Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said last night on Lateline that the Tasmanian portion of the National Broadband Network (NBN) had come in 10 per cent under budget.
Conroy made the statement in answer to a question on whether it was likely that the $43 billion price tag was likely to balloon. This had been preceded by Shadow Communications Minister Tony Smith presenting his party's policy as being "responsible, affordable and deliverable" and claiming that the NBN could cost even more than the $43 billion total (around $27 billion of which is set to be provided by government coffers).
"That is the minimum cost if everything goes right over an eight-year period," Smith had said.
Conroy answered that so far everything was running to plan.
"We have delivered the Tasmanian project on time and 10 per cent under budget," he said, adding that the 6000km backhaul backbone being rolled out by Nextgen Networks was also on time and sitting on budget.
When asked if he could guarantee that the budget would not blow out, he said that the NBN was a project that replicated itself over and over, each time with improvements in efficiency.
"We are under budget on the build so far, we've got some of the world's leading experts in technology in rolling out this network," he said.
According to Conroy, the $11 billion Telstra deal would cut the cost, quoting experts who had said it would lower the overall figure of the network by $4 to $6 billion.
He slammed Smith on the wireless portion of the Coalition's policy, saying he was sceptical the spectrum could be found for the project.
Smith countered that the digital dividend spectrum would be available from the analog-to-digital TV switchover. He also added that existing players had spectrum with which they might like to trade or launch services for the program.
Conroy believed that the Coalition's fascination with saying the network was worth $2000 was ridiculous.
"This is an investment in an asset that goes between 30 and 50 years," he said. "You find that cost becomes absolutely minuscule compared to the benefits."
It wasn't an argument about whether Australia could afford to build the network, he said, it was whether it could afford not to.