Gillard strangles credibility with NBN remarks

Gillard strangles credibility with NBN remarks

Summary: No matter how hard the Australian Labor Party tries, when it comes to the telecommunications sector it just keeps on shooting itself in the foot — a fact demonstrated starkly by Prime Minister Julia Gillard's appalling comments on the NBN over the past week.


commentary No matter how hard the Australian Labor Party tries, when it comes to the telecommunications sector it just keeps on shooting itself in the foot — a fact demonstrated starkly by Prime Minister Julia Gillard's appalling comments on the NBN over the past week.

Julia Gillard and Stephen Conroy

Stephen Conroy and Julia Gillard
(Credit: NBN Co)

It was hard to ignore the sense of triumphalism in the air last Thursday morning when the Federal Government finally announced its long-awaited National Broadband Network contract with Telstra. The symbolism of the moment, after all, was writ large.

Churchill-like, Gillard repeated several times that she was "determined" the NBN will go ahead, "determined" to bring super-fast broadband to Australia and "determined", it appears, to look as though Labor is capable of sticking with one policy, at least, until the bitter end. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, for his own part, showed off his "special occasion" red Labor tie, reiterating the nation-building aspects of the NBN with his trademark overenthusiastic diction.

Finance Minister Penny Wong looked serenely on, staunchly safeguarding the public purse, while Telstra CEO David Thodey and NBN Co chief Mike Quigley step forward to vouchsafe the sacred trust that has been placed in them to maintain telecommunications services to every Australian ... or words to that effect. It was a publicity extravaganza that glistens with production values only otherwise found in the most high-profile stage events ... Andrew Lloyd Webber should take note.

It should have been enough for Gillard and her supporters to stop there. To justly accept plaudits for a deal that represents, after a decade, a final outcome to the botched deregulation of Australia's telecommunications sector. The holy grail, the separation of Telstra, is within reach, and better yet, we're getting universal fibre to boot.

But Gillard just couldn't help herself. Her gutter instincts rose to the fore and she indulged them, taking the opportunity to stick the boot into the Opposition. "The Opposition is determined to destroy the NBN," the Prime Minister said. "I anticipate the Opposition will go to the next election saying they'll dig the cables out of the ground."

Taken alone, Gillard's comments might be seen as just an isolated example of a Prime Minister who didn't quite understand what she was talking about. After all, nobody in their right mind would rip up brand new infrastructure once it had been laid, whether that infrastructure is a road or a fibre cable. You make use of it — or, in the worst case, sell it.

But Gillard blithely ploughed on.

Facing questions on the matter from one brave journalist, who pointed out that Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull had just that very morning stated that a coalition government would not dig up the NBN fibre, Gillard reiterated her comments.

The Prime Minister claimed Opposition Leader Abbott had given Turnbull instructions to "destroy" the NBN. "You destroy the NBN by ripping up this agreement, ripping the fibre out of the ground and keeping this nation in the past," she said.

And then, later in parliament that same day, Gillard continued (PDF). "If you are in the business of ripping the National Broadband Network out of the ground, then your relentless negativity is costing Australian families," she told the Coalition. Then later: "They want to rip the NBN out of the ground." The quote was repeated many times in that session of parliament — and Gillard continues to use the exact same words, again and again. Just this week, at an NBN launch in the Northern Territory, Gillard accused Abbott of wanting to "rip the fibre out of the ground".

Now there's just one problem with Gillard's claim: both logic and the Coalition itself indicate that it is simply untrue. There is no reason that a coalition government would order fibre-optic cable to be physically torn out of the ground if it took government. Quite aside from the fact that it would be a monumental waste of money to do so, it would involve a major construction effort.

Nextgen Networks, for example, has already constructed thousands of kilometres of fibre links across Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia as part of the $250 million NBN backhaul project. It would be, as Turnbull has pointed out, "ludicrous" to suggest that the infrastructure should be torn up, just as it would be ludicrous to tear up a major highway once it had been built.

It gets even more ludicrous when you consider the scale the NBN will have achieved by the time the next election comes around ... with several million premises in cities around Australia having received fibre to their front door. To suggest that any politician would want to physically disconnect millions of Australians from their fledgling fibre connection — with the previous copper network having likely already been removed in many cases — is worse than a bad joke. It's simply untrue.

Now, opinions vary as to what extent Gillard is or is not a fool in general. However, it is clear, given the ongoing nature of her "rip it up" comments targeted at the Coalition, that these remarks in particular are not coming off the cuff. They are a deliberate strategy designed to take advantage of the NBN's populism and undermine the Coalition's broadband credibility.

With a whole department full of broadband experts and a minister who is speedily becoming a walking encyclopaedia on the subject, there is no doubt that our Prime Minister has the resources to understand that no government, nay, nobody in their right mind, would "rip up" brand new telecommunications infrastructure.

The fact that she is publicly making statements that run contra to that expertise and understanding means she is comfortable misleading the Australian public. To label it as it should be labelled, Gillard's claims regarding the Coalition's plans for the NBN are a lie: a lie told deliberately and consciously in public with the aim of attacking her rivals.

The difficulty with this is that you simply cannot use a bald-faced lie to publicly undermine someone else's credibility. Ultimately, the only credibility you will undermine is your own.

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government AU, NBN

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  • This whole government is a total goose. And Conroy, with his mad ideas such as Internet filters, fibre for all is just another stunt of showing their ineptitude. He will go down as the most pathetic communications minister of all time.

    The question that needs to be asked after this utter disaster by this government is what will the Coalition do with the NBN. (1) Keep these high paid public servants who are "the best of the best" - (move over Tom Cruise in Top Gun, here comes NBN staff) and try to renegotiate FTTN with Telstra, but still have a public monopoly (2) Sell the mess to Telstra for a dime and get them to roll FTTN as functional (3) sell the mess and let the market forces of a what is normal take place ie. HFC and wireless.

    The question lies in should governments run businesses, or should business runs businesses. It seems that they just can't help themselves wanting to be more than just government. Governments should just govern and even that too much of a challenge for them to do.
    • "He will go down as the most pathetic communications minister of all time."

      False. As retarded as Conroy is that crown will always belong to Richard Alston. (The Internet filter was his idea btw)

      "The question that needs to be asked after this utter disaster by this government is what will the Coalition do with the NBN."

      The answer is replace it with a real mess of patchwork network that nobody wants.

      "The question lies in should governments run businesses"

      The question is should the infrastructure projects be handled by the government and should they be publically owned? True. Bring on the fibre.
      Hubert Cumberdale
      • "The answer is replace it with a real mess of patchwork network that nobody wants."

        The internet is a patchwork network, it seems to work pretty well.
        • Yes the internet is a patchwork based on simple protocols designed for the good of all. The patchwork we dont want is that of complex business deals both above and under the table, between players that would rather not have to talk to each other, and are more concerned with their own self interests than the greater good.
        • "The internet is a patchwork network, it seems to work pretty well."

          Perhaps you don’t know the meaning of the word patchwork when we are describing a wholesale broadband network. The NBN will be mostly fibre with wireless & satellite filling in the smaller gaps. The coalitions "plan" is to mix a bunch of different technologies and speeds just for the sake using different technologies all over the place. They are like a fat kid at an all deserts smorgasbord "I'll have one of EVERYTHING!". By the end of it you could be in one house then move a few blocks and then get a quarter of the speed you were getting previously and that IS a patchwork.
          Hubert Cumberdale
  • ZDNet Strangles credibility with Gillard remarks.
    Even the dullest of pundits out there would recognise that Gillard is not ACTUALLY suggesting ripping millions of $ of fibre up, but using it as an example that even the dullest of the pundits out there would understand as killing off the NBN.
    One would have hoped Renai LeMay has a greater respect for the intelligence of the readers of ZDNet than to have launched what is oh so clearly a political attack - no-one who reads this august publication would for a moment countenance the concept of ripping perfectly good, brand spanking new, infrastructure out of its resting place - and one would hope that most readers would understand that even her Prime-ministerness wouldn't actually be out there hauling it to the nearest tip either.....
    • You are quite correct "obliterated".

      Renai LeMAY complains about putative technical and fiscal inaccuracy from the mouth of GILLARD & co (and yes this is factually correct in that ALL pollies are frack-retards about IT), but LeMAY is factually and metaphorically way off-beam as well.

      The GILLARD remarks indeed are "polly-hissy-fit-school-yard-hair-pulling", but the main character for setting this abysmal parliamentary standard is ABBOTT, with his sensation-seeking one-liners aimed at selling to confrontation seeking (and making) journos like LeMAY.

      Yes, the coalition (in the future) could sever the NBN physically, by digging up cable, or cutting cable, or disconnecting cable, or making it so expensive no would contemplate connecting.

      But intelligent ZD-netters will disregard this considerable "information-noise", and listen to what the major game players are saying, and look at what they are building, in BYTES and $$$.

      In short, LeMAY is another "IT frack-tard", no better than the abysmally luddite pollies in this country.

      ZD-net should seek a more educated and insightful reporter in this arena !!
  • Government and Telstra can not even mountain their own websites in good order. How they going to build NBN?!
  • No issues here - if Abbott can make stuff up about everything, including the NBN - I think it's TIME labor plays the same game.. they are too passive, and need to play the 'damn the facts' game as the libs do... Good on her - FUD is the only way ahead in politics in Aus at the moment, and when the oposition starts using fact, the perhaps the gov can ease back...
  • Cut Renai some slack, he is right about one thing: "you simply cannot use a bald-faced lie to publicly undermine someone else's credibility. Ultimately, the only credibility you will undermine is your own."

    And the only reason he is right about that is because the Coalition have no credibility.
  • I gotta say, much of the reason why the government is currently in dire straits is not because of supposed *bad* policy but the clear ineptitude at selling their policies and achievements....for eg. the BER was actually a very successful program with only a 2.7% complaint rate but the govt. has just rolled over and allowed it to become widely accepted that the policy was somehow a *waste* and a failure.....they failed to defend themselves and cut through the FUD in the media...very lame and passive! Combine this with the behaviour of the Abbott opposition and you are bound to suffer. Renai, I see your points, however I feel that it is a bit rich to hang the PM out to dry for giving Abbott a bit of his own medicine for the first is a bit naive to suggest that the PM and Govt need to rise about it all when actually doing so will mean they will be out on their collective butts at the next election......why reward Abbott with further passive resistance??? Also, you are forgetting that the Aussie public is not really as informed as the bulk of readers here and so they actually swallow this kind of low-level stuff....they are being fed it everyday & are hooked into it.

    Go for it Julia, I say. And for goodness sake keep sticking the boot in. The luddites deserve every little bit that the Govt can muster.

    And muster they must or they will be history....and perhaps so will the NBN...

    At least, the type of NBN we all that promotes RETAIL competition!!!
    • "Promoting RETAIL competition" seems a little pointless when we are legislating and protecting a wholesale monopoly. It doesn't matter if the lack of competition comes on the wholesale or retail side of the equation, the end result is that the service will be priced by what the market will bear. If you don't think this is the case, look at your electricity, gas or water bill.
      • Yes, gas, electricity etc... here we go again...welcome back mwil19, sigh!

        So should we have 6 or 8 gas pipes to each house or a dozen different electricity cables, just for competition...?

        Sometimes common sense comes before the "political correctness of competition" for competitions sake...

        Natural monopolies need to be looked at and dealt with accordingly and if it comes to the choice of a government monopoly, or a profit driven privately owned monopoly, guess which is best...?
        • I agree, but NBNco is a legislated monopoly, not a natural one. By legislating away any potential competition on the wholesale side, NBN can charge whatever they want. In a real natural monopoly, raising prices too much would result in other players moving into the market.
          • Now, now, legislated not natural monopoly... pedantic!

            Call it legislated, natural or Katrina if you wish, because arguing over the title isn't going to change the reality of what it is.

            We have SFA in the way of "actual" wholesale competition in fixed now. Of course we have mobile, which the FUDsetrs say, will be a real competitor to the big bad monopoly NBN (read that back and then giggle at the mindless contradiction, as I always do...LOL).

            Where competition will increase is in retail...

            So again I ask... should we have 6 or 8 gas pipes to each house or a dozen different electricity cables, just for competition...?
          • Robbie you can ask ridiculous questions as many times as you like. My issue isn't that we should have 8,80 or 800 lines connected to our houses, it's that we should be free to if we choose.

            A natural monopoly only exists at a certain price point. The legislation allows NBN to raise prices with no fear that a competitor might move into their space. I'm not disagreeing with you in that there will be competition on the retail side and that is a good thing, but all the competition in the world on the retail side will be neutered by price rises on the wholesale monopoly side. No protected monopoly has ever led to price reductions.
          • Michael (wow two can play that game)...

            What about the current situation? You aren't going to tell me that we have choice now are you? Not with a straight face anyway...?

            So what is the answer, a Katrina monopoly or many lines (which let's face it, will never happen anyway)... which you already said you disagree with... so??????????

            This is where the anti-NBN FUDsters (and this isn't directed at you per se`) do the inevitable facepalm... they bag the NBN, but really DO NOT have a logical alternative.

            As such I repeat, imo the NBN is far from perfect but it is the best option we have...!
          • Don't disagree with most of your post, however if we are tying up billions of dollars, I think we should be aiming for something better than "far from perfect". If we mirror what has been done with other utilities, we will wind up with high speed Internet available to all, only so long as they can afford high prices.
          • Err, you forgot the rest... "but it's the best option we have"... and please let me also add to make it abundantly clear, imo, it's light years ahead of 2nd...

            Otherwise, I could actually agree with everything you say...!

            Imo, the next best alternative is like having a worn out car and instead of saying right lets upgrade, you throw a coat of paint on it and a set of retreads and say there, that'll do...and then pat yourself on the back for saving 2/3 of your cost...!

            But everyone is entitled to their opinion, so fair enough, cheers!
  • I've lived here 14 years and I've yet to see a Communications Minister who could even spell. Having said that, this entire "article" is rhetorical - being about nothing more than the PM's own spin. Exciting as it isn't, it's also grammatically poor: "nay, nobody in their right mind" should be "nay, anybody in their right mind". Not even on a Friday.