Friday, September 24, 2010

Australia - Opposition is not seeking to wreck the NBN, but to get transparency and accountability

[zdnet] Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull denied he is seeking to "wreck" the National Broadband Network (NBN) but said it was unlikely the Coalition would ever vote for the $43 billion project.

"I'm not seeking to wreck, destroy or anything. My objective is to get some real transparency and accountability on this," Turnbull said of his new role. "We need to have an informed debate about spending. The government is talking about spending a really stupendous amount of money [on the NBN] and our job in opposition is to hold them to account for that."

The shadow minister said that the "Rolls Royce" NBN would likely be the fastest medium available but there was a price for it.

"[The NBN project] is a substantial transfer of wealth from taxpayers to retailers and hopefully that will benefit customers who will get cheaper services, better-quality services but there is a very substantial transfer of wealth from taxpayers," he said.

Since being appointed to the role, Turnbull has put pressure on the Government to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the project. This is something that has been echoed by some in the business community. However if the government was to conduct one and it came out in favour of the NBN, Turnbull said that wouldn't guarantee his support.

"No one in their right mind would ever give a blank cheque to an analysis that hasn't been done yet," he said, spelling out what he believed such an analysis should look at.

"A good cost benefit analysis will be very transparent, will set out all its assumptions will allow people to play with those assumptions, play with them and form their own view," he said. "And it could be very influential."

Turnbull said that by opposing the project in the immediate term, the Opposition would be better prepared to hold the government to account for any waste from the NBN.

"In February 2009, when I was still leader of the Opposition, we opposed the stimulus package. And that was very unpopular but it was right," he said. "If we hadn't done that we would have never had a legitimate place to criticise the pink batts fiasco or for criticising the waste and mismanagement of the school halls program, so sometimes in politics you've got to do what's right even if it might not be electorally enticing."

By opposing the project, the Coalition would also set itself apart from the government if Labor's slim majority in Parliament is compromised and voters are forced back to the polls early.

"[The Independent MPs Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott] could change their minds [and side with the Coalition]. I think it's very unlikely that they will, but they could theoretically and we could be back at the polls in a few months," he said, adding that Prime Minister Julia Gillard did not have a mandate to go ahead with the NBN from the 2010 election.

"She didn't win the election. She lost a lot of seats and she has hung onto power by the skin of her teeth."

Turnbull not an NBN 'wrecker'

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