So now we know. Labor’s NBN plans were “overly ambitious.” The words come from the man who would know better than anyone else, the architect of the scheme, one Senator Stephen Conroy.
Once at the pinnacle of power and now an Opposition backbencher, Conroy gave a wide ranging talk at an Australian Computer Society lunch on Friday, his first public outing since resigning from the front bench after Kevin Rudd ousted Julia Gillard.
In his talk Conroy admitted that he underestimated the complexity of the construction process. At the time, of course, he defended the many construction delays as minor and not affecting the big picture. How times have changed.
“The targets were always ambitious," he now says. "We wanted to get going. We wouldn't have been so aggressive if we'd known how tough it was for the company. We were overly ambitious."
He said, as you might expect, that the project had been generally well managed overall. “But we underestimated the capacity of the construction industry to respond. That led to the majority of the publicity around the alleged blowouts. I think it's fair to say the construction model could be legitimately criticised.
“The rollout was significantly lagging due to the failure of the construction industry to mobilise resources." Ah, so it was the construction industry’s fault for not matching NBN Co’s ambition, not NBN Co’s – or Conroy’s – fault that they bit off more than they could chew,
Conroy said the most important reasons for the delay was Labor's decision to connect individual apartments with fibre rather than to a single central point - so-called fibre to the basement – which is the Coalition's plan, and Labor’s intention to connect all greenfields sites.
But Conroy was not at all contrite. Indeed he was still as combative as ever, especially when attacking the Coalition for its ‘hypocrisy’ in constantly demanding a cost-benefit analysis, then not doing one themselves.
“They're not doing a cost-benefit analysis. So the debate is complete bullshit. I can empathise with those disappointed with the progress on the fibre rollout. But any further delays to the rollout beyond the schedule in the revised plan that has been submitted will be a consequence of Malcolm Turnbull’s policies and his change in the policy agenda.”