Victoria's Coalition government has taken the Federal Government to task over the newly released three-year deployment plan for the National Broadband Network (NBN), with ICT Minister Gordon Rich-Phillips claiming that Victoria will receive a disproportionately small number of connected premises compared to other states.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley yesterday announced where the high-speed fibre network would roll out over the next three years. The trio said that by 2015, New South Wales could expect to see 1.01 million premises connected, followed by Victoria at an expected 691,600, Queensland with 678,600, Western Australia with 429,200, South Australia with 327,300, ACT with 135,300, the Northern Territory with 65,200 and Tasmania with 209,100 — a projected 3.5 million premises in total.
Rich-Phillips has criticised the Federal Government and NBN Co for prioritising New South Wales over Victoria, saying in a statement late yesterday that Victoria plays host to a quarter of the country's population, yet received less than 20 per cent of the proposed three-year roll-out plan. Rich-Phillips went as far as accusing the Federal government of Labor favouritism.
"Although there has been a slight increase to Victoria, the roll-out still clearly favours the Labor-held states of South Australia, Tasmania and ACT," he said in a statement.
"Although South Australia has just 7.3 per cent of national population, it is receiving 9.2 per cent of the funding. Tasmania, which represents just 2.3 per cent of population is receiving 5.9 per cent of the program funding. The Gillard Government is quite clearly funnelling money into these states to prop up struggling Labor administrations," the minister added.
Quigley and Conroy made a specific note at yesterday's press conference to address potential favouritism accusations, with Conroy at one point joking that "[Coalition MP] Paul Fletcher can put his press release away". The three-year roll-out plan will see 67 of 72 Labor seats, 61 of 71 Coalition seats and six of seven independent seats connected to the fibre network.
Quigley added that the roll-out plan had been determined based on a number of factors, including the prioritisation of "growth corridors" that would see greenfields sites completed quickly, load balancing in local communities and ensuring that Australia's major universities were included.
These assurances didn't stop Rich-Phillips' complaints, however, as the Victorian ICT minister accused the government of breaking a promise to deliver the NBN to "Victoria's population share".
"With only 19.5 per cent of the premises in the total plan allocated to Victoria, our share of NBN construction activity is still too low given we represent a quarter of the national population. I am disappointed NBN Co's three-year roll-out plan fails to deliver on this commitment," he said, adding that to adequately service Victoria, NBN Co's three-year roll-out would have to reach an additional 191,000 premises, bringing the total number up to 882,600 connected premises by 2015.
Rich-Phillips said he will campaign to make sure Victoria got its fair share.
"Major regional centres such as Mildura, Warrnambool, Wangaratta and Bairnsdale have been overlooked as have many smaller communities with inadequate services. The Coalition Government will continue to advocate for a better and fairer share of the NBN infrastructure for Victoria," he said.
Since it was elected in a landslide victory, the Victorian Coalition government has always sought to squeeze as much as it can out of the federal communications administration. At one stage, Premier Ted Baillieu told ZDNet Australia that Victoria wouldn't support the NBN until the Federal Government worked with the nation's telcos to improve regional mobile phone coverage for all Victorians. Rich-Phillips re-asserted the party's position in February 2011, saying that the responsibility of providing strong mobile coverage fell on the shoulders of the Federal Government.
"The Commonwealth Government has primary responsibility for ensuring there is adequate mobile phone coverage across Australia. Mobile phone coverage during emergency situations is of particular concern to the government," Rich-Phillips said at the time, while expressing concerns about the sheer cost of the NBN.
"We are concerned that broadband users and taxpayers may pay too much for the Commonwealth's National Broadband Network. We want to ensure the NBN does not undermine competition in the broadband market, particularly around enabling new technologies and new telecommunications providers competing on merit," he told ZDNet Australia.
Since then, NBN Co has made considerable investments in the state of Victoria, including building its National Operations Centre in the state and awarding over $1 billion in contracts to local companies.
Josh Taylor also contributed to this report.