Conroy challenges Turnbull on policy costs

Conroy challenges Turnbull on policy costs

Summary: Ahead of Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's National Press Club Address in Canberra today, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has demanded that his opposition counterpart reveal the costings of his alternative broadband policy.


Ahead of Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's National Press Club Address in Canberra today, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has demanded that his opposition counterpart reveal the costings of his alternative broadband policy.

"Mr Turnbull has provided the Australian public with no details, no clear direction and — unsurprisingly for a member of Tony Abbott's Opposition — no costings regarding his proposal to dismantle the NBN, yet at the same time has claimed he will deliver fast broadband more quickly," Conroy said in a statement.

A fortnight ago at a business lunch in Sydney, Turnbull detailed some of the Coalition's preliminary policy, which the party is presenting as an alternative to the Federal Government's $35.9 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) project. The alternative would include retaining a fibre roll-out, but only laying the fibre to the node in many areas, rather than all the way to the home. The proposal would involve using Telstra's existing copper lines to each premise. Turnbull admitted that if the Coalition came into power, this would require substantial renegotiation of the $11 billion deal between Telstra and the government.

According to Conroy, Turnbull's plan would end up costing tens of billions of dollars more.

"While Mr Turnbull has now stopped spruiking his previous wireless-only policy, his current fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) policy is unworkable and will add tens of billions to Australia's budget and also deliver an inferior technological outcome to the Gillard Government's fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) NBN roll-out," Conroy said.

Conroy has demanded that his counterpart reveal the exact cost of his plan, where the money will come from, how the Coalition intends to find money to pay Telstra to "surrender its copper network" and whether this will impact the budget deficit.

Turnbull has previously indicated that costing for his own policy would not be possible until the government revealed some of the costs associated with its NBN policy.

"As Senator Conroy knows, the Coalition cannot put a definitive dollar figure on the cost of sorting out his financial disaster because he has not released sufficient financial information for anyone, including Telstra shareholders, to analyse or understand the deals with Optus and Telstra," Turnbull said in a recent blog post.

Instead of cross-subsidising the cost of broadband in regional and remote Australia with its metropolitan counterparts, Turnbull suggested that a coalition government would either seek to pay companies the cost difference to roll out broadband infrastructure in regional areas, or would introduce a voucher system to subsidise higher broadband costs for residents. Conroy said the voucher system needed to be explained, and that Turnbull should explain why people in regional areas should have to pay more in the first place.

The main thrust of Turnbull's policy proposal is that he believes that the Coalition could deliver fast broadband quicker than the NBN will, which won't finish rolling out until 2020. However, Conroy questioned Turnbull's timing calculations.

"Malcolm Turnbull says it would take six months for the Productivity Commission to produce a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN. At the time of the next election in mid-2013, the NBN roll-out will be in full swing with over a million premises passed and passing 6000 per day in FY2014," he said. "After the Productivity Commission reports, he has said he will tear up the agreements with Telstra and Optus and start again, and draw up a new regulatory framework ... exactly how he will deliver his broadband network quicker than the NBN if the only plan he can commit to is to halt and dismantle the NBN?"

Speaking to ABC radio this morning, Turnbull again promised not to tear up the NBN infrastructure should the Opposition win power at the next election.

"All of the NBN infrastructure will remain in place," he said.

"We will ensure its value is maximised."

Conroy today indicated that he will make an announcement about the wireless roll-out of the NBN at an Australian Information Industry Association lunch in Sydney.

AAP contributed to this article

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government AU, 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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  • Sorry Malcolm; just not good enough. Your plan to "speed up" broadband is to grind the volume fibre rollout to a halt, tear up agreements, go back to the drawing board, give Telstra a big bargaining advantage, and ask the Productivity Commission to have a think about things before you do anything else.

    Pray tell, how does this speed up anything?

    The NBN is a stool with three legs - you have, at best, announced no more than half a leg for your stool. The three are:

    1. Physical upgrade of assets from limited-future copper to future-proof fibre
    2. Regulatory overhaul to correct the lopsided disaster of the Howard Telstra selloff
    3. Correct the entrenched inequity of access faced by regional and rural users in accessing high speed broadband

    The NBN directly addresses all of these - and it has taken years of consultation, planning and negotiating with all the big players to make it happen.

    Turnbull's plan doesn't address any of these adequately, and promises the paradoxical idea of stopping work and tearing up agreements to make it all go faster. Huh?

    Malcolm, your stool is wobbling badly.
  • Be fair Gwyntaglaw, you are missing several important points.

    1. It'll be cheaper because Turnbull says it'll be cheaper.
    2. It will be finished before the NBN because the NBN will be stopped.
    3. Abbott is an idiot.
    4. Abbott put another idiot in charge of Shadow Communications.

    The combination of those 4 points clearly proves the coalition policy is world best practice, and anybody who disagrees is a poo-poo head.

    I love how after squealing like a little girl for so long about a cost benefit analysis of the NBN, Turnbull goes cold on providing one for his own idea. The hypocrisy and irony amuses me greatly.
    • I bow to your superior analysis, Gav. :)

      Must accept Tony Abbott brainwashing... must accept Tony Abbott brainwashing...

      ...aaah, that feels better already! Didn't need all those brain cells after all.
      • I should actually be fair to Malcolm Turnbull. He didnt accrue his fortune by being an idiot, its unfair to call him one. Disagree with his policies or not, he isnt stupid.

        Just a Liberal politician...

        I'll amend point 4 to read 'Abbott put someone in charge of Shadow Communications, who has a keen interest in the status quo' instead.
  • Seems Mr Turnbull still doesn't understand the importance of standard high speeds and faster upload speeds. The coalitions patchwork plan is basically "yay let's have a bunch of various technologies for the sake of having a bunch of various technologies and let's just let the length of the copper decide how much speed people will get yay!"
    Hubert Cumberdale
  • Well, it must be said that Malcolm Turnbull most assuredly wiped the floor this afternoon with the efluent of labor supporters with his excellent, informative and well researched speech to the NPC as one would expect him to.
    In doing so he has brought the credability of Conroy and the entire labor cabinet under notice that they have an unwinable policy position that we have all known about for a very long time and one that all tech savy commentators have questioned from day 2 of the original policy announcements.
    If you took the trouble to hear what he enunciated, most clearly I thought, you should also be convinced.
    Additionally I did not hear any reasonable case put against what he spoke about and indeed it seemed that what he had said had been well understood and well absorbed also.
    From a personal point of view I heard that anyone with a cable connection availability to their home could expect to get very high speed access within 1 to 2 years under a Liberal Government of a speed that will cover all of my own Overseas conferencing needs and all of my partners Doctor/Surgeon Medicine needs.
    Time will show you silly boys for what you indeed are; mere Labor stooges and appologists.
    • Do you agree Roger, that Turnbull should have his policy fully costed? And why do you support his idea even though you have no idea what it will cost?
    • Roger, the personal slurs don't actually bolster your case as much as you think they do.

      Aside from that, why do you think Turnbull's proposal will stand the test of time? Yes, the man is a good speaker and can project great authority. But that's hardly the point - it's the substance that matters over time.

      Malcolm Turnbull today performed a very good juggling act. He drew on his travels and personal journeys, measured Australia against New Zealand and found us wanting, argued that Australia's plan was too extensive or too ambitious. He weighed the existing technologies (copper, HFC) against the newer fibre, urged caution, urged restraint, cast the air of reasonable doubt against the Government's plan.

      The problem was, it entirely lacked vision. Nowhere was there a recognition of how transforming universal high speed internet can be. Nowhere was there the concept of planning ahead for a future that is further than the next election. It was, in essence, the argument for doing as little as possible.

      And maybe that works for you. It was a conservative message, aimed at a conservative middle ground. Don't reach for the stars; you might trip and break something. Easy does it. Steady as she goes.

      The day I actually believe Turnbull's plan will happen is the day he gets widespread industry support. So far, he hasn't. There isn't a single major telco exec who has endorsed his approach, or to whom he can look for support. Nor the ACCC. If they don't believe him - then why should we?

      And he gives himself a significant "out" clause - that everything he says is subject to changing future circumstances - including the state of the NBN rollout, nature of the legal responsibilities incurred, and the advice to be received from experts in future (such as the Productivity Commission).

      Once the sound and fury dies down, there's really not much there. And nothing much that will survive his next two years in Opposition.
    • "Well, it must be said that Malcolm Turnbull most assuredly wiped the floor this afternoon"

      Janitorial duties for Turnbull? Well yes if he was working for me that's all I'd give him too…

      "If you took the trouble to hear what he enunciated, most clearly I thought, you should also be convinced."

      I took the trouble and I'm not convinced. I guess if Mr Turnbull is garnering for votes for his team he'll have to try harder next time. Some of us have higher standards.
      Hubert Cumberdale