No guarantees on the NBN: Turnbull

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said there are no guarantees that his version of the NBN will be successful.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that although his approach to the National Broadband Network has mitigated much of the risk associated with a project of its size, there is no guarantee the project will succeed.

After a number of reviews into the NBN, Turnbull has directed NBN Co to pursue a 'multi-technology mix' model for the NBN using fibre to the node, fibre to the basement, and HFC in addition to fibre to the premises, fixed wireless and satellite technology.

Two days away from the anniversary of the election of the Abbott government, NBN Co has only just begun trials of fibre to the basement, and fibre to the node. Speaking at an Enterprise Ireland event in Sydney this morning, Turnbull said that the new approach to the network was the right strategy, but there was still risk in the project.

"Whether you analyse it financially, or whether you do the economic cost-benefit analysis, we're confident we've got the strategy right," he said.

 "Having said that, you can have the strategy right, but there's still plenty of risk in execution. I would say we have mitigated risk, the risk in the project is much less than it would have been under the previous approach, but it is still there. It is still a very, very big project and you cannot eliminate risk."

He said politicians needed to be more confident to say that they couldn't guarantee their particular approach would succeed.

"Journalists are always saying 'Will you guarantee that such and such will happen?'. You have to have the courage to say 'no, I can't guarantee that'," he said.

"We live in a rapidly changing and dynamic world, and we're taking this approach, it's our best shot, we think it is the most likely to succeed, but there is no guarantee that any particular approach will work.

"If it doesn't work, we'll learn a lot from it, and then we'll do something else."

Turnbull said that he expected NBN Co, under the leadership of new CEO Bill Morrow, to be an innovative company, rather than one that just wanted to tell the minister what they wanted to hear.

"It needs to be a very innovative business. It has got to be constantly looking at smarter, faster, cheaper, better ways to get the job done," he said.

"I expect them to be very open to innovative ideas, and I will be very disappointed if people are saying they've been given the brush off."

He said the government was looking to move beyond talking about the technology delivering the faster broadband, and what applications could use faster broadband speeds, highlighting a change after the election that expanded telehealth trials commissioned by the previous government for the NBN, to other technologies.

"The previous government had some grants to promote e-health activities using broadband. But they had a condition that they could only be conducted on the NBN. The problem was, there wasn't enough of it built to be able to do it," he said.

"When we got in I said 'Well, you know, the contract has been left, e-health is very important, by and large it doesn't require a lot of bandwidth, let's just change the rules so people can do it whether it is on wireless, or ADSL, or HFC.' Who cares? The objective is to get people to use technology to keep Australians healthier.

"Surely that's the objective, rather than trying to promote a political project. We've got to spend less time talking about the platform, and more time talking about the applications."

Innovation announcement coming

Turnbull revealed that the government will be "very, very shortly" announcing changes to the taxation of employee share scheme arrangements as part of a larger announcement on innovation.

"The current law taxes on receipt of the employee rather than when they are realised. That is a major competitive disadvantage," Turnbull said.

The current taxation method was put in place in 2009 by the then-Labor government, and a review on the taxation commenced just prior to the 2013 election.

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