access to the best possible technology in the world. If the Labor party tried to run it, then it wouldn't be as effective," he said.

"But I support everything that they're doing, and my job is to get the message to everyone that signed that petition that the Labor party supports everything that they're doing and will work to the same cause they are."

Topics: NBN, Government, Government AU, Australia


Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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  • With only 1128 days to go if the coalition clowns miss the 2016 deadline it would not surprise me at all however I think it's important to assume the they will achieve their "lofty" goal of 25mbps for all rather than fail. Perhaps we can lead by example and when they end up back in opposition they will have learned not to be so childish...
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • Have we been conned by the Coalition?

    Unfortunately Jason Clare is wrong when he says that the Coalition made a commitment to everyone having access 25Mbps download speed by 2016.
    They didn't (but they intentionally gave that impression).
    Their policy statements are quite specific. Whereas Labor's Statement of Expectations to NBN Co states 93% of premises must get FttP, the Coalition's policy states, on P8, that their Statement of Expectations will specify "a minimum download data rate of 25Mbps by the end of 2016 in all AREAS of Australia".
    The difference is huge. You can live in a AREA which has 25Mbps available, but still not get it.

    The Coalition never talks about giving that speed to all houses, schools and businesses because they never intended to do so.
    • hmm

      key word is ALL not areas.
      Schools, TAFEs, unis, hospitals, etc already have fibre and have for a while.

      I am curious how they expect to do such a large scale project in such a short time since the last attempt failed due to lack of staff.
  • Classic Misdirection

    But a dangerous one. that is how you lose elections.
  • Imagine Labor accusing Libs of lying to the public?

    It is amusing for Clare to be so concerned about the Libs possibly lying to the public when he comes from the party that turned lying to the public into an art form.

    The big mistake the Libs made was believing that the Gonski funding was a guaranteed provision and that the whole scheme had properly prepared planning.

    Once the Libs gained power and could finally see the real state of the 'books' they realised that Labor had sold them the dump and left them in the unenviable position of having to correct yet another disaster presided over by the last, absolutely talentless Labor party.

    What has happened is that Pyne has now discovered the shambles and has been left no other way out unless he takes the Labor track of just plunging us into endless borrowing and debt.

    I don't envy the Libs having to try and sort out the shambles left by the worst government in Australia's history.

    Having said that, I would much rather the NBN with FTTP but really, is there a choice? They have to put the country back on its feet and I don't think that is going to be an easy job. A major part of that recovery is going to be saving every dollar they can.

    To set me straight though, just exactly how much will they save by going FTTN and can the extra expense for FTTP be justified?

    @Hubert. It's good to see the countdown in there again :)
    Gary O'Connor
    • Gary, your mislead...

      According to the Coalition were certainly aware of how the funding was and was not allocated prior to the election with the PEFO release. Quote from the article: “Well, I read it in PEFO but I was surprised and believed that post the election we could make sure that money was put back.”. Repeating the specific words the Liberals used to frame a government whose policies across many area's have been lauded by those who are unlikely to have a stake in the matter doesnt make it true. It just alerts others to our often inherant biases.
      • EDIT: Spelling (you're)!

        Doh. No edit button...?
      • I'm mislead?

        Hi Greg,
        you talk about 'inherent bias' and then provide a reference that couldn't be more biased if you tried?

        That person and her followers would find anything that Abbott or the Libs do offensive.

        I'm happy to hear your arguments but please, someone a little more balanced.
        Gary O'Connor
        • Grattan?

          You have to be joking, unless you subscribe to the fair and balanced reporting and comments of Bolt, Jones and the like...
  • Heaven forbid!

    Here is a novel idea, why don't we let the new govt look at the real numbers instead of those the failed Labor government released and take a considered and informed approach to formulating policies. Rather than expect them to follow the policies of the previous government that by the way LOST the election.

    Christopher Pyne has not said Gonski is gone (anywhere I have read), he basically saying it needs to be examined and there may be better ways to achieve better outcomes. Is that what we all should want?

    The NBN in its current form is one great big black hole, already over budget in every possible way ie. time line, cost, projected maintenance cost etc etc etc. Shouldn't we be looking at it and trying to get better value for money, rather than expect the new government to blindly follow the incompetence of the previous government. You remember them, the ones that got thrown out on their ear for incompetence and mismanagement of the Australian economy.
    • watching...

      ... from a leafy Liberal mansion I would assume?
    • Yes, Heaven forbid they tell us anything

      Well, the new government is doing its review right now, but it's unlikely we'll see the report. Ziggy has already flagged most or all of it will remain secret in the latest senate hearings
      And what Christopher Pyne basically said has upset a lot of Coalition members like Adrian Piccoli, who has had the benefit of private meetings with Pyne. Prissy kept his plans a secret until after the election, but could not contain himself any longer.

      Finally, the projected maintenance cost of the FttP is far, far less than that of the Coalition alternative, which is why they never discuss it.

      Try reading, and analysing, a bit more widely, GovtWatcher, instead of just passively watching.
  • NBN Heaven or Tony's Hell?

    Hi Gov Watch, I see you've been listening to Alan Jones & Turnbull again, LOL.
    How about tin cans & string? I hear it's even cheaper.