30% of NBN out of coalition's reach: Conroy

Contracts in place mean that 30 per cent of the NBN will be built even if the Coalition comes into power at the next election.
Written by AAP , Contributor and  Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has said that 30 per cent of the National Broadband Network (NBN) will be built by the time the Coalition has a chance to unravel it by winning the next election.

Senator Conroy said that network builder NBN Co is on target with the Federal Government's roll-out.

The Coalition has vowed to rework the infrastructure project if it wins the election.

Conroy said that the Coalition would have to honour a number of contracts, including a satellite deal, and about 30 per cent of the NBN will be constructed by 2015.

"If Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott are good to their words, then about 30 per cent of the National Broadband Network will be constructed," he told the Ten Network on Sunday (PDF).

There is no question, however, that the Coalition could sabotage the massive project if it wins power, according to Conroy.

"They have said they would end the cross subsidy between the cities and regional and rural Australia," Conroy said.

"It would send the price of average internet connections through the roof for people in rural and regional Australia.

"Can they physically stop the roll-out? That's harder because of the contracts."

Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in his blog that the Coalition is committed to providing prices in rural areas that are equivalent to those in the cities, but clarified that equalising prices would come from a specific subsidy to rural customers, rather than a cross subsidy of NBN prices.

Conroy also discussed the government's data-retention proposal; earlier this month, it launched an inquiry into a number of initiatives, including laws requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to keep every piece of data sent across their networks by their customers for a period of two years, just in case a government agency needs the data for a criminal investigation.

The proposal has come under fire from Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam, who said that the proposal is a "systematic erosion of privacy", because it is based on the notion that all Australians are potential criminal suspects, or "mindless consumer drones whose every transaction should be recorded and mapped". Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) has branded the proposal as a "threat to civil liberties and privacy", and GetUp has started a petition calling for Attorney-General Nicola Roxon to "withdraw the government's support" for the proposal.

Yet, Conroy is convinced that the proposal is warranted, telling Ten that organised crime has taken to the internet very quickly. The fact that criminals are adapting so well to the online environment is affecting Australians, and it needs to be tackled by revised laws, he said.

"If we want our law-enforcement agencies to be able to deal with organised crime, if we want our intelligence agencies to be able to deal with the threat of terrorism, we need to have some changes in the laws."

Updated at 1.07pm, 23 July 2012: added comment from Malcolm Turnbull.

Editorial standards