The National Broadband Network is a complicated beast. For years, we've had Malcolm Turnbull tell us it was too expensive, and that it was recklessly irresponsible to start building it without a proper cost-benefit analysis. However, that didn't stop Turnbull from issuing a new statement of expectations to NBN Co last week without completing his precious cost-benefit analysis. He's now come out swinging to his critics, saying that it's now fine to proceed without said cost-benefit analysis. You've got to be joking.
In an opinion piece posted on the ABC today, Communications Minister Turnbull accuses those who feel he should be held to the same standards he spat venom for in Opposition of being partisan political hacks, anchored in old-world thinking.
In his opinion post, Malcolm writes (emphasis added):
Some people have said that it is an outrage this [statement of expectations] has been delivered prior to the Vertigan panel's completion of the cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of the NBN, due in the middle of the year.
This shows that our critics are still stuck in a Labor government mindset of technology choices being made politically, if not ideologically.
The key focus of the SoE is to deliver a service outcome within a financial constraint. The company is given great flexibility in which technology it uses and where - obviously the more fibre that can be used cost effectively the better.
As I have always said, if time and money were irrelevant you would run fibre everywhere.
The results of the CBA will be very helpful to both the Government and NBN Co and they will certainly influence the rollout, and, if necessary, may cause a revision of the SoE, which I am sure will go through various iterations in the future just as it has in the past. As the SoE states, the Vertigan Panel's "recommendations will be considered by Government, and, if approved, reflected in a further amendment of the statement of expectations."
The reason for providing the SoE now is simply so that NBN Co has the formal approval from Government for continuing with its move to a multi-technology approach.
Over the next several months we will see the completion of the CBA, the completion of the negotiations with Telstra and the outcome of the technology trials currently under way. The results of all of this work will inform the final mix of technologies.
So, Malcolm Turnbull spent four years claiming that the National Broadband Network Company under Labor was rolling out a network without considering all the facts and figures, just because it had approval from itself. Now, the second he gets into the chair, it's ok to have approvals from your own government to sign off on a plan which may change later? BS.
It serves to create the illusion that something is being done, rather than actually looking at the proposal like you would as a CEO (the way Malcolm said he wanted to run the NBN) and deciding what should be built where and when and for how much before issuing the order to start.
Sure, NBN Co has been asked to roll-out the net to areas that need it most, and cities are now being prioritised too so that the bottom line of the government's monopoly isn't compromised before it gets off the ground, but to do all this without completing Malcolm's precious cost-benefit analysis is hypocritical when he spent years on top of the hill in Canberra screaming bloody murder for one.
It'd be nice if Malcolm Turnbull could live up to Malcolm Turnbull's expectations of how a Communications Minister should do his job.
Read the full opinion piece here.