Turnbull to push forward on NBN debate

Wants a cost-benefit analysis, but will not detail potential broadband policy changes

Newly instated Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Malcolm Turbull, has promised to push forward the debate of the National Broadband Network (NBN), and fulfil his role in keeping the government to account.

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Speaking to IT journalists just one week into the role, Turnbull made known that he would be meeting with NBN Co chief executive, Mike Quigley, for the first time on 8 October talk about the Government’s fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) project.

His advisors were also attempting to establish a public debate with current communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, on ABC’s Lateline program sometime this week. If it does go ahead, it will be the first time the two have met publicly in person since the Federal election. It will also provide one of few opportunities for the opposing ministers to go head-on, as they sit in separate houses of Parliament.

Turnbull’s remarks indicate a turnaround for the Liberals on the communications front. The party was heavily criticised for delaying the announcement of its $6.3 billion broadband policy until just 11 days from the Federal election, providing little opportunity for public debate though still managing to attract a lampooning from service providers.

However, Turnbull said he was not planning or foreshadowing any changes to the Coalition’s broadband policy in coming months.

Turbull agreed with comments made by shadow minister for education and manager of Opposition business, Christopher Pyne, to ABC’s Insiders program that the Coalition may look to change the policy before the next election, but said it was only logical for that to happen in a three-year span.

However he could not provide details as to how much the policy may change, or when such changes may actually occur.

“I’m not seeking to wreck or destroy anything, nor demolish,” he said. “My objective is to get some real transparency and accountability on this. We need to have a more informed debate about it. We are talking about spending a really stupendous amount of money, and our job in the opposition is to hold them to account for that.”

“The idea that we should just wave it through because it’s politically expedient - I wasn’t elected to parliament to just look the other way when money is being wasted.”

Turnbull also disregarded a case in favour of splitting the NBN into urban and rural parts in order to attract private investment, in what has become known as the “Hayman solution”.

“It precedes on one major assumption, which is that a fibre-to-the-home rollout in the cities will stack up too, commercially. But that case has never been made.”

“The proposition that it’s a slam dunk as a commercial winner to roll out fibre-to-the-home in the cities; that’s an assertion people make but I don’t know where the evidence for it is.”

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