Welcome to the Coalition's NBN argument clinic

One of the most enduring characteristics of Tony Abbott's Liberal Party — particularly with reference to its preference for a retrograde NBN — has been its enshrinement as the ‘party of no'.
Written by David Braue, Contributor

With the dust now well settled after the announcement of the party's long-awaited broadband policy, it's clear that the so-called Noalition is determined to turn the 2013 election into its own version of Monty Python's famous "Argument Clinic" sketch.

Far from answering questions and addressing concerns about the fibre-to-the-node (FttN) policy that Australia's telco community had dreamed up to fill the Coalition's earlier policy vacuum, the actual policy made it clear that the real fact of the Coalition's policy is that — while conceding that broadband is actually going to be expensive —it takes so much about the industry for granted that it is, like Inception, a dream, within a dream, within a dream.

Those who have tried to talk logic with Malcolm Turnbull — even an industry that is variously interested and concerned about the policy — have been greeted with a Pythonesque disregard.

If I may, I here offer what we can expect will be the meat of every interview Turnbull will give between now and the election.

Mr Turnbull, it's going to be extremely difficult to renegotiate a value-for-money contract with Telstra.

No, it's not.

Surely Telstra will have issues with basically giving you their copper network for free.

No, they won't.

Your use of the words "slight rearrangements" to describe the negotiations is both euphemistic and crazily optimistic.

No, it isn't.

You've suggested that local councils will want to fork over money to fund a national broadband network (NBN) rollout when many can't even afford to maintain their footpaths and recreational facilities. Even the Federal Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport is downsizing, so expecting councils to pay for broadband infrastructure seems quite optimistic.

No, it isn't.

Would you care to elaborate?


Your comments about local councils are especially interesting since you said that your policy will be better for the bush than Labor's policy. But if you expect councils to pay for the NBN, then your policy is actually worse for them, isn't it?

No, it isn't.

What about multi-dwelling units (MDUs)? The peak strata authority says that your policy will leave them in the dust.

No, it won't.

Are you saying they don't know what they're talking about?

No, I'm not.

It sounded like you were.

No, I wasn't.

NBN Co has said it has no contingency plan if the Coalition is elected.

No, it doesn't.

Is this a problem?

No, it isn't.

Because you're going to fire them all and contract Telstra workers to do the job instead?

Yes, exactly. I mean, no, we won't.

What about the rates your policy will pay to workers? From what we're hearing, workers feel they are being shafted by NBN Co subcontractors. You're going to have to make sure they're paid better to meet your ambitious targets.

No, we won't.

What, have you been preparing a massive army of fibre-splicing flying monkeys to help you out?

The Coalition doesn't comment on unannounced policies.

No, you don't.

Yes, we do. I mean, no, we don't.

Tony Abbott says he's "no Bill Gates", but he's sounding more and more like Bill Gates, who is notorious for his supposed claim that "640KB will be enough for anyone". Now, Abbott has said that 25Mbps broadband is more than enough for Australia. Isn't this a bit lame, particularly given that Labor has just announced 1Gbps NBN services will be available by December?

No, it's not.

But we came here to hear about your NBN policy being better than Labor's.

No, you came here to hear about our NBN policy. We have delivered it. QED.

Broadband bellwether Simon Hackett believes Telstra will control how your policy is actually rolled out.

No, they won't. The Coalition will control how Telstra controls how the Coalition controls how Telstra rolls out the Coalition's policy.

No, it won't.

Yes, it will.

We'll see. Will you at least tell us whether you plan to overbuild Telstra's HFC network with FttN or not?

No, we won't.

You won't overbuild it?

No, we won't tell you if we're going to overbuild it.

Isn't that important to your policy?

You so-called "specialist commentators" are so demanding. OK, here you go: We will not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not, not overbuild the HFC networks.

How many "not's" was that?

I don't know. But there's your answer.

You have outlined your policy, and Labor has outlined theirs. Will you be providing more details about how you will execute it?

Yes, on September 15.

But that's after the election.

No, it's not.

I'm pretty sure it is.

I think we're done here.

Yes, we are.

No, we're not.

Judging by the general tone of the discussions with Turnbull over the last week, it appears that the party has given away everything it's going to give away. It has dropped its policy, floated a few furphies, and walked away to watch the industry and media battle it out with bemused detachment.

It seems fair to assume that we can expect no clarification on any of these points until after the election, when an elated (if elected) Coalition will proceed to start putting its money, so to speak, where its mouth is.

It's not the most open and honest approach — and it has laid the party bare to criticism from those who don't buy into its numbers and policy assumptions — but it's about what we could expect from a contender political party with nothing to gain from giving away too much more than it has so far.

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