For this PM, technology is always just about politics

Michelle Rowland

When Australians think of technology it is a positive. They see possibilities and the future. In contrast, for Scott Morrison and his cabinet, technology is an instrument to exploit or invent political differentiation, and tactfully present voters with false choices.

When leaders consistently put near-term politics ahead of the longer-term public interest, it invariably extracts a price.

Taxpayers have paid more but received a technologically inferior NBN, and no matter how much spin the Liberals churn out, that is the stark reality.

Michelle Rowland: Shadow communications minister

This week, Telstra claimed its 5G home broadband service will offer average speeds of 378 megabits per second to homes and businesses. In contrast, the average maximum speed on Fibre to the Node is 67 megabits per second, and up to 200,000 premises on the copper NBN can’t even get 25 megabits.

Imagine spending $50 billion on a copper dominated network, that’s not delivering minimum speeds required under law, and already losing its competitiveness.

That is the anti-genius of Liberal-National Party. Deceive. Implement bad technology policy at higher cost. Then spend more money to correct their mistakes. They led us down this path on broadband, and now want to do it with energy.

In 2013 the Liberals produced “modelling” known as the NBN strategic review. This elaborate sham had a sole purpose: provide political cover for abandoning fibre.

This document was then used to claim a multi-technology mix of second-rate technologies was going to be $30 billion cheaper than a full-fibre NBN.

This untruth, repeated at nauseum, relied on two tricks.

The first was pretending the copper dominated network being rolled out costs $41 billion. False. It is costing $57 billion.

The second was to claim the original plan to deploy a fibre network to 93 per cent of Australia would cost $72 billion, rather than the near $50 billion forecast under Labor.

The latter claim, which the Liberals clung to desperately, was decimated in a front-page report in the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2021.

It revealed that in late 2013 the Liberals were explicitly told deploying Fibre to the Premises was dramatically cheaper than what they claimed in public.

That advice was redacted and kept secret for seven years, and it is clear why.

If the redacted costs for fibre, along with real-world interest rates, were fed back into the strategic review “modelling”, the original fibre rollout would have cost around $53 billion.

Notably, Minister Fletcher stopped repeating his $30 billion claim since the unredacted extracts appeared in print, because he always knew it to be false.

The NBN copper rollout has now become a business case liability and looks increasingly uncompetitive against 5G.

The NBN HFC network, which relies on Foxtel Pay TV infrastructure, is arguably the most expensive and unreliable deployment of its sort in the world.

Tens of thousands of Fibre to the Curb modems across the country are also frying during storms because lightning is being conducted over the copper that leads into the home.

The government is now saying Fibre to the Curb technology will not deliver gigabit speeds, despite promising it would only a year ago.

Every fixed-line technology deployed by the Coalition is beset by technical or business case problems, except for Fibre to the Premises – Labor’s original technology of choice.

History doesn’t always repeat itself, but quite often, it rhymes.

Whether it is broadband or energy, this Liberal-National government of Morrison and Joyce cannot be trusted on technology. For them, it is always about politics, and never about you.

Michelle Rowland is the Shadow Minister for Communications, and Member for Greenway

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

  1. David Havyatt 3 years ago

    Cracking column Michelle.

    Unfortunately, the uncritical acceptance of the Turnbull lies on broadband mean their version is now accepted truth, even though there was never any evidence for it that withstood scrutiny.

    The ‘technology roadmap’ and net zero plan are twice as farcical as the NBN strategic review, but at least this time the Liberals agree on the actual end goal. But they have even less of a plan to get us there than they ever had on broadband.

  2. Enzo Fable 3 years ago

    Ms Rowland is quite right that the Abbott/Turnbull NBN V2 was/is a sham. Firstly, Turnbull changed the Statement of Expectations to focus on cheapest not most cost effective technology. Rowland is correct that that political mantra was not achieved in that the original NBN was to cost ~$45B and in reality V2 has cost closer to $60B and is still not complete and already being upgraded to closer to FTTP, ie FTTC (kerb).

    What is not understood is that NBN Co employed at Turnbull’s behest a well known anti FTTP campaigner to undertake the technology Strategic Review and Cost Benefit Analysis which relies on the former as its basis to justify shonky assumptions.

    What must be understood is that the analysis of FTTP technology was not as how the original NBN has planned to be built but rather as how the new NBN with new Chairman Switkowski and almost completely new Board and new CEO believed it should have been built.

    One might question what else one might be able to conjure to achieve a prescribed preference.

    The real tragedy is that it will take almost a total figure of ~$100B (coincidentally a figure that Turnbull arbitrarily campaigned with during the 2013 election campaign) to get the NBN V2 to get to where the original ~$45B would have got us to. I have seen it reported in the last week or so that NBN has allocated some $35B to upgrade the whole Network (unconfirmed). That appears close to realistic. Double the cost of the original NBN?

    With reference to Rowland’s comment to 5g competing with NBN only FTTP, 20% of the network, can compete if upgraded (cheaply and quickly thanks to its technology advantages) to 1Gb speeds. That was expected to be done from 2016 iirc in the original NBN Plans.

    The Liberals NBN has been an abject failure on every measure and not a surprise when it was founded on deception and purely political motivations, and potentially corruption – how else could such stupid decision making be wrought to achieve such a failure and achieve such a massive waste of taxpayer funds and cost the Australian economy tens of billions of dollars.

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