Malcolm Turnbull has returned to the Coalition front bench as the Shadow Minister for
Knocking Stephen Conroy Broadband. He is a great choice for this. He is one of the few politicians who actually makes use of the Internet, with an active Twitter following, an iPad and even an iPhone app. He has also been consistent in challenging the Government on the NBN without making completely ridiculous statements in the process.
Anyhow, here is some friendly advice to him in that role.
- Cost-Benefit Analysis: the problem with assessing the costs and benefits of the NBN is that it is too difficult to pin stuff down. It is a ‘he said, she said’ game. The bigger issue is the process which did not include that as part of the NBN commitment. Sadly, however, that is a past issue.
- Implementation: the weak point for the Government is the NBN’s implementation. The goal of the NBN — fast broadband and telecommunications across the country — is very different from how you achieve that. The Government does not seem to be doing that in way that is at all economical and also in a way that is technologically flexible. It is also doing things in its relationship with Telstra that are worrying if we want our NBN to be ‘monopoly proof.’ So take them to task on implementation. Maybe you could suggest something more market-based.
- Public good: hold the Government to task on the principle that government money should be spent on public and not private goods. At the moment, they get a free run there as people want subsidised video downloads. But what about education, health and reform of government services. That is something worth spending public money on. The line should be not that the NBN is too expensive but that money is being spent on private consumption rather than public services — even considering broadband in isolation. That will help no-one; especially regional Australia.
- Telstra: for goodness sake, don’t make the alternative to the Government’s NBN be a promotion of old policies that say we should just leave it all up to Telstra. That isn’t a solution. That is non-action and not having a broadband policy. If you want to call something a policy in this area, it has to deal with Telstra and the fact that regulation has not worked to spur diverse investment in this space. That has left Australian consumers paying too much for too little.
The Government is vulnerable on broadband. Yes, it has done better than any other policy — including its own FTTN one — in what it is doing now. But it is far from perfect. What we need is an opposition that holds it to account in a sophisticated way rather than just saying “no.”
[Update: Malcolm Turnbull starts his critique. I’ll give him more time to get out of election mode.]