Gaffe-r tape can't fix Abbott's NBN case

Gaffe-r tape can't fix Abbott's NBN case

Summary: Parliament is back, and it's game-on again as the NBN debate comes down to crunch time. Tony Abbott still believes the NBN is for interactive gambling and downloading pirated movies, but he couldn't find even $1 to cut from his $2 billion list of budget savings. Given his ever patchier financial and technical record, can he unite his party behind a more coherent NBN opposition — or will his tendency towards bluster and blind opposition end up as a free kick for Labor?


There is a scene in the comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop where the hypoglycaemic protagonist gets into a bar nacho-eating contest and inadvertently downs several margaritas to counter the burning-hot chillies he has just eaten. Chaos, naturally, ensues and his friends quickly progress from cheering admiration to I-don't-know-you-please-don't-chuck-on-me disgust as the sugar rush fuels progressively weirder behaviour before Blart passes out on the dance floor.

Watching Tony Abbott's rhetoric in recent weeks, I couldn't help but think of poor Paul, who just wants to be liked but ends up with people staring as he plays with a friend's nose and struggles to get his straw into his mouth.

Tony Abbott risks giving Labor a free kick unless he can tone down his bizarre hyperbole and mount a coherent NBN offensive.
(Screenshot by David Braue/ZDNet Australia)

Our opposition leader, after all, has built a leadership style around attacking the current government on anything and everything it does, then offering vague and often laughable alternatives that only make Labor look even better. This was on coherent display Tuesday, when Abbott and Joe Hockey held a press conference in which they shared their list of cuts and spending deferrals to a range of environmental, education, healthcare, civil works and other programs.

One of the most interesting things about this $2.065 billion list — apart from the fact that almost nobody seems to be buying it — is that it doesn't mention the National Broadband Network (NBN) anywhere. Not once. At all.

For someone who had barely waited for the Queensland rains to stop before he began calling for the NBN to be scrapped to fund flood relief, that's a white elephant-sized omission. Worse still for the Liberals' fight against the NBN, it confirms what Stephen Conroy has been saying loud and clear: that the NBN isn't a straight budget item that can simply be pared down or slashed out altogether. That Abbott and Hockey couldn't find even $1 to divert from the NBN, effectively sees Abbott ceding yet more ground in what has turned out to be a largely ineffective fight against Labor and the NBN. So far, Abbott's blind opposition to the NBN has been as effective as a mosquito trying to drink from the hindquarters of said white elephant.

Whether this is due to a lack of financial nous or continuing misunderstandings about the NBN, is hard to ascertain. Abbott wears the "I'm no Bill Gates" mantle with pride, and has repeatedly shown either that he's unafraid of speaking what he believes to be the God's-honest truth — or that he truly has no idea about the internet and telecommunications in general. In a society that is among the world's most eager adopters of the internet, that's about as acceptable as showing up at a comic-book convention without a working knowledge of the genesis of Batman.

Not only is Abbott no Bill Gates when it comes to technical detail, but his latest pronouncements are starting to make him sound like the Reverend Fred Nile.

Yet even after his repeated cries against what he sees as a glorified entertainment network (a phrase that could often be just as effectively levelled at parliament), Abbott recently managed to top even himself by vilifying the NBN as a conduit for "more interactive gambling". Not only is Abbott no Bill Gates when it comes to technical detail, but his latest pronouncements are starting to make him sound like the Reverend Fred Nile.

"Interactive gambling" has become to Tony Abbott what "spams and scams coming through the portal" is for Stephen Conroy — a catchphrase that highlights the ineptitude with which both men's detractors can paint them.

Even as the media's amusement with that gaffe died down, Abbott trumped himself yet again by declaring that he would appeal for donations from Liberal Party loyalists to help it fight the Labor Government's regrettable but important flood levy. Cashing in on the disaster is, the opposition leader apparently believes, more important than supporting flood relief efforts that have affected hundreds of thousands of Australians. It took days for Abbott to admit it was in bad taste — just long enough for yet another slip of the tongue to get him in trouble, yet again, in Channel 7's "shit happens" beat-up.

Will the sun ever shine on Abbott and his War On Everything? The fact that such proclamations have become par for the course underscores an ongoing issue with Abbott's leadership. By using poisonous, hyperbolic and often just plain silly language in his attacks on Labor policy, Abbott has opened himself up to both criticism by his opponents (Conroy wasted no time labelling Abbott "a danger" to the country's future) and dismissal by those that share his concerns about the NBN.

How can we take seriously the proclamations of a self-professed technology wowser who speaks in serious tones of the threat posed by interactive gambling and movie downloading, and whose preferred policy at election time was simply to kill the NBN and hand back Telstra its monopoly? How can we lend any credibility to his claims of financial responsibility when he rails against the NBN at every opportunity but fails to add it to his list of preferred budget cuts? With every bombastic pronouncement — remember his claim the NBN was crazier than Whitlam? — Abbott's image is of a man who stands for little more than ... well ... whatever is the opposite of what Labor stands for.

I couldn't help but chuckle while reading the reader comment on this ZDNet Australia story about the Coalition's interactive gambling posture. "Our government is supposed to be planning for the future of our country," the reader offered, "not holding it back."

Those words were written in 2003. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The problem here is not that Abbott does not have a deep knowledge of telecommunications technologies ... it is that he has shown himself to be a person who is simply not interested in learning.

And, in the end, change, or the lack thereof, is what it's all about here. The problem is not that Abbott does not have a deep knowledge of telecommunications technologies; nor is it even that his policies and arguments are so consistently contrary as to often defy logic. It is that Abbott has shown himself to be a person who is simply not interested in learning.

Remember a week before the election, when Abbott skipped the launch of his party's communications policy altogether? Remember back in December 2009, when he admitted he didn't have enough technical detail to comment on Labor's proposed filter? One wonders whether he could explain its workings any better now; the tone of his recent invective certainly suggests that not much has changed.

Even when drawn out as being glaringly incompetent when it comes to what was the singular most-important for many voters, the would-be leader of our country seems to have done nothing over the past six months to educate himself about the NBN, the realities of wireless technology, the past failures of his party, or the best way to accurately and effectively attack the NBN. He's still using the same old misguided hyperbole in public statements, and has handed over the entire NBN offensive to Malcolm Turnbull, who has flung everything he can think of at the NBN in hopes something will stick. Most of it has not.

Yet where Turnbull tries to use inscrutable logic to beat back the NBN, Abbott's tendency to fall back on emotive rhetoric makes him the Kirk to Turnbull's Spock with often comical results. One can't help but suspect that Turnbull is biding his time and takes great pleasure in Abbott gaffes that could, if they continue, convince party leaders that perhaps the shadow communications minister would make a better party leader after all. Abbott only rolled him by one vote, remember, and the way he's going I wonder whether he would still have unseated Turnbull were that vote held today.

This is more than idle observation about Abbott's mistakes: as opposition leader in a parliament that's now resuming with the NBN as its #1 priority, he's going to need to formulate a reasonable plan of attack against the ever-growing NBN, or risk marginalising himself and his party from the debate and giving Labor moral and political carte blanche when it comes to that project. There are many areas of legitimate concern about the NBN that need to be addressed, but if Abbott keeps arguing that interactive gambling and movie downloads are foremost among them, he's going to lose the battle for the Opposition before it has even begun.

As we begin a new parliamentary session, what would you like to see Tony Abbott doing to improve his fight against the NBN? Or is his strategy spot on the money?

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Government AU, Telcos


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • Someone should shut the mongrel dog up. It is annoying the neighborhood.
  • As we begin a new parliamentary session, what would you like to see Tony Abbott doing to improve his fight against the NBN? Or is his strategy spot on the money?

    I'd say, do nothing and say nothing. Just hand Labor enough rope and let Murphy's laws do its stuff.
    Vasso Massonic
  • Already we have:
    Vasso Massonic
  • Or maybe:
    Vasso Massonic
  • I have to wonder at what point political opposition stops being a responsible check on the government and instead becomes a force of destabilisation.

    The current political environment has the feel of a grudge football match ... it's not healthy. The Coalition needs to lift its game.
  • redrover, very true. Meanwhile, our economy remains at risk at the helm of amateurs.
    Vasso Massonic
  • I am sure even yourself can see the things wrong in that article.

    That is story is nothing more that to distract the conservative readers from Abbotts latest gaff.
  • How about another link to "the australian (print media obviously threatened by the NBN)" or better still "now we are talking BS"... VM?

    That would be the clincher for your latest Telstra share orientated comedy act...!

    Do you really believe Abbott is a suitable PM after his latest gaffe.

    I must admit he seemed like he was just trying to be "one of the boys", but should a PM be one of the boys? And worse, apparently, he tried to cover it up?

    So relating to transparency in politics?
  • ...and that one is about as useful as the 'NBN installers ripped up my nature strip' not long ago.
  • Indeed Smithe

    And LOL what about this gem... from the above URL, resident said ... "I couldn't believe my eyes when, in January, they started to hang an ugly black cable about a metre below the power lines." {END}.

    Yes gotta hate that "one ugly black cable" sitting with those" four luxuriously, strikingly beautiful power cables" eh?
  • Yes and he seized upon the first half of the article, which fits in with his precious party and even more precious than life itself, TLS shares, but simply ignored the rest of the article, which clearly explains why (well to those who actually want to know why)!
  • God knows I'm not a fan of Tony Abbott but even I could see that in context the;**** happens" phrase was just a colourful way of saying "even the best laid plans go awry". I have no beef with him over what he said. More telling was how uncomfortable and out of his depth he seemed when receiving the briefing in Afghanistan (perhaps understandable but still ...) and the truly bizarre response when the Channel 7 "journalist" swooped in for his 15s of fame.
  • Maybe he should have just cried.... it seems to have worked well for Gillard... oh and Hawke when he was PM.... the first time at least.... the 2nd and 3rd time the public was a awake up, the whole 'heart on his sleeve' act had become downright spooky.

    Abbott was about to throttle Mark Riley for what obviously is a beat up with selective editing..... what a pillar of restraint, lol.
  • Honestly, if you think that you are delusional.

    Next you will be saying that Mark Riley 'ambushed' him. If Hawke was spooky, dare I ask what Abbott's head wobble thing was?? Out of body experience perhaps?

    In all seriousness thou, I really don't think Abbott will be the oppsn. leader come the next election. In fact I don't think he will be leader for much longer after that interview. As simply put by Laurie Oaks (and many many more political commentators even from the right haven that is The Aus.) Tony Abbott will "pay dearly".

    It's not so much the comment as it was the 1min of the silence and, nothing short of bizarre head-nods. Tony Abbott is out there selling himself to be a credible alt. PM.

    Riley gave his office 2hours of warning on what he was going to be shown. Even gave his office a full transcript of what was going to be said. Tony Abbott had no excuse. He should have simply just explained what he meant.. It would have been done and dusted. He has no-one else to blame but himself.

    As a PM he will be front of media all the time. He will be asked some very hard questions. Look at the Gillard and Neil Mitchell interview for example, It got heated, but what do you think would have happened if Gillard went quiet for 60secs or more on air? (Oh, Neil Mitchell also said on air this morning how stupid Tony Abbott looked - and that is from Liberal FM??!)

    How much longer do you think the Liberal party will stand for this? They should have been out last night, preaching about Govt waste and how their cuts *would* have prevented a levy.. But no. they spent last night and all today defending him. Barrie Cassidy put it best:

    "When question time finally rolled around, they had nothing. The politics of the levy are slipping away from them.."

    This is just another thing that will come out of the woodwork come election time.. Along with "Dead, Buried and Cremated" or he could have just blamed Jet-lag, lets not forget that he should be capitalising on the current failures the Govt. has had..

    The Liberal faceless men would be working in those back rooms right now.. and if it doesn't happen soon, just wait for some key changes in the senate come July.
  • I can't see either Gillard or Abbott leading their parties to the next election unless their approval ratings improve. He's just had too many gaffes (although this last one was BS) and Gillard's popularity is falling below the guy she knifed.
  • I would have thought the 'lol' on the end of my post signalled an element of sarcasm, obviously not.

    I have little time for the guy... but when they edit tightly either side removing any context it does seem a bit suspicious. Regardless, his silence, when he has been well trained in the art of fending journalists' questions (inflammatory, stupid or otherwise) was indeed strange. Similar to his lack of response (many times) to the prime opportunity to stick it to Gillard on Inside Business/Insiders last Sunday morning.... responding with a silly 'I am not going to play your game' (OWTTE).
  • I see The Australian is back to NBN bashing. I must have counted about 5 or more different anti-NBN articles on their online site today.
  • To go a little off topic for a second RS, your comment reminds me of something I saw some time ago.

    When Sydney was in the middle of its drought, and Premier Iemma announced the desal plant at Kurnell, I remember a local resident all up in arms about how the desal plant was destroying his property value.

    Meanwhile, in the background of the story, was the Kurnell oil refinery in all its glory... I still like to think it being there was a delibrate act, it highlighted the comments pointless message so subtlely.

    The "ugly black cable" comment is the same. Its like saying you dont want a KFC to be opened next door to the local Mcdonalds because it encourages the kids to eat junk food...
  • I agree with Vasso's comment 19 hours ago. Let Labor run with its NBN and watch them create a gigantic stuff up - pink batts on steriods. Conroy will "retire" (code for lose his seat) with a massive super payout, gold travel for life etc ect and the good old taxpayer will pick up the tab. As for Channel 7's latest piece of prize winning tele journalism what more could you expect from the commercial channels. Thank God for the SBS!
  • Brianab, In the final analysis, even the good old taxpayer will be precluded from picking up the tab. Tax revenue is finite, so Capital costs will have to be debt financed, Federal Government rating permitting, of course.

    To quote only a minute number of our pressing needs: Pacific highway, Sydney/ Gold Coast, is a joke. Princess highway, Sydney/ Melbourne is a fatal nightmare. Last night I was appalled whilst watching a news report on the fate of aboriginals living conditions in the outback. I was brought up in Africa and until I moved to Australia fifty years ago, the living conditions of native villagers were far superior to our 2011 conditions, would you believe. Albeit, the outback seems destined to receive very fast broadband, Courtesy: Labor's $50 billion NBN!
    Vasso Massonic