Speaking in front of a sold-out crowd of telecommunications executives at an American Chamber of Commerce lunch in Sydney on Friday, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull indicated that the Coalition will reassess a ban on Huawei tendering for the National Broadband Network (NBN) if the party wins the next federal election.
In March, it was revealed that the government had banned Huawei from tendering for any contracts with NBN Co, acting on the advice of security agencies. Several Freedom of Information (FOI) requests trying to find out the reason for this ban have so far been met with government blocks.
Turnbull said on Friday that the Coalition was not made privy to the reason why Huawei was banned, but said that a coalition government would reconsider the ban.
"The difficulty we have there is we are not privy to the advice the government has from the intelligence services. That was a very, very big decision to make, and I'm very conscious of the fact that the British Government has taken a very different approach to Huawei and Britain's security concerns you think would be just as intense as ours," he said. "All I can say is that we will look at that matter when we get into government, if we get into government, in light of the advice."
Of his 25-minute speech to telecommunications executives, including AAPT CEO David Yuile and executives from Telstra, Alcatel-Lucent and Optus, Turnbull spent 20 minutes criticising NBN Co's business plan.
"The latest corporate plan raises more questions than it provides answers. It demonstrates that the NBN is running behind schedule and over budget," he said. "And the fundamental flaws in the assumptions underpinning its business case are as serious as ever."
He devoted the last five minutes of his speech to his own policy.
"We say we are committed to completing the NBN. We know we cannot turn the clock back. We would not have asked an Australian government corporation to do this job, but it is there and it is underway, so our task is to complete the job in a cost-effective manner," he said.
Turnbull re-iterated previous statements that the Coalition would take a fibre-to-the-node (FttN) approach in many areas, adding that every network is ultimately an FttN network.
"You might think you're fibre-to-the-premises, but in fact you are fibre-to-the-node; it's just the node happens to be on the corner of your house, and you connect to a copper network in your house."
He said that the Coalition's NBN would be similar to the broadband network that British Telecom is rolling out in the United Kingdom.
"We will bring fibre farther into the field, we will connect it to the legacy copper infrastructure such that the length of copper is sufficient enough to obtain very high speeds to be delivered," he said.
"You save yourself so much time and labour by not having to disturb customer premises. That means we can say confidently that we can deliver very fast broadband to all Australians much sooner, and at a much lower cost to the taxpayer and therefore more affordably to customers."
The roll-out would continue while his government conducted a cost-benefit analysis on the best way to deliver broadband, he said.
"It's not going to create any delay. We will get moving. I think Australians have had enough of a delay. We will accelerate the roll-out of the NBN, but we will do that at the same time as a cost-benefit analysis," he said.
As the new communications minister, Turnbull said he would be a "rational business person".
"If you want to get an insight into the approach that I'll be taking as the minister, just ask yourself what a rational business person would do, and that's basically what I will do," he said.
Turnbull has in the past been critical of the money that's being invested in the NBN being listed as an asset in the budget, and thus not adding to the deficit. He has since backed away from this position, instead recently suggesting that the interest the government has to pay for obtaining that equity should be disclosed. He said that the Coalition would acknowledge the full cost of the NBN in government.
"What we would do is we would certainly disclose the full cost of it, and own up to the full cost of it, including the interest. I can't promise to change the public accounting, that's very different from the corporate accounting," he said.