Welcome to the Coalition's NBN argument clinic

Welcome to the Coalition's NBN argument clinic

Summary: One of the most enduring characteristics of Tony Abbott's Liberal Party — particularly with reference to its preference for a retrograde NBN — has been its enshrinement as the ‘party of no'.


With the dust now well settled after the announcement of the party's long-awaited broadband policy, it's clear that the so-called Noalition is determined to turn the 2013 election into its own version of Monty Python's famous "Argument Clinic" sketch.

Far from answering questions and addressing concerns about the fibre-to-the-node (FttN) policy that Australia's telco community had dreamed up to fill the Coalition's earlier policy vacuum, the actual policy made it clear that the real fact of the Coalition's policy is that — while conceding that broadband is actually going to be expensive —it takes so much about the industry for granted that it is, like Inception, a dream, within a dream, within a dream.

Those who have tried to talk logic with Malcolm Turnbull — even an industry that is variously interested and concerned about the policy — have been greeted with a Pythonesque disregard.

If I may, I here offer what we can expect will be the meat of every interview Turnbull will give between now and the election.

Mr Turnbull, it's going to be extremely difficult to renegotiate a value-for-money contract with Telstra.

No, it's not.

Surely Telstra will have issues with basically giving you their copper network for free.

No, they won't.

Your use of the words "slight rearrangements" to describe the negotiations is both euphemistic and crazily optimistic.

No, it isn't.

You've suggested that local councils will want to fork over money to fund a national broadband network (NBN) rollout when many can't even afford to maintain their footpaths and recreational facilities. Even the Federal Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport is downsizing, so expecting councils to pay for broadband infrastructure seems quite optimistic.

No, it isn't.

Would you care to elaborate?


Your comments about local councils are especially interesting since you said that your policy will be better for the bush than Labor's policy. But if you expect councils to pay for the NBN, then your policy is actually worse for them, isn't it?

No, it isn't.

What about multi-dwelling units (MDUs)? The peak strata authority says that your policy will leave them in the dust.

No, it won't.

Are you saying they don't know what they're talking about?

No, I'm not.

It sounded like you were.

No, I wasn't.

NBN Co has said it has no contingency plan if the Coalition is elected.

No, it doesn't.

Is this a problem?

No, it isn't.

Because you're going to fire them all and contract Telstra workers to do the job instead?

Yes, exactly. I mean, no, we won't.

What about the rates your policy will pay to workers? From what we're hearing, workers feel they are being shafted by NBN Co subcontractors. You're going to have to make sure they're paid better to meet your ambitious targets.

No, we won't.

What, have you been preparing a massive army of fibre-splicing flying monkeys to help you out?

The Coalition doesn't comment on unannounced policies.

No, you don't.

Yes, we do. I mean, no, we don't.

Tony Abbott says he's "no Bill Gates", but he's sounding more and more like Bill Gates, who is notorious for his supposed claim that "640KB will be enough for anyone". Now, Abbott has said that 25Mbps broadband is more than enough for Australia. Isn't this a bit lame, particularly given that Labor has just announced 1Gbps NBN services will be available by December?

No, it's not.

But we came here to hear about your NBN policy being better than Labor's.

No, you came here to hear about our NBN policy. We have delivered it. QED.

Broadband bellwether Simon Hackett believes Telstra will control how your policy is actually rolled out.

No, they won't. The Coalition will control how Telstra controls how the Coalition controls how Telstra rolls out the Coalition's policy.

No, it won't.

Yes, it will.

We'll see. Will you at least tell us whether you plan to overbuild Telstra's HFC network with FttN or not?

No, we won't.

You won't overbuild it?

No, we won't tell you if we're going to overbuild it.

Isn't that important to your policy?

You so-called "specialist commentators" are so demanding. OK, here you go: We will not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not overbuild the HFC networks.

How many "not's" was that?

I don't know. But there's your answer.

You have outlined your policy, and Labor has outlined theirs. Will you be providing more details about how you will execute it?

Yes, on September 15.

But that's after the election.

No, it's not.

I'm pretty sure it is.

I think we're done here.

Yes, we are.

No, we're not.

Judging by the general tone of the discussions with Turnbull over the last week, it appears that the party has given away everything it's going to give away. It has dropped its policy, floated a few furphies, and walked away to watch the industry and media battle it out with bemused detachment.

It seems fair to assume that we can expect no clarification on any of these points until after the election, when an elated (if elected) Coalition will proceed to start putting its money, so to speak, where its mouth is.

It's not the most open and honest approach — and it has laid the party bare to criticism from those who don't buy into its numbers and policy assumptions — but it's about what we could expect from a contender political party with nothing to gain from giving away too much more than it has so far.

Topics: NBN, Government AU, Australia


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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  • If...

    It wasn't so true to life it would be most amusing...

    Ah, it's still amusing... nice work David :)
  • Fibre-splicing flying monkeys lol
    Hubert Cumberdale
    • Malcolm - "The Wizard of Oz"

      "Fly my pretties, FLY!!"
  • Very well done!

    This was most enjoyable to read!
  • a little more balance

    he had little choice other than say no given the the questions .
    Blank Look
    • And here's Visionary...

      A paying customer now!
  • Meanwhile.. in the real universe..

    As a fan of black humor I submit the funniest part is watching the industry, media, and the public all having this discussion about the Liberal broadband "policy" as if there is any intent to act on its policy after the election.

    There's a certain amount of naivety going on. And quite a bit of manipulation.

    The Liberal tactic is to establish a smokescreen and a bookmark. The smokescreen part is that they need to look like they have an "alternative" policy. And that's done to give Liberal leaning voters something to cling to. Look here, we have an alternative! Its safe to vote for us. The bookmark is that its a "policy" that allows them to do anything they want once in power. No fewer than 3 separate inquiries are called for. We all know what Yes Minister would have to say.

    I think the most obvious reason for thinking that this "policy" is a fraud - not just in the #fraudband sense, but a fraud as in manipulating voters - is that the "policy" itself is unworkable, cannot achieve its aims, and most importantly would be a political disaster for the Liberals.

    Lets have a closer look.

    First thing you'll notice is that Labor is always criticised for investment of public money (borrowings) into large public infrastructure projects. There's a history to this of course. The inland telegraph. The expansion of the electricity grid. The expansion of the telephone network. Reticulated sewage in our major cities. Snowy Hydro. Even the harbour bridge. All opposed by the Liberals (or their previous incarnations)

    The Liberals and their collaborators in the media tried to exploit the fact that NBNco is a government owned company and is to be funded from borrowing (issue of bonds). They did so in a merciless campaign of fear, doubt and uncertainty.

    Now, look what they're proposing. Yes, they're proposing to use exactly the same model. NBNco, a government owned company, investing billions of dollars of public borrowings to build a $30B project.

    Does anyone smell a rat here? Anyone with a sense of history? Yep, the Liberals just don't do that. Its anathema to them to engage in large publicly funded, publicly owned projects.

    I want to also mention that the core premise in this entire argument is that the Liberals approach is to be cheaper. Many have attacked that on the basis of the billions that would be spent both on the copper network and on its remediation. I want to point out something more fundamental. And that's however we play this, whatever government there is, the copper has a finite lifespan and after that, a fibre network is inevitable.

    So we have an argument that seems to assume that we will never reach that end game. That we can live on on copper forever. Only in that alternative universe does it make sense to use copper.

    But, in the real world, where the copper will shortly become uneconomic, if not incapable, and be replaced with fibre, there is no possible future in which continuing to use the copper doesn't actually spend more money.

    That's where their entire proposition comes crashing down. Its not even cheaper. But they still continue to exploit and manipulate with this false choice. As I said, as a lover of black humor, it doesn't get any better, watching even the NBN supporters getting into a lather over the detail and not sitting up to notice that the Liberals proposition is a Big Lie in the Goebels sense.

    What's worse though is watching media, even sensible industry media arguing the detail and not questioning the honesty and sincerity of the Liberals.

    The secondary proposition is "sooner". But here's where it all goes horribly tits up for a Liberal government that took the unlikely decision to actually keep their "promise" to build FTTN.

    The reason is pretty simple. The Liberals are proposing to use NBNco as their vehicle. If you studied the process so far you'd realise there are reason why it took years to get up and running. And Turnbull says it'll all be happening by mid next year.

    In reality the combination of NBNco having to totally reinvent its business case, product map, redesign, go through negotiations, not only with Telstra, but with other, and possibly aggrieved parties (such as Optus) and then get through the regulator (we won't even mention the Telstra shareholder approval process) is a recipe for 3 years of delay before a single Node can rear its ugly head on a street somewhere.

    Its so absurd isn't it? So why are the Liberals proposing to do it? Well, they're not being remotely sincere or honest about this. Rather like their "plant a tree and hope it goes away" climate policy. Now thoroughly debunked by the CSIRO. Cannot work. But they still push it because they have enough people angry at the Labor brand that people are going to turn a blind eye to the Liberal's daft and broken policies.

    But here's the clincher. There is no future in which #fraudband actually works well for the Liberals in office. Its not just the delays, its having no means to legilsate, with a hostile Senate. Its dealing with the inevitable court action. Its the howls of industry protest. But most of all its the public backlash as people start to realise what it means to have fibre on the other side of the street and being stuck with rotting copper. I've tried to be brief here but I could go on at length about all the things that could go horribly wrong politically.

    In short the Liberals just don't do large infrastructure projects. They are lying about "cheaper". They are fudging about "sooner". They know it. Turnbull himself is investing in fibre in France. They know they cannot implement it. They know it would be politically damaging at a time when they want to woo the voters, play safe, and hope to get effective control in the Senate by 2017, so they can implement their wider agenda.

    The only possible, practical and politically sensible approach for the Liberals would be to use the stated inquiries to come to the conclusion that yes we will have fibre, but that the best way to do that is in private hands. That will lead to a repeat of the sell off of Telstra, only this time the fledgling NBNco will be offered as shares and inevitably, Telstra will buy a controlling stake. All of this works very well for the Liberals. They can offer billions in electoral bribes at the 2016 election. The sting in the tail is that just as with Telstra, they will loosen regulation, allowing wholesale prices to be raised in due course.

    Having the worlds best network, in public hands is "not in the Liberal DNA". A direct quote from Tony.

    And he's got the nerve to go to the Press Club with his effective campaign launch and say "who do you trust?"
    • what is really happening

      I don't think you were succinct enough there Russell.

      I'd be happy to wager that once the liberals take power they'll sell the lot to a commercial the lot to the highest bidder/or Telstra and allow the network to be deployed as a fibre to the house.

      Even if they're discovered they'll say the experts told them thats the "cheapest" way to do it and by then the corrupt ALP will be a long dead corpse. What they're going to do, hand back government cause they were found to be lying about their NBN deployment plan, something that only 1% of the population actually understands the technical specs of.

      This election will see the collapse for a generation of the ALP. The commentary from David Braue illustrates the fact that the Liberals don't consider the NBN to be a pivotal requirement to win or else they'd be treating the debate with far more respect.

      They'd have commissioned an Accountancy firm. They'd have plans drawn up. The'd be doing media blitzs. They'd be treating it like the GST debate.

      No the Libs are campaigning as if they know they'll win. The NBN is just a way to keep as close as possible to the enemy, stay out of range of their jab, and hit the ALP in the area that it has best advantage.

      but it won't be enough though for the ALP.
  • I wouldn't bet on this bit though

    "They can offer billions in electoral bribes at the 2016 election."

    The way the global economy is going, I don't think the Liberals would be able to offer bribes without going into a lot of debt. Unless things pick up globally, they wont be able to repeat the Howard spending spree.
    • Puppet Masters take care of their puppets

      They have no need for bribes when their masters control the media and as a result Public, beliefs and perceptions.
      Take it it is good for you, it is necessary
      Abel Adamski