Tony Windsor drawn out of retirement to fight for FttP NBN

With the NBN being one of the issues that made him choose to support Labor over the Coalition in 2013, Tony Windsor is returning to politics due to stalling with NBN, defence, and education funding.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Tony Windsor, one of the key independents that brought in the Labor fibre to the premise National Broadband Network (NBN), has announced that he will challenge deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce in the seat of New England, following what Windsor sees as stalling of projects within the electorate.

Speaking in Canberra today on his decision to return to politics, Winsdor said the NBN was the wrong issue for a political debate to occur on.

"[The NBN is] a national issue of very high importance within the country areas, absolutely critical," he said. "Go to Armidale and see what they've done there and what they are planning to do, and you will see that it is actually a cost benefit to be in the country rather than in the centralised feedlots of the cities."

"It has to be fibre to the home, and I will fight to see that restored as well."

Windsor said he had spoken to Malcolm Turnbull when he was Shadow Communications Minister and promoting the idea of a cost-benefit analysis -- something Turnbull had conducted once the Coalition held government -- and asked Turnbull how he would measure the benefits of being able to keep elderly people in their homes rather than in aged care.

"Malcolm said, 'Oh, a benefit cost analysis it will give you what you put into it.'," Windsor said.

The former independent MP said the savings for aged care along amount to tens of billions.

In the New England electorate, Windsor said it was easy to assign blame for a shift from fibre to the premise (FttP) to fibre to the node (FttN) on the electorate's largest city, Tamworth.

"A change of government occurred ... Tamworth is not in the rollout, nothing has happened. Armidale, fully rolled out, fully engaged," he said.

"All of the technology that will be required this century is happening in Armidale."

In 2010, Windsor famously said "Do it once, do it right, do it with fibre" after he and fellow independent Rob Oakeshott backed the what would become the Gillard minority government over the Abbott opposition. Both Windsor and Oakeshott named the NBN as a deal-breaker.

For 17 days after the election, the pair considered who they would support, with Abbott eventually offering to match concessions offered by Labor, except in the areas of climate change and the NBN.

"We again get stuck on climate change and the NBN," Oakeshott said in his book, The Independent Member for Lyne, between days three and five. "[Abbott] refuses to budge on both. I am again left feeling frustrated and unimpressed."

Oakeshott labelled the Coalition's 2010 NBN policy, which would have seen Labor's fibre to the premises policy scrapped in favour of fibre backhaul, wireless, and ADSL optimisation at a cost of AU$6 billion, as "a shocker, totally without merit".

Since the 2013 election, the company responsible for rolling out the NBN across the country has been charged with developing FttN, a technology that recent leaks out of the company have shown to be delayed and over budget.

"Construction completions currently sits at 29K against the corporate budget of 94K. Gap to target has increased from 49,183 to 65,268 as of week ending 12 Feb. Construction completions gap can be attributed to three main issues: Power, supply, and completions under review," the document leaked last month said.

"Despite 'designed commenced' remaining above budget, all other significant milestones of FttN continue to remain behind target."

NBN has denied the accuracy of the document, and said it has met all of its rollout targets thus far.

Last week, another leak out of the company showed it had been working with smaller kit that is cheaper and removes the need for the company to deploy fibre distribution hub cabinets.

A NBN spokesperson said, at the time, it was natural that the company would be looking at ways to reduce FttP construction cost and time.

"This would be expected of any company, especially one spending taxpayers' money," the spokesperson said. "It's also worth remembering the backbone of the whole network is fibre, regardless of access technology."

"Connecting fibre direct to the home will always be the most expensive, but more importantly, the most time-consuming access technology."

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