I rise tonight to make some remarks about the ongoing saga that is the Turnbull government’s second-rate version of the National Broadband Network. It is a damning indictment on this government that it takes a series of leaks from nbn co for the public to see the information that they should have access to anyway. The Turnbull government does not want the public to see the information contained in these leaks because it reveals the absolute mess that Mr Turnbull has made of Australia’s largest infrastructure project.
The information revealed by these leaks makes it clear why the Turnbull government has been so desperate to hide information about the NBN, including information about its finances, contracts and the progress of the rollout. Thanks to these leaks we know several of the problems that have contributed to the massive blowout in the cost of the government’s second-rate NBN. We know that the Optus HFC network is not fit for purpose and that nbn co will need to spend another $375 million rebuilding that part of the network. The government estimated that nbn co would need to spend $66 million on rebuilding Telstra’s ageing copper network. Instead, the company will have to spend $641 million on remediation—almost 10 times what was forecast. On top of that, the company will need to spend another $520 million connecting homes and businesses that are a large distance from the nodes. With the multitechnology mix rollout hitting problems at every turn is it any wonder that the cost of rolling out the government’s second-rate NBN has doubled? While the government have already broken their promise to connect every home and business to the NBN by the end of this year, even the revised targets they set for themselves cannot be met.
Another leak revealed last month that nbn co had connected only 29,000 premises through fibre to the node—less than one-third of their target of 94,000. The government made a big song and dance last year about connecting one million homes and businesses to the NBN, but the truth is that, after 2½ years in government, they have connected only around 30,000 premises under their own steam. All of these connections are fibre to the node, using ageing 20th century copper wire. So far the government have delivered not one HFC connection. The overwhelming majority of NBN connections have been delivered by implementing Labor’s plans, through the rollout of fibre to the premises, fixed wireless and satellite broadband Even where the government’s second-rate version has been rolled out, it is not up to scratch. We know this from the multitude of reports coming from former ADSL users who have found their fibre-to-the-node services substantially slower and actually want their previous services back. Those who want to upgrade to a full fibre connection under the government’s Technology Choice program have to pay through the nose.
In opposition, Mr Turnbull claimed it would cost a bit over $2,000 to upgrade to fibre to the premises, yet small businesses are already receiving quotes for $10,000. Even the cost of getting a quote is prohibitive. In my home state of Tasmania, the Meander Valley Council is demanding its money back—and quite rightly so—after it paid $10,000 to investigate the cost of upgrading Hadspen, Westbury and Hagley to the fibre-to-the-premises NBN and got back a four-page report with very little detail. The mayor, Councillor Craig Perkins, said the detail in the quote was ‘insufficient’, and one of the other councillors, Andrew Connor, said that nbn co’s estimates could have been arrived at with publicly available information.
I will now turn to the latest embarrassing leak, which reveals that, while the cost per premises of the government’s second-rate version of the NBN keeps going up, the cost of rolling out Labor’s preferred technology of fibre to the premises is falling. Recent trials have shown that, by adopting a new fibre-to-the-premises technology that involves thinner, more flexible fibre, both the cost of and time for delivering full fibre connections can be significantly reduced.
The latest leak is the most interesting because it reveals that Mr Turnbull has been deceiving the Australian public for months about the true cost of Labor’s superior, fibre NBN. By now, the government could have rolled out the real NBN to millions more premises simply by continuing with Labor’s NBN rollout plans. The only reason they have not done so is politics. In the meantime, the Australian people continue to suffer from having some of the slowest broadband speeds in the developed world.
This is of particular frustration to residents in Queenstown on the west coast of my home state of Tasmania. It is bad enough that many of those who were promised fibre to the premises under Labor’s plans will be getting Malcolm Turnbull’s second-rate fibre-to-the-node solution. But spare a thought for the people in Queenstown who will be connected to the NBN by satellite despite being part of the fibre-to-the-premises footprint under Labor’s plans. Under our plans, satellite connections were reserved for the most remote parts of Australia, where it would be uneconomical to roll out fixed wireless or fixed fibre connections. But it is the slowest and least reliable of the rollout technologies, and there is no reason why a town like Queenstown should not receive a fixed-line connection as it was promised. This was not just Labor’s promise under our rollout plans. Malcolm Turnbull promised before the last election to ‘honour existing contracts’, and there were contracts in place for the entire rollout in Tasmania. So the government’s failure to continue with Labor’s rollout plans in Tasmania is just another broken promise.
Queenstown residents were looking to information technology as one of the solutions to the job losses they have experienced through the closure of the local copper mine. But the news that they will be connected to the NBN by satellite means they cannot achieve the broadband speeds they need to develop the local digital economy. This is a slap in the face for a community that is already suffering from economic hardship, which is why 300 of its residents attended an NBN forum last week. Shadow communications minister Jason Clare said that it was biggest NBN forum he had ever been to, which just goes to show the depth of anger within that community. Unless the government returns to Labor’s plans to roll out fibre to the premises to Queenstown, those residents will maintain their rage all the way up to the election. The best way they can send a signal to the government about their anger is to vote out their local Liberal MP, the member for Braddon, Brett Whiteley.
I am not in the least surprised that nbn co staff are leaking against the government. Knowing what they know and what has been revealed in these leaks, could anyone blame them for being frustrated that the Turnbull government has ordered them to roll out a second-rate NBN for political reasons? It is time that Mr Turnbull finally revealed the truth about the NBN. He should admit that he got it wrong. If he cannot admit the truth, he should at least lift the veil of secrecy hanging over the NBN and let the public discover the truth for themselves. It should not take leaks of secret documents from nbn co for the public to discover the facts that they ought to know anyway.
The information contained in these leaked documents is in the public interest, but the government are attempting to hide these facts because the information is not in their political interest. They do not want the public to know that their second-rate NBN is well over budget. They do not want the public to know that the NBN rollout is way behind schedule. They do not want the public to know that the cost of rolling out their second-rate NBN is going up and that the cost of rolling out 21st-century fibre to the premises is falling. But Labor knows, and the Australian people know too.
And we know that these inconvenient facts are responsible for the litany of broken promises from the Turnbull government on the rollout of the NBN. Those opposite promised that their second-rate NBN would cost $29.5 billion. It is currently expected to end up costing almost double, at $56 billion. They promised to fully roll the NBN out by the end of this year. It will not be rolled out until 2020, and, given the most recent delays, I will not be surprised if it ends up being much later. They also promised to prioritise the rollout to the ‘worst served areas’, yet half a million homes in the worst served areas will still be waiting for the NBN at the end of June 2018.
Mr Turnbull basically had one job as the Minister for Communications, and that was to roll out the NBN—one job, and he made a huge mess of it. Had anyone failed so comprehensively in the private sector, they would have been sacked. But instead those opposite decided to promote Mr Turnbull to Prime Minister. And now the sheer incompetence that he demonstrated as Minister for Communications is being repeated in his prime ministership. He has no plans for the future of the country, and he is letting his new Minister for Communications, Senator Fifield, continue with the mess that he made of the NBN.