NBN committee plagued by partisan politics

NBN committee plagued by partisan politics

Summary: Independent MP Rob Oakeshott has warned that the latest parliamentary committee report into the NBN may be the last before the election if divisions along party lines continue.


Rob Oakeshott, Independent MP and chair of the joint parliamentary committee group investigating the National Broadband Network (NBN), has slammed Labor and Liberal committee members for sticking to their party policies in an election year, rather than approaching the review in a bipartisan way.

In the fourth of the six-monthly reports from the committee tabled in parliament on Thursday, Oakeshott said that the latest report had "proved to be the most difficult of all four".

"It has been several months of disagreement between committee members on some very basic points in this report, that have seen the report delivered later than planned. This is disappointing," he said.

Oakeshott said that the committee is becoming less concerned about overseeing the NBN and more concerned about the individual members' party platforms ahead of the 2013 federal election in September.

"In my view, this is an early warning sign that the topic of higher speed broadband technology is likely to feature strongly in political debate throughout 2013, an election year," Oakeshott said.

A fifth report from the committee is due in July or August, but Oakeshott warned that a report may not be achievable if the MPs continue to disagree.

"Instead, I think the committee has become somewhat stuck on a policy dispute between different build options, and will only deepen divisions on this in the pre-election period. If we can manage to produce a fifth report, there is a danger it won't mean much from an oversight perspective," he said.

"Despite the opportunities to report and provide oversight on a number of important aspects of the current rollout, there is every chance the next report will be nothing more than a compendium of political statements and election promises.

"If this is all we can produce, I could write it now, and it makes the entire committee process worthless and a waste of time for all involved."

The committee made eight recommendations, including that the NBN performance report include established business plan targets, and the actual results for each six-month period and audited financial statements. The committee has recommended that NBN Co further examine the possibility of opening up NBN Co towers to mobile telecommunications companies to improve mobile coverage in regional Australia. NBN Co has already flagged it is open to this idea.

Coalition: Stop the contracts

In an estimates hearing earlier this month, Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham asked NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley whether NBN Co was looking to sign four-year contracts. Quigley would not confirm the length, but said that NBN Co would look at changing contract periods if it was an advantage for NBN Co to do so.

He indicated that a number of the contracts would be signed in the middle of 2013.

In his dissenting report, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said NBN Co needed to keep in mind that the government may change after September 14 before entering into any new contracts.

"NBN Co and its board should be clearly mindful of a possibility of a change of government, and the need to alter contracts down the contract," he said.

"NBN Co and its board should ensure suitable flexibility is written into the terms of future contracts. If this is not possible, then the likely costs of changing and lengthening contract terms need to be weighed against perceived benefits."

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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  • Just sign the contracts

    Don't let Malcolm Turnbull, Simon Birmingham or the other Liberal loons bully you, Mr Quigley. You have been commissioned to carry out the NBN to the best of your considerable ability, and you should not be swayed in the slightest by political threats and bovver-boy tactics.

    And if it is prudent for NBN Co to enter long term contracts at any time before writs are issued in August, then it is your duty and obligation to do so. If the NBN is the right thing for the nation - and you know very well that it is - then it is the right thing to commit to it.

    Malcolm Turnbull can rail all he likes that (1) the NBN is unnecessary and (2) that it's happening all too slowly. Those two contradict each other, but that's hardly unusual. If he is to inherit the project, then Mr Quigley, you bequeath him the best contracts, the most advanced network architecture, and the most forward-looking plan of any comparable nation on Earth. Then he can worry about whether it is rolling out fast enough, and if he wants to tweak it to be more efficient, so be it.
    • I agree 100%

      Well said. Ubiquitous FTTH is very much in the long term interest of the country, even if the proletariat don't realise it. Mr Quigley should do everything possible to ensure the build is completed to the current spec and if that means signing contracts through to the end of the build then so be it. Realistically, it's just prudent risk management.
  • Just sign the contracts

    First, Gwyntaglaw I appreciate the legalistic viewpoint but it is clearly partial or heavily biased. What we all want (surely) is the best for the country - right?

    I'm not sure either party has that right at this point, but you might care to admit that NBN is pretty coy about its costing and activities. And its sign-up performance has thus far been less than sparkling.
    And you can't possible hold the view that Mr Quigley is free to pursue the interests of the NBN without political influence.

    Turnbull at least brings experience and intellect to the issue - argue his politics separately please.

    My second request is for a simple answer to the questions:

    If the optic fibre runs past my gate, who pays the cost of getting it into the back of my device?
    Does the connection street/inside of house cost broadband performance. given that it may go through fibre optic then finally into the home.
    • don't believe the Liberal BS machine

      "you might care to admit that NBN is pretty coy about its costing and activities."
      No it hasn't. The corporate plan is visible to all, progress is reported every 3 months, there are senate estimates hearings every (I believe) 6 months, there are joint committee meetings every 6 months, the joint committee puts out a report every 6 months, and NBN Co submits documentation to the ACCC as part of the SAU process. By any measure this is about the most transparent project ever undertaken in either the public or private sector.

      "And its sign-up performance has thus far been less than sparkling."
      Sign-up performance has been phenomenal. In areas where the NBN has been available for more than 12 months, 25% have already signed up, in some areas it is already 50%, and all of this is before the copper network is even switched off, which will force people to change over anyway rendering the whole subject moot.
      Compare to take up rates of other fibre networks and previous technologies in Aus:

      "Turnbull at least brings experience and intellect to the issue - argue his politics separately please."
      I don't see how it is possible to separate the 2. His politics cause him to lie and mislead repeatedly about the NBN despite his experience and intellect. He knows and openly admits that FttP is the long term solution, yet still wants to foist the country with substandard and more expensive FttN. If he is intelligent as you claim, what possible reason does he have other than politics?

      "If the optic fibre runs past my gate, who pays the cost of getting it into the back of my device?"
      In the short term it is paid for from the debt NBN Co is building up. In the long term you will pay it off with your monthly fee.

      "Does the connection street/inside of house cost broadband performance. given that it may go through fibre optic then finally into the home."
      I can't make sense of this question. Does connecting your house to broadband cost performance? No, if you're not connected you'd have no performance at all.
      • ""If the optic fibre runs past my gate, who pays the cost ......

        If the natural gas pipe runs past your house and you want it connected you pay.

        Why should any other service be different?
    • "If the optic fibre runs past my gate..."

      "If the optic fibre runs past my gate, who pays the cost of getting it into the back of my device?"

      From NBN Myths:

      NBN Co will install fibre into your home during the build for no cost, providing you with 4 data ports and 2 phone ports.[18] Simply plug your current wireless router and cordless phone into that socket, and you’ll get your internet and phone anywhere in the house, just like you do now. There is no need to rewire your house unless you want hard-wired access in other places of your home.

      Source: http://nbnmyths.wordpress.com/
    • Experience?

      --'Turnbull at least brings experience and intellect to the issue'

      What experience? Turnbull invested in an email company for a few years and made a fortune when he sold it. That's all.

      He has no training, education or professional experience in the field of broadband infrastructure. He's just some guy who made a lot of money with a good investment call in the 1990s.
      Dave Burke
      • And he is still re-living the 1990's

        The trouble with Turnbull is that he is trying to have us believe that what was acceptable in the 1990s is acceptable is 2013 and beyond.

        If he does have any intelligence, it has been subjugated by his politics and the far-right loony factions in the Coalition.
      • Still Investing in FTTP/H

        Turnbull has no tech credentials. He is just a banker turned politician & is still placing his investment cash into FTTP/H in France but at home preaches FTTN as he obeys his master's orders to "Destroy the NBN" well knowing the majority of the constantly misinformed public will accept this BS without question due to their dislike of Gillard & Labor.
        FTTN is a joke as performance comes to a screeching halt once it hits that last mile of neglected, obsolete copper to the home that Howard sold to Telstra & now to be purchased back at their terms & price.
      • Yep

        And it is the guys that make good investment calls that keep the ecoonomy ticking over. Not governments.
  • Internal Connections

    The NBN co installs the terminal box on the wall outside the house and hole drilled through the wall to the psu and terminal box, see http://www.nbnco.com.au/getting-connected/home-and-business/nbn-services/inside-installation.html
    Kevin Cobley
  • Tony's just invented a new task for NBN

    Great thinking Tone, Online Universities (online senior secondary to follow get rid of all those costly schools)!!!!! Heaps of bandwidth needed to broadcast all those lectures and video conferencing, great task for the NBN don't think fibre to the node is going to cut it for this app.
    A real shot in the arm for the NBN!
    Kevin Cobley
    • What about wireless/satellite

      "don't think fibre to the node is going to cut it for this app."

      It is good to know how many people really have no clue about the NBN.....fibre, fibre, fibre, fibre only

      over 1 500 000 people to be stuck on wireless/satellite... Neither side cares about those..
      • No one really cares

        Yes, you are pretty much right. No one cares. Any one living in the middle of no where gets what is affordable. At the moment that is over 2 times faster than what people get now with adsl2+ on average. But I could equally complain how unfair it is your houses and land are so cheap, you don't have to pay thousands a year in rates, etc. Location changes a lot of things.
      • Welcome to the Tyranny of Distance

        School of the Air current uses satellite for live one way video, and bi-directional audio (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_of_the_Air).

        At least the NBN satellites should allow bi-directional HD video as well, which is an improvement, especially once the Long Term satelites come online (http://www.nbnco.com.au/assets/documents/faq-interim-satellite-service.pdf)
      • its unfortunate

        but there will always be a point where fibre is too expensive to run per capita. As it is the liberals feel its too expensive now. I could probably survive if they agreed to a 90 or 85% fibre coverage, but those that lose out would be the regional towns and those are the ones standing to gain the biggest benefit.

        Once the thing is built (if it is ever finished!) it may be affordable to visit towns below 1000 people. Although under labor I'd think those on satellite and wireless are far more likely to get their wireless and satellite services upgraded.
        Justin Watson
      • NBN Clues

        We would love to be "Stuck on Wireless" instead of our present sub 1MB/s ADSL1 RIM lottery at Telstra's mercy.

        In our location we miss out on a FTTH connection but the present NBN plan is fibre to a tower that will supply our area with 25MB/s.
        Just a pipe dream I guess come September.
        Progress stops & we wait several years during a CBA/Telstra rehash only to continue with the same crap service from a distant perhaps eventually fibre enabled Node.
  • Not really a surprise

    My impression is that members of the Australian House of Representatives are elected primarily as surrogates for their party leaders, so party discipline is tight.

    Maybe a Senate committee would have worked better; at least the Senate has a relatively high percentage of minor party members who don't expect to be part of the government no matter which party forms it.
    John L. Ries