Turnbull’s NBN a Policy or Tactic?

The Coalition’s response to Labor’s NBN is a deliberately inferior product. The Luddites in the Coalition have not changed their ideologically cemented opposition to state-investment in a Broadband network that serves the entire country – rather, they have merely realised and capitalised on the issue’s political divisiveness. 

Anyone questioning why this inferior Broadband network is not a PR blunder does not understand that the policies are not designed to be compared against one another. It does not matter that Labor’s NBN is faster, less maintenance demanding, and will reach more people.

Don’t get me wrong, Labor’s NBN is a populist and expensive political tactic paid for with money that they do not have, but at least it will deliver a beneficial service to the Australian public. The Coalition’s is a cheap and nasty band-aid response to a public troubled by their unwillingness to invest in a future where international students no longer use Australian internet speeds as a measure of our backwardness.

As a result, this policy is not one penned by a crack-team of policy advisors with the genuine objective of delivering a National Broadband Network that will serve the Australian people to the best of the government’s ability. It is rather a hastily cobbled together series of excuses for a piece of infrastructural development that the Coalition’s ideology would have them argue doesn’t fall within the scope of governmental responsibility.

This is something they’ve been arguing for years. A decade ago the then communications minister Richard Alston sneered at the investment in an interview with Inside Business’s Alan Kohler: “…my scepticism has really been about whether there is any compelling national interest in the Government spending money on subsidising roll-outs to consumers.”

They’ve continued this line of thinking for a decade since, with Tony Abbott stating time and time again that an NBN is too expensive and not necessary. On ABC Tasmania on July 22 2010 Chris Pyne, current Shadow Minister for Education made the outrageous claim that existing wireless services across Australia’s capital cities were good enough as is, and the NBN would be overkill. Pyne justified himself by saying, “Complaints we used to receive five years ago about broadband have been replaced with no complaints because the wireless system is so much better in the city.”

The Coalition has never understood the importance of a National Broadband Network. The above comments also point to a severe gap in comprehension of the need for Broadband services to be accessible not just by inner-city Macbookers, but the entire continent.

The significance of Labor’s NBN policy is twofold: In an information society, it is a necessary condition that we possess the future-proof infrastructure to drive this economic revolution. Secondly, to roll out fibre-optic cabling to the entirety of Australia is a task that private industry is unwilling to undertake because of the diminishing returns present in servicing regional Australia. It’s simply an equity issue, those who do not live in cities should have comparable access to essential services to their city-dwelling counterparts.

The major difference between the two parties’ Broadband Networks is that the current copper wiring system in place was designed for phones and not for our current and future internet needs. So, the real reason that the Coalition’s plan costs so much less and will be completed in 2019 as opposed to 2021 is that it plans to use this existing obsolete network. ‘Fiscal responsibility’ trumps equity.

It has never been within the Coalition’s best interests to deliver an NBN comparable with Labor’s for two reasons: Firstly, the best way to kill a policy is to say “No, too expensive”. That was stage one of the Coalition’s response to Labor’s attempt at infrastructure development; banking on the odds of Labor’s inability to sell reasonably good policy is at an all time high. Stage two was to realise that Australians actually want better internet speeds and act in a way that follows with all prior character assassination of the current government: appear more fiscally responsible by saying that you are, then propose less investment in social progress while promising to deliver more.

Coalition policy (a rare beast in these dark woods) relies on an inherent mistrust of governmental efficiency and a preference for third-party investment.

The telling fact remains that the Coalition would not have introduced a Government initiative to build an NBN because it is not within their neo-classical understanding of state-development.

The Coalition should be clear with the Australian people about whether this policy of theirs is a policy designed to benefit the Australian people as much as the original Labor NBN, or whether it is a political tactic designed to cloud the real reasons behind why their government will not be investing in much needed state infrastructure.