The new Coalition government has hypocritically failed to meet its own expectations in appointing Ziggy Switkowski as new CEO of NBN Co, Labor MP Ed Husic has argued in a broad-reaching address in which he promised the Coalition will be held to account “every step of the way” on its claim that 9 million homes will be connected to its NBN by 30 June 2016.
Addressing the CommsDay Melbourne Congress, Husic – who stood in as opposition communications spokesperson while the Labor Party's formal oppositionstructure is still up in the air – lambasted the Coalition’s moves to return to the policies of a Howard government that he said had “struggled to come up with a cogent broadband plan”.
The Abbott Coalition government was doing the same, Husic said, arguing that in an “attempt to product differentiate” Abbott and communications minister Malcolm Turnbull had come up with “an awkward compromise which is FttN. And we will pay for it in many ways.”
Although Labor lost the election by a landslide, Husic argued that the popular opinion had repeatedly showed support for its FttP plan – and that the Coalition was putting its own political goals ahead of the will of the people.
"If there was one thing I think Labor had an absolute, undeniable mandate for in the last election, I think it was the NBN....When I hear us talking about pairs and copper again, I just shrug."
“If there was one thing I think Labor had an absolute, undeniable mandate for in the last election, I think it was the NBN,” Husic said, citing the Change.org FttP petition to the Coalition government, which has so received over 266,000 signatures but was rejected out of hand by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“When I hear us talking about pairs and copper again, I just shrug,” Husic continued. “We’re going back to the past rather than moving ahead. Instead of having a broadband platform that can provide competition amongst retailers, we have trials of copper-based technologies and look set for this government to give the green light to rival operators that are also retailers.”
Promising that the Labor opposition would fiercely hold the government to its promise to deliver broadband to 9 million Australian homes by the end of 2016 – which he estimated would require a rollout rate of around 12,000 homes per day, or 8000 per day if HFC-accessible customers are left with current services – Husic also had harsh words about the Coalition’s appointment of former Telstra and Optus CEO Ziggy Switkowski.
The choice of Switkowski, Husic said, failed the same standards that Turnbull had applied to repeatedly criticise NBN Co founding CEO Mike Quigley, who departed the company this month in the wake of Switkowski’s appointment.
“Turnbull kept saying Quigley wasn’t the right person for the job because he had never built a network or run a network,” Husic said.
“Turnbull said that the NBN was essentially a construction job....But his first move has been to bring in someone to chair NBN Co and manage it, that doesn’t meet his own test.... Has [Switkowski] ever built a network, or run a network?"
“Turnbull said that the NBN was essentially a construction job, and needed people of such a calibre to oversight a construction job. But his first move has been to bring in someone to chair NBN Co and manage it, that doesn’t meet his own test. I’m not making criticism of Dr Switkowski, but has he ever built a network, or run a network?”
Switkowski helmed Telstra from 1999 to 2004, helping steer it to its second-stage public offering and launching Telstra’s BigPond ISP operation. In announcing his appointment, Turnbull called Switkowski “an outstanding business leader” and a “very distinguished company director and company chairman”.
The situation was compounded because the Coalition was negotiating from a position of weakness to gain access to Telstra’s copper network, Husic added: “I don’t believe a firm costing of the network has ever been released by Telstra,” he said, noting estimates of its value ranging from $17b to $40b.
“We don’t have a firm, hand-on-heart figure put up by the Coalition as to what this access will cost, and then what effect this will have on the pricetag. But the Coalition has set up a bargaining process with the only operator that has the copper in place to make its policy happen.”
“The situation is just a mess in the making on so many levels.”