Is Labor’s NBN tag-team helping or hurting its election message?

Is Labor’s NBN tag-team helping or hurting its election message?

Summary: The dissolution of Julia Gillard's ministry saw Labor try a curious approach to replacing the ubiquitous Stephen Conroy: appointing four separate ministers to each spruik the NBN in their own way. A week away from the election, has this approach helped Labor's chances or hurt them?

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If Stephen Conroy was to get any satisfaction from his ignominious resignation in June, it would have to be that, in the wake of his departure, Labor felt that he was doing so much, on so many fronts, that it took not one, not two, not three, but four ministers to replace him.

That decision was either incredibly risky – risking an irretrievably bifurcated message around the NBN in the runup to a critical election – or incredibly smart, allowing each member to bring his or her respective strengths to broaden the appeal and integrity of Labor’s NBN marketing strategy.

Hydra-JohnSingerSargent
When it comes to promoting the NBN, will Labor find that four heads are better than one? (Image: John Singer Sargent, Public domain)

Kate Lundy, after all, is easily the most respected politician we have when it comes to digital economy matters. Keen to bring such issues to a higher profile, she seems to have embraced her new role – as Minister Assisting for Industry and Innovation and for the Digital Economy – with aplomb.

Just look at her media-release centre (now abridged because of the current caretaker mode), which as a scrapbook of her pre-election schedule is papered with releases about how the NBN is making the world a better place for Melbourne businesses, students in the ACT, Tasmanian, the Victoria Park, WA Digital Hub, homes in Goodna, restaurants and cafes everywhere, Moreton Bay local government, and more.

Husic, a young political firebrand best known for his largely ineffectual but highly inspiring crusade for better IT pricing, has been far quieter: his media site only shows enthusiasm over a mass NBN switchon in Tasmania, back on July 8.

Even Sharon Bird, who was brought into Albanese’s dream team to help spruik the party’s efforts in regional areas, has been busier: her release schedule celebrated NBN-related wins in Wollongong, Geraldton, Victoria Park, Mandurah, and Rockhampton.

That decision was either incredibly risky – risking an irretrievably bifurcated message around the NBN in the runup to a critical election – or incredibly smart, allowing each member to bring his or her respective strengths to broaden the appeal and integrity of Labor’s NBN marketing strategy.

Bird even went on the offensive against Turnbull and Luke Hartsuyker, who is effectively her opposition shadow, by accusing them of “deception” around the NBN and doing the same against Tony Abbott in Tasmania.

Albanese has also been busy, covering the metropolitan-area NBN launches in areas such as Brunswick, Strathfield, South Perth, Darwin, and even the rural area of Bendigo for good measure.

Conroy’s replacement also snaggled the announcement of a new NBN distribution hub that will employ 20 people, and took up the mantle of pressing Labor’s $5000-per-fibre-connection claim against the Coalition’s plan (that number has, reportedly, somehow increased to $50,000 in his latest curious statements). Clearly, Albo still gets to bag the big game.

With four ministers each championing the NBN cause in their own way, Labor has certainly spread its risk much thinner than it did with Conroy, who was the be-all and end-all when it came to spruiking the NBN.

That would have been a dangerous proposition for Albanese, who has already admitted that he's out of his technical depth after stepping into the broad and deep communications portfolio as an emergency. Lundy, Husic and Bird were clearly otherwise engaged, but their respective expertise can be nothing but a fillip for Albanese's heavily abridged NBN campaign run-up. 

This has in some ways helped Labor dance around Malcolm Turnbull’s constant opposition: while Albanese has taken on Conroy’s old pastime of taking on Turnbull in vitriolic and largely predictable televised debates, the other three ministers are happily walking the streets to promote Labor’s NBN cause. Turnbull can’t possibly keep up with all of them, Labor’s logic must have been, but it would be fun to watch him try.

With four ministers each championing the NBN cause in their own way, Labor has certainly spread its risk much thinner than it did with Conroy, who was the be-all and end-all when it came to spruiking the NBN.

And yet Turnbull has kept his eye on the prize, focusing on butting heads with Albanese and largely leaving Labor’s other NBN cheerleaders alone. This may be out of a habit developed during his regular clashes with Conroy, or because he is eager to develop a combative working relationship that might blossom into a role-reversal after the election (although I’d doubt Albanese will be eager to sit as communications shadow in such an instance).

Has Turnbull been fazed by Labor’s shock-and-awe NBN full-court press? Not really.

Has the move surfaced possible contenders for the communications and digital economy shadow ministry if Labor is relegated to Opposition come September 7? Most definitely. Indeed, feeling out candidates for a shadow ministry may well have been an ulterior motive of the many-minister approach. 

Will it make a difference in terms of the way voters perceive Labor’s NBN project? The jury is still out. Given the short timeframes involved, it’s unlikely that any amount of team playing would make a real difference at this point – in which case Labor’s NBN dream-team approach is simply too little, too late – and will simply go down as another miscalculation in what could end up as a disastrous Labor election bid.

What do you think? Has the abundance of NBN-related ministers helped or hurt Labor’s election-time message? And who will get the opposition-spokesperson hot potato if Labor loses the election?

Topics: NBN, Broadband, Government AU, IT Priorities, Telcos, Next Generation Networks

About

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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Talkback

8 comments
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  • With such a talented team how could they lose?

    That's right the project isn't going well; after 6 years of Conroy talk few Australians have access, disaster stories every couple of days (work just resuming after asbestos half), costs escalating, Albo unable to understand the basics of his portfolio.

    Kate Lundy the most respect digital economy politician? Good at making announcements and cutting ribbons; Canberra a centre for space development (for just $6m;-), enterprise solutions program (seriously "where government agencies would identify unmet technological needs and call for solutions from the private sector" and offer $1m grants), new R&D Tax Incentive unexplainible by AusIndustry,...

    Conroy left (with one third of the Ministry) because he couldn't work with Rudd. Given his performance in campaign this view vindicated. Of the four chose to replace him, 3 from the corrupt NSW Labor party. Chosen not for their skills but for their assistance in knifing Gillard.

    Continue the spin David, I read sportbet has already paid out $1.5b on a coalition win. Looking like a massacre. The lost of so much Labor talent (ROFL).
    Richard Flude
    • Coalition's Broadband Lemon

      The coalition's policy to spend $29bn (plus the cost of Telstra's copper) on FTTN is complete madness. We all know what a disaster FTTN was in New Zealand.

      Malcolm Turnbull holds up the UK as the shinning success of FTTN.
      Well after all the FTTN upgrades the UK ranks 51st in the world for upload speed. That's right, way down at 51st position and slipping further down as other so called 3rd world country's go flying past.

      Nowhere else in the world has anyone (government or private sector) purchased aging obsolete copper telephone lines to setup FTTN (its just madness).

      And under the coalition if you want fibre to home (if even available), expect to pay $5,000 to $10,000 (based on the costs from the UK)

      The coalition claim $94bn to build the NBN. There is absolutely no basis in fact for this claim.
      For the sake of comparison, Verizion rolled out fibre to 17 million homes in the USA at a cost of $15bn. (Thats 7 million more premises than the fibre rollout in Australia).
      Carl Hansen
      • I'll bite

        $29b is the peak borrowing component (included Telstra payout). $20b is the capex, of which $10b is FTTN (Labor's FTTH $27b).

        NZ results recently released, profitable thanks to FTTN.

        UK upload speeds not reflective of installed capacity of the new network. Uploads speeds upto 19mbps are 51st? Link please.

        Nowhere else has had to purchase the copper network. FTTH pays to retire it, where else in the world have this happened?

        FOD will be several thousand dollars, but demanded by what proportion of the market?

        Coalition $94b claim documented. Seems reasonable assumptions, NBNCo performance very poor.

        Your Verizon quote shows how much more expensive it is in Oz. Labor's own FTTH network has budgeted $27b for 10m premises; and not have come close to hitting these price estimates.

        We'll know whether Turnbull's done his homework in a little over a week.
        Richard Flude
        • Follow-up

          "We'll know whether Turnbull's done his homework in a little over a week"
          By the time they negotiate with Telstra for the copper lines and then NBNco redesign's the network for FTTN it won't be until mid 2014 before FTTN starts rolling out, so therefore it will be 2018 before FTTN is complete. (good one Turnbull)

          The coalition states min of 25mbps, this will require nodes within 700m. (that's a huge number of nodes needed)
          Unlike the UK, Australia is poorly suited to FTTN because of the low population density, large house block size and spread out housing, fibre is far better suited for these conditions.

          Turnbul states 25-100mbps, that is BS, even if you are right beside a node with perfect copper and good house wiring, the real world max for VDSL is 75mbps.

          "FOD will be several thousand dollars", well if you use the UK pricing (and Turnbull loves to use the UK for reference), when you add up all the costs its AUD$3,000 - $10,000 depending on distance to the node.

          "UK upload speeds". By average upload speed, the UK ranks 51st
          http://www.netindex.com/upload/allcountries/
          Carl Hansen
          • hi

            where are you
            Avatar1aaa
  • An excellent piece in today Australian

    A NBN history by John Durie. Recommended read:

    http://m.theaustralian.com.au/business/opinion/nbn-here-to-stay-no-matter-who-wins/story-e6frg9io-1226706969425

    Many issues, unsurprisingly, already brought up in these talkback;-)

    The future is now Turnbull's; resurrect a popular but failing policy requiring a massive of at-risk public money.

    I look forward to the audits and CBA.
    Richard Flude
  • More excellent pieces 4 U Richard

    http://www.literaturepage.com/read/grimms-fairy-tales.html

    Hope these aren't too heavy for you Richard?
    Sultanabran-
    • I've of a generation

      That were read all these as a child. Sure they were scary then, but then we grow up and realise they're just fairy tales.

      Sadly some don't grow up.
      Richard Flude