Dear Libs: let the NBN fall on its own

The NBN may have lost the Coalition the election, but it could win them the next one if they play their cards right. But doing that will require them to step back from their current FUD-filled smear campaign that vilifies what they argue could be, and give the NBN three years to grow so it can be judged on what it actually is. If it's as bad as they say, they'll send Gillard and Conroy home with tails between legs. But do the Liberals have the guts?
Written by David Braue, Contributor on

No matter how hard they try, the Liberals just can't seem to discredit the NBN based on anything other than sheer speculation based on a combination of financial furphies and a bit of nudge nudge (wink wink) implying that Labor couldn't organise a proverbial in a proverbial.

But there really isn't any real proof that the NBN is a white elephant; it's early days and Labor seems to be spending more time arguing with the Opposition than getting on with things.

The causes of the Liberal-loving right haven't really helped: The Australian's temper tantrum has simply discredited the paper by revealing its obvious anti-Labor bias, throwing more dirt on its coffin with each determinedly anti-NBN story — each rearranging the same old facts and painting them with a specious blend of opinion and selective truths.


(Gauntlets image by V'A Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Readers see through it: my piece on the paper's vendetta netted a mind-boggling 156 comments, which I am still wading through, and most of them disagreed with the opposition-at-all-costs approach to the NBN.

Judging by the public discourse, at least, far too many people are taking the NBN far too personally.

You'd think Labor was trying to force us all to eat live cane toads or tattoo Julia Gillard's face across our shoulder blades, rather than making the first serious attempt to fix a decade of failed telecoms policy, breathe life into a privately-controlled network even Telstra is winding down, and improve communications services to people that haven't a snowball's chance of getting it otherwise.

Cost issues aside, I think we can agree that Labor's NBN would meet all these objectives. Can't we?

An alternative plan based substantially on wireless is no plan at all and we already have a robust, competitive wireless market that doesn't need government intervention. So that leaves fibre, and Labor's NBN.

We can never expect the Opposition to agree with the government, but does that mean they should have the right to block and delay debate, fuel a campaign of fear, uncertainty and doubt, and do everything but lie down in front of NBN Co's bulldozers just to avoid being proved wrong?

Some may say so, but after a point this blind opposition is looking less and less like robust checks and balances, and more like a personal grudge that is ignoring both the facts and the growing call to proceed with the NBN.

You'd think Labor was trying to force us all to eat live cane toads or tattoo Julia Gillard's face across our shoulder blades, rather than making the first serious attempt to fix a decade of failed telecoms policy.

People that learn about the NBN, seem to like it. Those that get it, seem to love it. Those that aren't interested, well, that's fine too.

But very significant groups of people including state governments, local chambers of commerce, businesses of all sizes and shapes, and the millions of Australians suffering inadequate broadband want it. And the more the Liberals' arguments are discredited, and the more the party's policies come to resemble Labor's, the more people are realising that the NBN is not the enemy of progress; the Opposition is.

Tony Abbott may think the project is a white elephant, but Malcolm Turnbull has become an albatross around Stephen Conroy's neck. His call for a cost-benefit analysis does not have universal support, and rings strangely hollow given that the Coalition didn't trust the government to cost its own pre-election promises; the Labor-led government supposedly can't be trusted to evaluate Coalition policy.

But its opinion on the NBN is suddenly worth something?

For the next three years, all the Liberals can really accomplish in opposition is to be one giant thorn in Labor's side. So far, they've shown themselves to be indefatigable on this point.

And when it comes election time, they'll point to the still-in-progress NBN, and all its shortcomings, as though it were a failure of Labor's NBN policy. Julia Gillard, assuming she is still PM by then, will argue that the plan was always a good one but that the meddling Coalition has slowed progress by its obstinacy. And she will be right: if the Liberals just keep dragging the chain, any failure of the NBN to reach its potential will be as much their fault as Labor's.

So, Mr Turnbull and your laboriously lamenting Luddite Liberals, here's a revolutionary idea: cede the NBN as a fait accompli. Back away from your opposition-for-opposition's sake, facilitate the passage of necessary legislation, and let the winds of change blow where they will. Voice your vociferous opposition for the Hansard, then let Labor get up a head of steam behind the NBN so we can see what it's capable of doing.

If the NBN is as bad as you say, it will sink and sink badly. You can then, and with the force of righteousness on your side, step in and cruise into power: Gillard has staked her prime ministership on the NBN, after all, and just as it lost you this election, it could win you the next one.

What do you think? Do the Liberals have the guts to take on the NBN? Will they keep fighting its progress tooth and nail as though it had insulted their mothers or eaten their dogs?

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