Turnbull’s Terrible NBN

Published on Tue 24 October 2017 4:06pm

Mr Wilson (4:06pm) — And the member for Page is spot-on: the NBN, as it currently stands, is ‘bolical’. It’s indisputable, it’s irrefutable and it’s even, if you like, ‘indefutable’ that this is 100 per cent on you. This ‘bolical’ NBN is 100 per cent on you!

It’s a rare achievement to stuff up the policy and program implementation for an essential service twice—not once: twice. It was the Howard government, in its wisdom—in its unbridled enthusiasm for privatisation—that decided to sell off Telstra, and they consigned Australia to life as a broadband backwater. That decision in the late 1990s, at the relative dawn of the internet, put us into a 20-year broadband limbo—a 20-year holding pattern. Other countries, including much less developed countries in our region, surged ahead. We have the 13th-biggest economy in the world—sometimes the 12th, sometimes the 13th—and we currently have broadband speeds at 53rd in the world. The member for Page told an Irish joke. As the member for Lyons points out, in Ireland, they’re seventh in the world. We are 53rd in the world; it’s a crying shame.

Labor’s creation of the National Broadband Network was designed to repair that damage—to create an affordable, consistent, high-quality broadband framework for this nation in the 21st century. And it was going to be based on fibre, because all the evidence and all the expertise showed that fibre is the state-of-the-art, future-proofed technology. As every person who knows anything about broadband the world over will tell you, ‘Do it once, do it right, do it with fibre.’

So how did it all go wrong? I think I’d be tempted to borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister and put it down to ideology and idiocy, because it’s hard to explain it in any other way. It began with the lunacy of privatising an infrastructure monopoly. Privatisation at any cost is the path they wanted to go down, and that’s where we are now, 25 years later. It continued with the abandonment of a fibre based network in favour of the multitechnology mess and the 19th century copper catastrophe that we live with now in 2017. It’s not just decades-old copper, where they found it buried in the ground after 70, 80 or 90 years, but brand-spanking-new copper that they’ve brought in, becoming one of the largest copper wire stockpilers in the developed world, and shipping it around to put back into trenches where the old copper just won’t do. Why? Why did they do that? Because the Vertigan review—geniuses; cutting-edge high-tech users, like Henry Ergas—decided that the biggest risk was that a fibre network might just be too fast. A fibre network may give more speed and more data than we actually needed. Never mind that since the 1970s computer processing power has doubled every single year. It’s called Moore’s law, a law that computing power and processing power will double every year.

Ninety per cent of all the data on the planet right now was created in the last two years. But those on that side were concerned that the fibre network would be over par—that it would be too good for Australia’s needs. What is the result of all that? It means that Australian households and businesses continue to go without an essential service. It means we remain at a global disadvantage. It means our economy misses out on the most important infrastructure investment that is critical for us to take advantage of the areas that our economy needs to move into: high-tech manufacturing and agriculture, and creative industries. We are missing out on all of the various different creative and productive opportunities that the 21st century holds and it’s because of the policies of this government.

The saddest thing, if you take a broad view of social and economic life, is the creation of a savage and steep digital divide that will lock in and exacerbate disadvantage. That will mean that people who live in poorer areas, people who already face significant disadvantage, are locked into that set of circumstances. They are held out from access to health, education and essential services.

The NBN disaster is the Prime Minister’s pet project. It’s his area of special interest. It was his portfolio responsibility. It is 100 per cent on this government. They have done the double: they sold off Telstra and they buggered up the NBN. It is ‘indefutably’ a mess of their making, and they will wear it around their necks.

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