Turnbull walks away from NBN high ground claims

Turnbull walks away from NBN high ground claims

Summary: In one swift move on the fifth birthday of the NBN, Malcolm Turnbull has fallen into the same practice that he accused Labor of for years.


While the search to find the envelope upon which Stephen Conroy and Kevin Rudd decided the fate of the Australia telecommunications sector in 2009 continues, there is now a secondary objective for the search party to find, the napkin upon which Malcolm Turnbull and Mathias Cormann decided to undo years of Liberal party mantra and hard-won political capital.

From the day that Turnbull entered the shadow communications portfolio, he mercilessly took to Labor for its lack of forethought and planning on the Rudd government's decision to decided to forgo the FttN network that it had sought tenders for, and move over to a majority FttP network.

The shadow minister said it was too costly, too unplanned, and would be riddled with blowouts and delays — and given what we know of asbestos scares and the lack of a proper ramp up in the NBN rollout, the calls were not without warrant.

Despite Turnbull's relentless attacks, Labor could hold onto one thing that Turnbull and the Liberals in opposition could never match, pure ambition.

The allure of a modern FttP network with untapped future capacity was a gold-plated dream that Turnbull would spend years trying to pull down. And if you could put the idealist technical arguments to one side, shadow minister Turnbull had an argument not without merit. As the largest infrastructure project ever undertaken by Australia, a cost-benefit analysis should have been a walk up start, but as we are finding out in the recent Pink Batts Royal Commission, extensive and informed planning was not Labor's strong point in government.

In areas where Conroy and Labor were stubbornly dogmatic — refusing to do fibre to the basement despite knowledge that it was practical; leaving certain rural towns off the fibre rollout due to the cost of FttP, yet their internet speeds would be helped by FttN; deploying the network in a hodge-podge manner that led to questions on whether rollout priority was determined by the local federal members' value to the government of the time rather than actual need for improved connectivity — the Liberal opposition offered alternatives that made sense, provided the FttP vs FttN debate was put to one side.

And so it was that in September last year, the "adults" were elected to be back in charge in this country, and the promises of the Liberal party could be enacted. Six reviews were set up into the NBN, and although governments never sanction inquiry unless they know the answer, at a minimum, the public could at least be better informed of the calculations behind the NBN's past decisions and future direction.

One can only imagine how Turnbull and Cormann thought they would bring the electorate with them: Together they would descend from the Mount Sinai of Fiscal Responsibility, read the new laws of state-based infrastructure ownership off of two tablets, and the people would stop worshipping Labor's golden FttP calf of connectivity before being led them to the promised land of "Faster, Sooner, Cheaper".

Instead, given the announcement that the NBN would switch to the Liberal's preferred mixed-technology model before most of the reviews of NBN Co are complete, Turnbull and Cormann have descended the mountain, seen the golden calf, and decided to spray the crowd directly in the face with the Sir Tim Wilson "freedom of speech" water cannon.

All the time spent by Turnbull pointing out that Labor was using the NBN as a political weapon, and not treating the NBN as a Crown corporation, have been undone on one swift movement, and he has managed to tar himself with his own brush.

Fortunately for the current government, the calibre of the now opposition speakers means it is unlikely that this prime example of going against years of rhetoric, and what the electorate were led to believe were core conservative tenets, is unlikely to be exposed for the extreme about-face that it is.

Labor's pair of communications spokespeople, Jason Clare and Michelle Rowland, have failed to make headway on an ever-confident communications minister that expresses delight in using the world "Conrovian" at every opportunity that he can. Indeed, it has been left the now-shadow defence minister, and former communications minister and NBN father, Stephen Conroy, to ask the tough questions of NBN Co. Unfortunately for Labor and FttP fans alike, just when Conroy was making a point in recent senatorial hearings, he turned himself into the story rather than NBN Co.

One of the positives to take away from the Western Australian Senatorial election debacle, was that at least the upper house retained the one Greens member whose knowledge and interest in technology issues is unsurpassed. If only Scott Ludlam was able to convert his Reddit and YouTube fan base into mainstream popularity, the government could be held to better account.

By abandoning any pretense of fiscal responsibility and proper governance in the Coalition's stewardship of the NBN, Turnbull is now covered in the same muck that he skillfully hurled in Labor's direction for years. All the charges that he accused Mike Quigley, Stephen Conroy, Kevin Rudd, and Julia Gillard of, must now be returned on himself.

Base politics has reduced the NBN to yet another ideological political issue, one that the left is steadfastly for and the right aims is determined to head in its own direction. The 70s saw the creation and removal of Medibank and Medicare; the installation, removal, and re-introduction of a new national anthem; and in the past weeks we've seen the reintroduction of knights and dames into the Australian realm — with this list of political footballs, we can now add the NBN, as both sides are now guilty of bypassing any preparatory financial planning and governing the NBN purely on feelings.

Any promises that NBN Co would be run in a more transparent, business-like fashion can now be laughed off as empty promises that took just over half a year to be broken.

From a "no surprises" government, yesterday's announcement came out of the blue and removes any claim the Coalition had to be better managers and operators of state projects — Turnbull has decided to stunningly reveal that it was he, the new NBN Emperor, who was the one without clothes.

It is now clear that both sides will operate in exactly the same ideological fashion, any decision now comes down the difference in schemes — a Turnboolean FttN network operated on a whim, or a Conrovian FttP network rollout that was decided on a back of an envelope. Given such a decision, it comes down to an essentially technical battle, an area that Turnbull was able to dance around previously.

The battle for the NBN is now mired in six feet of muck, and both the combatants are slinging as much dirt as they can. In this case, Labor's trump card and the golden calf of FttP becomes irresistible.

It's time we all, once again, bow down before the sacred cow.

Topics: NBN, Government AU, Australia


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • The difference though..

    The different is that Malcolm can get away with it, because the MSM will simply not report on it. They certainly will not make it a front-page article with a massive caricature of Malcolm as they did with Labor. It's just another indication that the massive sprays of mis-information we heard from the LNP in opposition were just horse-shit politically based dogma, and disconnected from fact. But that is the state of politics in this country.
    • Turnbull's solution

      A pic worth a thousand words:

  • Pleease define your Acronyms...

    This was an interesting article. Once I understood all the acronyms that abound in the text. Being outside the Australian political scene and not entirely up on the technical jargon used. I had to spend most of my time looking up the terms to understand the issues..

    Note to the author: Please try to define your terms when you use them... It will certainly aid your readers... NBN=National Broadband Network, FttP Fiber to the Premises
  • Poor Fella Australia



    The comments are insightfull
    Abel Adamski
  • No vision for the future!

    Both sides now lack vision or direction and Australia will continue to fall further behind the rest of the world! 8-(
  • This is a convoluted piece of biblical proportions

    Astounding. This adds to the argument how?

    Sir Tim Wilson "freedom of speech" water cannon.

    2/10 Must try harder and use less metaphors!
  • Should never have been a Governemnt project

    The NBN should never have been a government projects. Not something governments the world over do well. Look to our trading partners to see far more vibrant Broadband market - and here we are stuck with regulations killing off our FttH sector (in the interests of supporting NBN Cos weird and dated designs) and bloody Government ministers trying to dictate technical issues.
    • Private sector has there chance

      What has telstra done for the 2 decades hmmm adsl
    • ummmm

      If we had this type of thinking then the snowy mountain scheme, sydney harbour bridge and the original copper can would never have been built.

      The private sector has had 2 decades to do something and has failed miserably. To get us back on track we need the government to build the highway of the future.

      As it is, our government is building the highway to the past.
    • Should never have been......

      The problem is, Australian governments thus far haven't been all that bright compared to other countries' technical expertise, throttling their own necks with their own hands, by political self interest and survival. Both major parties at one time advocated FTTN.
  • Private sector has had their chance and blew it.

    Quite right Jason, when the copper system was run by the Post Master Generals department (PMG) the operation and maintenance of the system was trouble free, well maintained by highly trained technicians who were all trained in house by the PMG to the same standard. New technologies were embraced by this organization and were introduced with very little delay and NO political interference. WHAT HAPPENED!, a Liberal government privatized this very organization which introduced the issue of profit above all else, this result of this is self explanatory to anyone with an ounce of intelligence.
    • PMG

      The PMG has never had "highly trained" technicians. They never had highly trained anything, and have a good record of obfuscation, dating back to the supply of telephones for Gen Macarthur's headquarters in Brisbane.
      • Hmmm, wild punt here

        were you one of the office jobbies who would have nothing to do with the "lineys" back in the day? You sure sound like it....
  • Political larding

    I am all for the Fibre to the Premises (FttN) - mostly because we were due to be connected two weeks after the election - and nothing has been done. We get maximum 2.3 Mbits (dead slow) for a 24 Gb service with iinet (ha ha). However, I do think the author might have cut tis article in half and made it twice as clear and credible if he held back from the incessant political larding. Lambasting either party won't get this national infrastructure sorted. I just wish the nerds, gurus and wise men and women in telecommunications would start filling the bandwidth with solutions. A thousand solutions might distill into one - that would be enough. What is wrong with this country as it continues to go down the highway of the future by using the rear view mirror to navigate?
    Get positive folks. Even if a solution is not apparent - and goodness knows, I see nothing from any pollie to suggest that they have a credible solution - then swamp them in solutions, bury them in solutions, make solutions a crusade. Look forward - go forward.
    Dr. Ghostly
    • Solutions? They Won't Listen

      Both Labor and the Coalition have been swamped and buried with solutions suggested by IT & telecommunication experts.

      However, the exercise has been pointless because the politicians simply will not listen.
      They seem to arrogantly believe that once elected, they suddenly know better than the experts.
  • Political Larding

    So did you spot the error?
    Fibre to the Premises (FttN) - Yep its FttP. If you spotted it you are part of the solution - if not, adjourn from the conversation. Please.
    Dr. Ghostly