They say that revenge is a dish best served cold, and the Prime Minister has waited a very, very long time to get his revenge. It is almost six years now since he was brought down by the former Prime Minister in a leadership spill late in the year, almost in the dead of night, but the bad blood between these two men, the Prime Minister and the former Prime Minister, goes back much further than that. It goes back at least 16 years, to when they were opposite each other in the republic debate, when the former Prime Minister defeated the now Prime Minister on the issue of the republic, cost Australia a republic and broke the nation’s heart.
But it goes back even further than that. I have recently stumbled upon an article that the new Prime Minister wrote 37 years ago in The Bulletin of 7 February 1978, when he was a journalist. In this article he gives a free character analysis of the former Prime Minister. Reporting about an AUS conference, he says:
The leading light of the right-wingers in NSW is twenty-year-old Tony Abbott. He has written a number of articles on AUS in the Australian and his press coverage has accordingly given him a stature his rather boisterous and immature rhetoric doesn’t really deserve.
It is almost as if it could have been written this week, isn’t it?
So he had the motive: revenge. He had the argument, because by any objective analysis this has been a pretty ordinary government for the last two years, a government which has made lots of mistakes and broken lots of promises. But the thing that he fails to recognise is that he has been part of that government and that a lot of those broken promises have been his—broken promises on the ABC, broken promises on SBS and broken promises on the NBN. This is the now Prime Minister’s election policy on the NBN that he took to the last election in 2013.
Mr Husic: It looks thin.
Mr CLARE: It is at least 18 pages, and the most important point is on the back page, Member for Chifley, because there he says that he will build the NBN—a second-rate copper version of the NBN, but he will build the NBN—for a total cost of $29½ billion. Now, unfortunately, we know that that is not true, because last month the now Prime Minister released this document, the corporate plan on the NBN for 2016—a lot thicker and a lot more expensive. What this report shows is that the cost of the NBN has now blown out by $26.5 billion. It has gone from $29½ billion to $56 billion. I am telling you the truth. You just need to read the document: $29½ billion to $56 billion. In other words, the cost of the NBN has now almost doubled.
Why is this happening? It is happening for this reason: because the now Prime Minister, when he was an opposition shadow minister, made mistakes in his assumptions when he was putting this policy together, and he underestimated how difficult it would be to move from building a fibre NBN to a second-rate copper NBN. I will give you some examples. He said that he would be able to negotiate an agreement with Telstra by the middle of last year. That agreement was not finalised until the middle of this year, a year behind what he promised. As a result, the rollout of the second-rate fibre-to-the-node technology is at least a year behind schedule as well. Malcolm Turnbull, when he was minister, said that he would have fibre to the node rolling out at scale by the middle of last year. Well, it is now the second half of this year and it is still not rolling out at scale.
But it gets worse, because he also said that part of his second-rate NBN would be connecting people to the NBN via HFC. In the much-vaunted strategic review document, he said that 2.61 million Australians would be connected to the NBN via HFC by the end of next year. But the corporate plan that has now been released tells us that less than one-third of Australians will be connected to the NBN via HFC, not by the end of next year but by the middle of 2017. It gets worse than that, because the IT system to run all of these different technologies, we were told, was going to cost between $180 million and $290 million. That has now ballooned out to almost $1 billion.
All of these mistakes are based on these documents, including the election policy that said it would only cost $29½ billion—at the time I remember the then shadow minister saying that this was based on assumptions which were conservative—and mistakes made in the strategic review, which said the cost had blown out from $29½ billion to $41 billion. At the time I remember the now Prime Minister saying that these assumptions were conservative and achievable, but on both occasions they were wrong—hopelessly wrong. It is not $29½ billion. It is not even $41 billion. It is now $56 billion. You have to give it to Tony Abbott and Joe Hockey. I know they doubled the deficit, but this Prime Minister has almost doubled the cost of the second-rate NBN.
It is not just the cost that has blown out. Last week was the second anniversary of the election of Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, and that night, when he was elected, he issued a public letter to the people of Australia. He said this in the letter:
I want our NBN rolled out within three years and Malcolm Turnbull is the right person to make this happen.
Three years—that means the NBN would be done by the end of next year, doesn’t it? Well, that is not going to happen. It is another broken promise. The corporate plan that I referred to tells us now that the NBN will not be completed until the end of 2020, so instead of three years it will take seven years. In other words, he has doubled the cost of the NBN and he has more than doubled the time that it is going to take to roll it out. This is the failed record of the former communications minister: just like the former Prime Minister, a shopping list of broken promises. It is now going to cost double what he promised and take twice as long to build as they promised.
But it gets worse than this, because at the end of it, when it is all built, what do Australians end up with? A second-rate NBN—an NBN that Simon Hackett, the man Malcolm Turnbull appointed to the board of the NBN, said this of. I do not know what to do, Deputy Speaker, other than to just read it out, ‘FTTN sucks’ and:
If I could wave a wand, it’s the bit I’d erase.
There you have it. There is the expert, the man that the now Prime Minister appointed to the NBN board who says that his second-rate version of the NBN ‘sucks’. Why has all this happened? It has happened, I think, because the now Prime Minister has been a bit distracted for the last few months. He has been focused on something else, focused, I think, on getting ready for something a little different.
We have seen evidence that he has been prepared to do whatever it takes to move jobs from Communications to the Prime Minister by the answers that he has given on climate change and on marriage equality over the course of the last few days. In response to our criticisms of this, he says, ‘Come now, it’s not the means; it’s the ends.’ What a most appropriate answer because, for this Prime Minister, it has always been about the ends.
If you want evidence of that, you just need to read the Good Weekendfrom 13 April 1991—Malcolm Turnbull, ‘Humility is for saints’. In there, you get a good idea of how it has always been about the ends. In this story that is told, we hear from David Dale, the former radio broadcaster, who knew Malcolm Turnbull as ‘the footballer’ because of his solid frame. At a meeting, Malcolm Turnbull announced to Dale that he wanted to be Prime Minister by the time he was 40. Dale asked, ‘For which party?’ Malcolm the footballer responded, ‘It doesn’t matter.’
It tells you everything you need to know about this Prime Minister—it is not about the means; it has always been about the ends.