Turnbull promises transparent, business-like NBN Co

In a sit-down interview with ZDNet, Australian Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised that under a Coalition government, NBN Co will be more transparent and more business-like than it is today.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

While unable to say how much his own broadband policy would cost, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised that his NBN Co would be more transparent and would take a more business-like approach than the NBN Co under Labor.

The shadow minister sat down with ZDNet in his office in Parliament House earlier this week to discuss his proposed policy and what he would do with the AU$37.4 billion National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout if the Coalition wins the September 14 federal election.

Turnbull said that on day one, if the Coalition wins government, the NBN would continue.

"The momentum will continue. We are not going to cancel contracts, we're not going to stop work anywhere," he said.

"What we will do, is firstly, we will ensure the company reveals a fully transparent analysis of where they are up to at the moment and what it is going to cost them to complete the project, both in terms of money and in terms of time."

NBN Co would be more transparent than it is today, he said.

"We'll be completely transparent, and then we will set out what the savings are in time and in dollars by taking a different approach.

"I can assure you that my approach as minister for communications will be, in this sense, quite non-political. I will manage NBN Co, the government's responsibility there in a thoroughly business-like managerial, cost-effective manner," he said. "So people will understand when we make decisions, we will make them based on facts and data we will share with the Australian people."

When asked whether the Coalition would provide rough costings of his proposed fibre-to-the-node policy based on the publicly disclosed accounts released by NBN Co, Turnbull said that it would not be possible.

"It would be very, very rough. What do we know [is] a fibre-to-the-node deployment, which is appropriate in most brownfields areas — not all, but most — costs in terms of expense, the whole thing end to end, [will be] around the quarter of the cost ... of fibre-to-the-premises, and takes about a quarter of the time to deploy," he said.

"The approach we would take would be much more cost-effective both in terms of dollars and in terms of time. We can get people's broadband upgraded to very high speeds much sooner and at less cost to the taxpayer. If the cost is less, therefore, it will be more affordable because there won't be such a huge capital investment to get a return on."

The reason why the Coalition wouldn't release costings is that NBN Co has not been fully transparent with its costs so far, he said.

"They will refuse to tell us what it is costing to connect each premise. They said [in Senate estimates] with breath-taking arrogance that they were not going to provide any more detailed information about the cost of the rollout, the rate of the rollout than they have already provided," he said.

"[Communications Minister Stephen Conroy] resents any questioning, he abuses Senator [Simon] Birmingham for daring to ask questions. There has never been so much money spent with so little transparency by any government."

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