Why the NBN is like Luhrmann's Australia

On the same day that the bids for the national broadband network bids were handed into the government, Australia, Baz Luhrman's vain masterpiece was released to the plebs.

commentary On the same day that the bids for the National Broadband Network bids were handed into the government, Baz Luhrmann's newest opus, Australia, was released to the Australian public.

Drama has played on the screen this week and in Australia's NBN
(Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Of course, the timing was a coincidence. As it showed last week with its lawsuit against iiNet, what does the film industry really care about internet initiatives such as the National Broadband Network except for how much faster it will allow users to download pirated copies of films?

But the fickle hand of fate set my mind to thinking. Really, the NBN and Luhrmann's Australia are quite similar. Certainly the levels of drama and the incessant drawing on the country's sense of patriotism is present in both — with Telstra playing the "buy Australian" card — but I realised the parallels went even further.

Firstly, they both started with a vision. Australia the film was the fruit of Luhrmann's desire to create a film set in his homeland which everyone could enjoy; not just women loving it (as was the case for the popular Sex and the City) or men digging it in seminal martial arts works such as Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon. Apart from spanning the gender divide, he also wanted to be a film to inspire all ages.

As for the NBN, the Labor government wants to create a broadband network which would bring fast internet to everyone (well not exactly everyone, but 98 per cent of everyone) — that meant not just those in metro areas but also those out in the back of beyond.

When Telstra did the equivalent of turning up drunk to the shoot yesterday by handing in a very short proposal instead of a detailed bid, the government made sure it stayed in the act,

Then there's the money issue. Australia was considered to be expensive, with a price tage of over $150 million and $40 million worth of taxpayer money involved in a tourism advertisement tie-in. The public funds have raised viewers' demands a notch. It has to be good — or else.

The NBN faces the same expectations. Will the $4.7 billion of government cash be worth the result? Undoubtedly Australia will get a fast network out of it. But how fast? To how many people? Conroy was unable to guarantee yesterday that the 98 per cent coverage of the population target would be reached.

And let's not forget the issue of Hugh Jackman's character in Australia. Director Baz Luhrmann's first ending apparently had him dying in the final scenes. This caused an outcry amongst American critics. Why do that? How could anyone kill off Wolverine?

After the uproar, instead of going ahead with Jackman's death scene, Luhrman was reportedly "convinced" to change the ending to a more happy one where Jackman lived on to fight another day.

There are obvious parallels between Hugh Jackman, in my mind and Telstra. When it seemed the telco was not going to bid for the network, there was serious apprehension. Shadow Communications Minister Minchin even said that the NBN needed Telstra. His view was echoed by the average Australian, with the majority of people questioned in a poll carried out recently saying that they would like to see Telstra build the national broadband network.

Only a very small percentage of people were even aware that Telstra's then main rival, Terria, existed. Terria is now backing a bid by Optus.

So when Telstra did the equivalent of turning up drunk to the shoot yesterday by handing in a very short proposal instead of a detailed bid, the government made sure it stayed in the act, with Conroy saying that its mini-bid will be considered just as any other bid would be. Whether he had been "convinced" by someone as Luhrmann was said to be, I don't know.

But who would Optus be in the epic? Kidman? The import from overseas who grows to love the wide land on which her cattle station lies? Her character and Jackman's are supposed to hate each other in the beginning, so that would fit. But I find it a long bow to draw that there will be a Telstra Optus love story at the end of this saga.

We won't see this from Telstra and Optus
(Credit: 20th Century Fox)

Then there are the other players. Perhaps the nation's hope lies in the NBN's equivalent of the little orphan, Nullah, which Kidman's character picks up along the way in the film — unknown but full of potential. This could be Axia, it could be Acacia, it could be one of the smaller state-based bids. Take your pick.

Of course the largest parallel between the NBN and Australia the film is how important it is to the country. Australia's tourism industry has its hopes pinned on Luhrmann's blockbuster being a hit and bringing swarms of money-laden foreigners onto our shores. For the NBN, depending on who you listen to, our economic certainty could depend on it getting up and running.

Can you think of any other likenesses?