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Wednesday, 05 May 2010 14:06

Time to grill the Coalition on its 'no-NBN' plan


2GB's chief shock-jock Alan Jones this morning had a golden opportunity to grill opposition leader Tony Abbott on the Coalition's alternatives to the National Broadband Network, but he made not the slightest attempt to pursue it.

Perhaps this might be because Jones himself is no fan of the NBN; a point of view suggested by his opening, leading, question on the subject. "What about a $43 billion national broadband programme - no costings, no analysis?"

This gave Abbott another opportunity to trot out the Coalition case that we've heard umpteen times since the project was announced. "This was something that the government brought forward without the simplest business case. The calculations for it, if any, were just back of the envelope and you just can't trust with public money a government which commits $43 billion without the most serious analysis and again in a sense it was a broken promise because we had Lindsay Tanner telling us up hill and down dale that the Government would never commit public money to any of these projects without a full business case being done and this is the biggest project of all done without one."

Sorry Tony, but things have moved on a long way from there in the past 12 months. Where too from here? That was Jones' next question. "What will you do with this?"

Abbott's answer was to the point and unequivocal. "Well, we won't go ahead with it, Alan. We just won't go ahead with it. For years we had a nationalised telecommunications carrier. We finally sold it off to the public. Telstra's not perfect but it's better in private hands than it ever was with the public servants running it and we don't want a new Telecom in this country today."


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Leaving aside the fact that NBN Co won't be a new Telstra (or a Telecom - a name that was dropped nigh on two decades ago) but a wholesale provider, Jones might have asked Abbott about the Coalition's alternatives. He didn't, he went straight on to ask about maternity leave.

Had he asked he would likely have got an answer nowhere near as concise as the one that preceded it. The most definitive statement of Coalition NBN policy to date was given by shadow communications minister, Tony Smith, in a speech last month.

For starters, that position is nowhere near as simple as "we won't go ahead with it." Smith said a Coalition Government would not be "tearing up any contracts."

Other than that, and promising to prioritise better broadband in underserved areas he was extremely vague about Coalition alternatives, priorities and technologies.

With the Coalition this week getting ahead of Labor in the opinion polls the likelihood of a Coalition Government is growing. So it's high time we know what we will be voting for on NBN policy, or the lack thereof. High time somebody gave Abbott and Smith a very thorough grilling on the subject.



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