Home opinion-and-analysis Beer Files NBN a vote winner or a liability?

NBN a vote winner or a liability?

Many analysts are claiming that the National Broadband Network got the the Gillard Labor Government over the line in the 2010 election. The Abbott Opposition of 2013 reckons that's a load of baloney and the NBN is a $40 odd billion demonstration of Labor waste and ineptitude. So who's right?

So did the NBN really win the 2010 election for Labor? Was it really that important for Labor?

In a way, yes the NBN appears to have won the election for Labor in 2010, but not in the sense that some economists, political analysts and Labor stalwarts would have you believe.

Statements made yesterday by Monash University politics lecturer Nick Economou to the Australian Financial Review appear to be somewhat misleading to say the least.

Mr Economou claimed that the NBN was a core reason that Gillard clung to office, and he named the two northern Tasmanian seats of Bass and Bradman (which theoretically stood to gain most quickly from NBN rollout) as being key pieces of the parliamentary puzzle that got Labor over the line.

Well that reasoning might play well to the choir of political academia but to many of us ordinary voters on the ground it sounds like hogwash. The fact is that NBN or no-NBN the Libs and Nats were never going to take a seat in Tasmania - and nobody was expecting them to, least of all Abbott and co.

The fact that Gillard was fighting for her political life and was even forced to make the "no carbon tax under a government I lead" promise demonstrates that the NBN was not a core issue.

In fact, the $43 billion spend, just two years after GFC hit, coupled with a promise to return the budget to surplus by 2013, was even making more than a few folks in the mortgage belt more than a trifle nervous.

That said, it could be argued that the support for the NBN of the two Independent candidates Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, who supposedly represented strongly conservative leaning electorates, was a key factor in the Gillard Labor win. Tony Windsor even named the NBN as the key decider for him in his speech.

However, does anyone seriously believe that the NBN really was the actual key decider for these two independents. As we all saw on election night, there was obviously a lot of bad blood between Windsor and his former National Party colleagues. As for Oakeshott, well he even toyed with the idea of accepting the speaker's role.

It was fairly obvious that these two blokes stood to last longer and hold more sway with a Labor Government than with a Coalition with momentum that would have been happy to go back to the polls earlier in order to win Government in its own right.

Getting back to the NBN, to be sure there are plenty of folks that want the multi-billion dollar project to go ahead full steam, not least those of us in the industries that stand to benefit from the government largesse.

However, at last count according to the Government's own figures just 34,000 Australians have taken up NBN services and the rest of us are still reasonably happily using DSL, cable and wireless. Does anyone really think that for ordinary Australians the NBN rates a mention against rising electricity costs, job losses, a struggling retail sector, leaky borders and uncertainty about the economy in general?

Abbott and company have obviously got their numbers people out in the market listening to the voters and they're prepared to put their money on the horse that wants to cut spending on the NBN and divert funds elsewhere. They probably reckon with some justification that more people than not want NBN money to go towards other things like tax cuts (even though the Coalition may well not deliver).

Prime Minister Gillard and Mr Conroy may well say about the NBN "bring it on Tony and Malcolm" (and indeed Mr Conroy has) but really, in the scheme of things, what else are they going to say?


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Stan Beer


Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.