23 February 2021


There is no greater example of deception, incompetence, short-sightedness and poor economic management by this government than when it comes to the NBN, and it goes to the character and competence of this minister at the table, the Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts. The litany of failures that has plagued the NBN on this government's watch is absolutely obscene. The never-ending cost blowouts—initially promised to be $29 billion, it has now hit $57 billion. Copper is not delivering the minimum speeds as required by law, and they have purchased enough copper to wrap around the planet Earth. Their HFC network, which was supposed to be the great game-changer, is a complete debacle. Their fibre-to-the-curb modems are literally frying in people's homes. And, at the end of all this, this minister performs the copper backflip and admits finally, after all the wasted time and wasted effort, that fibre was better all along. But the piece de resistance came yesterday, with reports exposing the rotten Liberal Party cover-up for over seven years when it comes to their failed multitechnology mix.

Spare a thought for the minister today. He'll be a little sensitive about being exposed. The fact is that Australians have always known that the original fibre plan would've been far cheaper and faster to roll out and would perform better than what those opposite always claimed. And we know from these reports that not only did we know that and not only did the Australian people know that, but the Liberal Party knew that in 2013 and they concealed it, wilfully concealed it, from the Australian people. Those opposite have spent seven years falsely claiming their second-rate piece of junk has saved taxpayers $30 billion compared to the original fibre plan. And that $30 billion figure, repeatedly and falsely asserted by Malcolm Turnbull and now by this minister, the member for Bradfield, are derived from the cost differential of two so-called rollout scenarios contained in Malcolm's 2013 NBN strategic review. The first is the review's claim that the multitechnology mix would cost $41 billion. For a start, it now costs $57 billion. And the second is the claim that Labor's original fibre rollout would have cost $72 billion. The reports yesterday have definitively destroyed this claim. Here are some choice quotes from the report from yesterday:

Savings worth $850 to $1150 were estimated to be achievable for each existing home attached with fibre …

Now here's the rub:

If the lowest level of estimated savings was applied to homes in the existing full fibre rollout at the time, peak funding could have been reduced from $73 billion to about $60 billion. Interest rates associated with the debt were estimated at a relatively high 6.9 per cent by 2024. A further $5 billion to $6 billion in savings may then have been achievable due to lower debt overall and with interest rates below 4 per cent.

There's a truth bomb if there ever was one! Put another way, Liberal shareholder ministers were explicitly advised that fibre could be deployed for between $2,950 and $3,250 per premise, but they kept this figure secret. This is significant. For starters, even based on the government's own dodgy figures, this adjustment, in conjunction with reduced debt and interest rate adjustments, would take $15 billion to $19 billion off the government's own figure. Where does this leave the minister's $30 billion claim? In the dumpster!

I understand the minister's going around today with the NBN chairman, and they're saying: 'Look, we kept these figures secret because they were commercial-in-confidence. They would have undermined NBN Co's commercial negotiations.' Let me get this straight: NBN Co's out there going into the market, trying to negotiate construction prices, and they decide: 'I've got a brilliant strategy. I'm going to put out the highest price possible per premise. I'll put that in the public domain and I'll keep the true cost a state secret.' Now, this minister puts himself out there as some commercial genius, but it's a recipe to get outmanoeuvred by construction companies to put up their prices. I'm actually not surprised, because that's the kind of reverse logic you'd apply if you were going to hypothetically hand Liberal Party donors $30 million of taxpayers' money for a parcel of land in the Leppington Triangle that the ANAO said was worth only $3 million. It's the same minister with form.

There's only one reason the cost-per-premises figures were kept secret. It had nothing to do with commercial negotiations. The problem is it would've been a political problem for Malcolm Turnbull had they been in the public domain. This minister is all over the shop. In the second argument, the best bon mot of all, he was going out saying, 'It's no secret; it was all out there.' It was redacted! There were black lines through the document. Normal people don't black things out for fun. I want to think Malcolm Turnbull was walking around with a sharpie and fell across this thing and started drawing lines on it! It was blacked out. The minister might be unfamiliar with what the term 'redact' means, but I will help him out. 'Redact' is a verb—to remove information from a document because you don't want the public to see it. That is exactly what has happened here.

On top of all that, to add insult to injury, we have $78 million in corporate bonuses being given out during the depths of the greatest downturn in the economy since the Great Depression. It is offensive. It is obscene. It is unjustified. Let's remember the Prime Minister effectively sacked the CEO of Australia Post on this very floor for $20,000 worth of Cartier watches for Australia Post's highly remunerated executives. Where is the outage for $78 million in corporate bonuses for a project that's four years behind schedule? It's gone from $29 billion to $57 billion. It doesn't work properly. It isn't delivering minimum speeds as required by law. So where does this government stand?

Also, I am intrigued. When this came out—and it only came out because we had an answer to a question that was 47 days overdue, thanks to the minister—we again had the minister all over the shop here. Initially, he went on radio in the morning. He was very embarrassed. He got out on the radio and he said, 'It's a matter for the board.' A couple of hours later, the headline was 'Minister unfazed by $77 million in NBN Co bonuses'. Then he came into question time and blamed Labor for the bonuses. Despite the fact that they have been in government for seven years, that's their big defence. By the evening, The Financial Review was reporting that he had taken this wet lettuce to NBN Co and said, 'No more bonuses.'

But the level of concealment by this government when it comes to the NBN is absolutely outrageous when it comes to the amount of money that has been wasted, based on a lie, based on concealment, based on pure political games they sought to play at the expense of the Australian people. Australia now ranks 61st in the world for fixed line broadband. We have a multitechnology mix that has at least blown out to more than what they said it would be—from $29 billion to $57 billion. It costs more to operate, it generates less revenue and it's more exposed to 5G competition. We had the minister at the end of last year declare: 'Mission accomplished. The NBN is finished.' Slow clap! This was met with absolute derision right across Australia.

When it comes to ensuring that Australians have the best available broadband, when it comes to making sure that we have an economy that is set up for the future, we now know based on the evidence we have today that all of this was based on a lie. Let it not be lost on anyone that in 2013, when we had Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott standing next to that hologram of Sonny Bill Williams, they said their second-rate version of the NBN would be delivered for $29 billion. Let's look at the cost blowouts. It blew out to $41 billion in 2014, $49 billion in 2015 and $51 billion in 2018 and, by 2020, it had surged to $57 billion—a veritable sushi train of cost blowouts. And, as I said, we've got copper failing to deliver minimum speeds. It's 2021—five years on from the designated completion date that these people said they'd have it done by—and these minimum speeds are still not being delivered over the copper NBN network, and that's to some 238,000 premises around Australia. This same party, who are on track to amass $1 trillion in debt, have used taxpayer money to purchase over 49,000 kilometres of new copper for the NBN. It is no surprise that Australians understand—not only as consumers but as small businesses, and not only for themselves—the short-sightedness of this government when it comes to the great cover-up that has put Australia backwards. They know exactly where this concealment lies.