NBN construction targets were too ambitious: Conroy

NBN construction targets were too ambitious: Conroy

Summary: Former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has admitted that Labor's targets for NBN construction were more ambitious than the construction companies could handle.


Former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has admitted that Labor was "overly ambitious" in its construction targets for NBN Co while in government, but he has said Labor will keep up the fight for fibre-to-the-premises (FttP) in opposition.

"Did you miss me?" Conroy opened with as he stood at the podium to deliver his first speech since he stood down as communications minister in June at the Australian Computer Society Telecoms Address luncheon in Sydney today.

The former minister launched a fierce defence of Labor's AU$37.4 billion majority fibre-to-the-premises National Broadband Network (NBN) policy. He said contrary to popular belief, the FttP policy wasn't devised on the back of a napkin on a plane with then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. He said that the switch from the original fibre-to-the-node (FttN) plan to FttP was derived out of three factors: Telstra's resistance to structural reform, the Global Financial Crisis, and the expert panel appointed by the government that said that FttN was not a cost-effective path to full FttP.

"Because I wanted to propose to Cabinet a different course, as per standard Cabinet practice, I needed to obtain the PM's approval," he said.

"This was in the midst of the GFC and that conversation was on a plane. The extent of consultation both through government agencies and through Cabinet committees is already on the public record."

But four years on and missed construction targets, Conroy admitted that the construction industry had failed to "mobilise resources" on time, and that if he had his time over, he would have not have expected so much from the companies.

"I think we underestimated the capacity of the construction industry to respond to the challenge and that has led to the majority of the publicity around the alleged blowouts, not that anybody can point to one," he said. "The construction model could be legitimately criticised."

Part of this was due to the government asking NBN Co to pick up the fibre construction for new housing estates, something he said NBN Co "wasn't prepared for", as well as the government's decision to include the 34 percent of premises in Australia that are part of a multi-dwelling unit (MDU).

"Saying that 34 percent of Australians were not left behind and weren't able to get access to the [1 Gbps] and beyond, was a tough decision because it meant MDUs were going to be dealt with on a much more rigirous basis than just putting a box into the basement, whatever that means," he said.

"[The construction targets] were always ambitious [and] that was an area where we were overly ambitious."

But in seeking to protect his legacy, Conroy said that any further delays in the NBN rollout would be on the head of new Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and his decision to review the design of the NBN.

"The biggest threat to that ramp up will be the extent of any delay as Mr Turnbull's new board goes through all its reviews," he said.

"Any further delays to the rollout beyond the schedule in the revised plan that has now been submitted to Mr Turnbull ... will be a consequence of his policies and his change in policy agenda."

With the Coalition now abandoning its plan to have the Productivity Commission conduct a cost-benefit analysis for the NBN, Conroy labelled earlier criticism of Labor's decision not to do a cost-benefit analysis as "complete bullshit".

Labor leadership

The speech comes as yesterday Labor caucus voted for who will lead the Labor Party in opposition. These votes will make up 50 percent of the total vote, while the rank and file Labor members will make up the other 50 percent. Ahead of the announcement of the winner on Sunday, Conroy was full of praise for Labor leadership contender Anthony Albanese for representing Conroy in the House of Representatives and "mocking Malcolm wherever necessary", but he said yesterday he ultimately voted for Bill Shorten.

Conroy declined to say if he was seeking to return to the communications portfolio, stating that the decision on who will be the next Shadow Communications Minister will ultimately sit with either Albanese or Shorten after Sunday.

Topic: NBN


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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  • It is amazing

    how the usual rabble of ratbags, led by HC, decided to ignore this article. Too much truth is too hard for them to handle.
    • Thanks for the insightful analysis

      I haven't seen you comment here before, seems odd to me that you'd choose this time to create an account and write an insulting comment that is completely off topic, does'nt address any of the points in the article and comes across as a pretty poor attempt to troll one of the regular posters. Along with poor grammar skills and bad punctuation, I could swear I've seen similar comments here before... oh well.

      I'm sure HC or any of the other 'rabble' you've apparently got issues with aren't sitting there waiting for apologies and retractions from people who carried on (and on and on) about Conroy's 'plan on a plane' point addressed in the article above, or how the private sector wasn't able to deliver on Labors vision, or the fact that MT's not doing a cost-benefit analysis now that he's the minister, but it was the end of the world when Labor didn't either (etc etc), so I'm not sure what exactly you're looking for here.

      Seeing as you clearly miss his comments so much, if you're lucky, HC might comment in this thread later on and you can tell him what he should or shouldn't be saying, after that, I'll buy you an icecream at McDonalds. Would that make you feel better?
      • yeah I'll say something. It's changelings lucky day :-)

        tbh I'm not really interested in what Conroy has to say about a good broadband plan that could have been, I'm more interested in hearing what Turnbull has to say about his plan that "will be". Few things to consider though, Conroy wouldn't have had to be so ambitious if the coalition clowns had done something about broadband when they were in power. I also get the impression Turnbull will eventually be repeating what Conroy has said here even though he isn't being ambitious at all... 1175 days to go!
        Hubert Cumberdale
      • HC has been first to comment on most NBN articles lately

        and it is the same bile, day-in; day-out. But this article sat without any comments for 2 days. No comments by HC. No comments by his bilious friends.

        The fact that he is too scared to comment on someone telling the truth about NBN problems tells me all that I need to know.
        • *yawn*
          Hubert Cumberdale
        • Bile day in day out?

          Of course you most certainly doing much better than that with your incredibly neutral and helpful comments.


          Yes. HC is probably the more caustic of our "rabble of ratbags" but people like you demonstrate the common theme among your kind. Your ability to completely overlook everything else if just one little thing supports you small world view.

          Yes. NBN didn't get as far as it wanted too. Yes. NBN was probably overly ambitious.

          See, i can admit things.

          Don't worry though. Your comments have already told me "all that I need to know" about you. ;-)
        • Real Reason

          The real reason is simple if you are not a crackpot.

          It was posted at 16:15 on a Friday afternoon and few people read these sites on the weekend
    • A Flude sock-puppet?

      The sentiments and comments seem similar.

      And no Conroy, we don't much miss you, but that does not mean we're greeting Turnbull with open arms and cries of eternal mateship either.