*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
It is with pleasure I rise to contribute to the debate on the honourable member for Robertson's motion on the NBN.
The government was elected on a platform of no surprises and no excuses but the story of the NBN under this government has been all surprises and all excuses. I am astounded that those opposite would want to draw attention to the most recent NBN corporate plan, but I am more than happy to let them keep kicking own goals.
The corporate plan released in August this year reveals that under the Abbott government the cost of the NBN has nearly doubled since April 2013 when then shadow minister, Malcolm Turnbull, opposition leader Tony Abbott and hologram Sonny Bill Williams promised that they could do this for $29.5 billion.
This is the third time the cost of this Abbott government's second-rate network has blown out. It blew out to $41 billion in December 2013 and increased to $42 billion in August 2014. The 2016-18 corporate plan revealed it will now cost up to $56 billion—a blow out of $26.5 billion.
So after doubling the deficit this government has almost doubled the cost of the country's biggest infrastructure program.
So much for superior economic management! They said they were better than us. They said it would be faster, sooner and more affordable—fail, fail, fail!
The financial return to taxpayers from this government's second-rate NBN has also crashed. In December 2013 we were assured that the rate of return would be up to 5.3 per cent but the recent corporate plan reveals that it will be 3.5 per cent at best.
The Minister for Communications has no-one else to blame for this cost blow-out. It has happened because he made extraordinarily poor policy decisions and erroneous assumptions. Here are just a few.
The minister assured us that his renegotiations with Telstra would be completed 'speedily' and 'certainly by June 2014'. In reality the agreement did not even commence until 26 June this year, so he missed it by about 12 months.
Minister Turnbull assured us that the large-scale rollout of fibre to the node would commence in mid-2014—and I heard the member talking about this—but in reality full access to the copper was delayed until June this year and the large-scale rollout of fibre to the node still has not started.
The great pre-election NBN fallacy that all Australians would have access to 25 megabits per second by 2016 was blown out of the water. No wonder the member's motion does not mention connections by 2016. It must be very embarrassing for those opposite that that promise did not even last the year 2013.
According to the corporate plan, less than half of all Australians will have access to the NBN by June 2017. This is the minister who promised the NBN for everyone by 2016, and now it is half the population a year later. There are other factors that are at play here, as the University of Melbourne's Professor Rod Tucker recently pointed out for The Conversation:
“Also, the cost of repairing and maintaining Telstra's ageing copper network was likely underestimated, as was the cost of retraining and maintaining a workforce with the wider range of skills needed to install and maintain the multi-technology-mix network—costs that are unique to the MTM.
In the space of two years, the lower-cost deal the Coalition spruiked to Australian voters has turned out to be not so affordable after all.”
How did it all come to this? We all remember the much lauded strategic review. This was the review the minister got his mates to put together with one goal in mind: to conform to a pre-existing view that fibre to the premises was not the way to go. But there is only one problem: the document is dodgy. The minister himself confirmed the flawed nature of this document in an interview just last month, when he said:
“The strategic review took six weeks. This plan— the recent corporate plan— has taken a year … I think the truth is, prior to this work being completed we didn't really know how much it was going to cost. So much of the input was questionable.”
These are the minister's own words.
The document that provided the catalyst for this shift in approach—from a world-class fully fibre network to this second-rate mixed approach—is so flawed the minister himself does not even stand by it.
The document that made all of these delays and blow-outs possible is no longer worth the paper it is written on.
It is an utter disgrace.
The NBN is now a company hamstrung by policy madness which has been driven by this government. As Professor Tucker further stated:
“The Coalition sold the Australian public a product that was supposed to be fast, one-third the cost and arrive sooner than what Labor was offering us. Instead the Coalition's NBN will be so slow that it is obsolete by the time it's in place, it will cost about the same as Labor's fibre-to-the-premises NBN, and it won't arrive on our doorsteps much sooner.
By my reckoning, we didn’t get a good deal.”
The problem we have here is a minister more focused on his personal ambitions than on doing his day job, a bloke who has talked a big game but absolutely failed to deliver. Maybe if this minister concentrated on what he is supposed to be doing for the people of Australia then we would get some results.