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NBN: a turning point « Previous | |Next »
November 19, 2010

The Gillard Government hasn't lost its way on the national broadband network (NBN). It's strategy is perfectly clear: a future of trying to regulate Telstra as the operator of an effective and national fibre network with open access was unrealistic. The option of creating a public natural monopoly was a better one. This is what the Coalition opposed.


I agree with Rob Burgess' argument in The NBN is in Xenophon's hands in Business Spectator that the Coalitions' attempt to prevent this has failed.

Yesterday, November 18, was a crucial moment in the long push by first the Rudd government, now the Gillard government, for the structural separation of Telstra and the rebuild of Australia's fixed line communications network. It was, in effect, the last stand of the opposition in trying to prevent the rollout of the most expensive infrastructure project in Australia's history – and they knew it...Malcolm Turnbull['s]... private member's bill [for a Productivity Commission analysis of the NBN that] he hoped would force the government to subject its NBN project to a full cost-benefit analysis... was narrowly defeated.

Conroy's Telstra-splitting bill, which ends the long policy battle over the structural separation of Telstra, will be passed by the Senate probably at the price of Xenophon forcing some kind of cost-benefit-analysis on Labor in the name of transparency and accountability.

The political drama is happening in the Senate. The bill to be voted on by the Senate next week is not to enable the NBN, but to separate Telstra's wholesale assets from its retail arm.

The Communications Minister Stephen Conroy survived a gag order in the Senate that would have halted any consideration of NBN-related matters - and stopped the Minister even addressing the issue - until he tabled a series of documents related to the fibre roll-out.

The Greens, Family First's Steve Fielding and South Australian independent Nick Xenophon voted with Government to defeat a motion brought by Coalition leader in the Senate Eric Abetz, which would have stymied any chance of the Senate considering the crucial Testra structural separation bill that is expected to be debated next week. The Abetz motion was defeated 36 -34.

The Greens and the two Independent Senators are unhappy that they are being forced to consider the reform legislation in the absence of an NBN business plan, and they are frustrated at the drip-feed of information on the NBN roll-out being put into the public domain.Senator Xenophon says that he strongly supports the separation while feeling annoyed at not seeing the business case yet. Fielding, Xenophon and the Greens will be getting a private briefing on the contents of the business case next week, with Xenophon saying that he wouldn't sign a non-disclosure agreement.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:00 PM | | Comments (8)


When one examines the real reasons behind the NBN rollout-
the 2008 decision was not about how quickly movies could be downloaded, nor about the social benefits of e-health and e-education. It was about facing up to the increasingly apparent failure of the transition of the public fixed-line monopoly to a privately controlled – albeit highly regulated – monopoly.
then the CBA is done. Irrespective of the cost, this one benefit far outweighs the costs.

the combative management style of Sol Trujillo's reign at Telstra brought all the flaws of a regulated private monopoly to the surface sooner, rather than later.

Unfortunately the genii is out of the bottle and we will probably never again see the quality and service that was the hallmark of the Postmaster General's Department, but it is a step in the right direction. The cowboys will still be there, but at least the network will remain reliable

Peter Hartcher, for once, has a decent column in the National Times. It on the NBN

Referring to the structural separation of Telstra legislation that was passed by the House andis now before the Senate Hartcher says:

...the Coalition will be implacably opposed. The government will need every other vote in the chamber to prevail. The Greens are likely to support it, with some quibbles, and the sole Family First senator, Steve Fielding, has said he is likely to vote yes, too.

This will bring it down to a single senator, the independent Nick Xenophon. He is a reasonable man, he supports the network concept but he is demanding more information from the government. And reasonably enough, too. He wants the government to release the business case for the network and he wants the government to refer the project to the Productivity Commission for analysis.

Xenophon cannot really oppose the legislation--even Telstra is in favour of it.

Peter Hartcher in his Strike up the broadband column makes clear the Coalitions motives behind its attack on the NBN.

He says that the Coalition intends to oppose it, while it claims that it merely wants more information from the government. Senator Barnaby Joyce unveiled the opposition's real motive last week

"This is the crux of the issue, this is why the government are so sensitive about it and here it is: the [network] is the reason the Labor government is in government.That is what they put forward. It is the reason the independents backed them …If we pull this card out, if this card falls, the whole show comes down.

It is the NBN that props up the Gillard Government. That is why it needs to be destroyed. Stuff the public good. All that matters is that the Coalition regains power.

the structural separation of Telstra is in the national interest regardless of the NBN.

re the comment " Xenophon cannot really oppose the legislation--even Telstra is in favour of it."

It is in Telstra's interest to accept the $11 billion deal with NBN Co decommission its copper network and move consumer customers onto the National Broadband Network

Without the NBN, Telstra would find itself with an increasing operational cost in maintaining and keeping the copper network up to scratch. Either that or it will have to invest in fibre to compete with the NBN.

Paul Kelly sure goes on in support of the Coalition. In his NBN heat is on and it'll keep rising in The Australian he writes:

The broadband network has become a make-or-break test for Gillard Labor. While the idea of a National Broadband Network retains popular appeal, this issue is undermining the economic reputation, financial credibility and governance standards of Gillard Labor.Labor is going to pay a high price for its icon of the future.

There is no escape from the core conundrum: Labor boasts the NBN as the nation's greatest infrastructure project, yet denies the inquiry to test whether it is financially viable...It reflects a culture deeply embedded in Australia's politics and history: the invocation to a nation-building far too important to be impeded by economic assessment or notions that funds might be better deployed.

Kelly just doesn't get it---the NBN is a core infrastructure that enables a 21st-century society just as the railway network enable a 19th century society and the interstate freeways enable a 20th century society.

Kelly dismisses this as a generational throwback as a public policy to the spirit and rhetoric of the old Country Party of John "Black Jack' McEwen and the old Labor Party of R.F.X. Connor.

All that Kelly can ask is: 'does NBN constitute a viable project?' as the NBN is being rolled out across Australia.

What Kelly should be asking is: 'what does a world transformed by a fibre-optic network mean for us?'

Why so? Because his 'audience' for his columns is changing to users. Kelly's assumption that Kelly produces a column and people will come to passively read it, is being undermined by users engaged in conversations in a broadband-enabled environment.

Well, why wouldnt the government NOT want, "...some sort of cost benefit analysis... in the name of transperancy and accountability", released.
After all, it's already presumably cruched the numbers re the project.
You'd think it'd be only too glad to back its case with facts.
But being open about things goes against the mantra of all governments the last decade or so, that underpinning transperancy and accountability themselves are the real problems these people seek to "solve", rather than real world problems.
Can I be forgiven for speculating that the issue is much about the trashing of hirthoe essential norms, as arriving at the best solutions for Australia's infrastructure challenges?