Labor, Greens slam analysis for favouring 'dog's breakfast' NBN

The government's NBN cost-benefit analysis report said exactly what the government wanted it to say, Labor and the Greens have said.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Labor and the Greens have said that the NBN cost-benefit analysis report commissioned by the Coalition government and developed by known critics of the former Labor government was always going to favour Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull's "multi-technology mix" over fibre to the premises.

The report, released late yesterday evening, found that because the fibre-to-the-node rollout could be delivered quicker, and at less cost than fibre to the premises under the NBN Co strategic review, the benefits would flow faster than those that would be available down the track, when fibre to the premises is completed.

The report also claimed that Australians would be unwilling to pay higher amounts of money for incremental speed improvements on the higher-speed tiers. Should high-bandwidth applications come along that make Australians more willing to pay for those speeds, the report said that the government could upgrade the NBN from fibre to the node and hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) to full fibre to the premises. However, although the panel argued this would be more cost effective, the cost of the upgrade was not included in the report.

Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare said last night that the "independent" panel for the cost-benefit analysis was full of critics of the Labor government.

"Instead of appointing Infrastructure Australia to do the cost-benefit analysis, he has hand-picked former staff and some of the most vociferous critics of the NBN," Clare said.

"This includes well-known critics of the NBN Henry Ergas and Kevin Morgan, former adviser to Malcolm Turnbull Alex Robson, and former Liberal Party staffer David Kennedy.

"This is not the independent cost-benefit analysis by Infrastructure Australia that Malcolm Turnbull promised. Obviously, Infrastructure Australia was too independent for him. He has hand-picked people that he knows will give him the answer he wants."

The report overlooked the cost of maintaining and operating the copper and HFC networks, Clare said.

"NBN Co has not yet gained access to the copper or HFC networks, and the cost of operating, maintaining and enhancing this network has not been revealed," Clare said.

Greens communications spokesperson Scott Ludlam said this morning that the "hand-picked team of NBN sceptics" gave Turnbull "exactly the report he wanted".

"I don't think this document advances the debate or the cause of the NBN by so much as a millimetre," he said.

"NBN Co's own figures under new management show that for roughly the same amount of government equity, you could have a fast, end-to-end, fibre network that would be completed three years later than a dog's breakfast of a model that would effectively be obsolete on the day it is built."

Ludlam said that some of the numbers in the report were "cooked", with much of the information about acquiring and maintaining Telstra's copper network redacted, and the benefits figures just an estimate.

"Exactly how do you model the financial, non-financial, community, education, or healthcare benefits of an enabling network like the NBN four decades into the future? You just make up a number. It's actually not much more sophisticated than that," he said.

"That's what they've done, and that's how they've been able to come up with a number that, by stunning coincidence, is exactly what Malcolm Turnbull wanted."

He said the NBN debate should be focused on what is needed 50 years into the future, and not just in the next 10 years.

Editorial standards