Malcolm Turnbull’s Mess


This is the latest report from Akamai, which ranks internet speeds of different countries around the world. It is a damning indictment on this government and this Prime Minister because, in the last three years, Australia has gone from 30th in the world to 60th in the world for internet speeds—behind most of Asia, Europe, America, Canada and even New Zealand. We are even behind Russia, Poland and Slovakia.

This is this Prime Minister’s legacy as Communications Minister: from 30th in the world, for internet speeds, down to 60th. He was a failure as Communications Minister, not just according to this report but according to his own standards, to the standards he set for himself just over three years ago when he released The coalition’s plan for fast broadband and an affordable NBN. His policy, that he put to the people of Australia at the last election. Most of the promises that were made in this policy have now been broken, including the two big ones. One was a promise that he could build the NBN for $29½ billion, and the other was that everyone in Australia would have access to the NBN by the end of this year. Both of those have now been broken, not by a little bit but by a lot. The cost of the NBN is not $29½ billion anymore. It has now blown out to up to $56 billion.

In question time today, the Prime Minister gave us a lecture about $20 billion and how much that was. He said in answer to the first question, ‘We regard $20 billion as a huge amount of money. It could provide a full year of hospital funding, more than a full year of schools funding and the duplication of the Hume Highway.’ The blow-out of the NBN is more than that, more than $20 billion. It has blown out by $26½ billion on his watch. Remember the other promise? That everyone across Australia would get the NBN this year. Tasmania would have gotten it last year, apparently. They are still waiting. The promise was that the whole country would get it this year.

Well, guess what: we are still waiting. If you are still buffering, blame Malcolm Turnbull. More than 80 per cent of the country is still waiting for Malcolm Turnbull’s second-rate NBN. It is an epic fail. Where this really rubs people the wrong way is in electorates like Perth and Cowan in WA, seats like Banks in New South Wales, Deakin in Victoria or Bonner in Queensland. In these electorates no-one in an existing home or business has the NBN—not a soul. Remember that the Prime Minister said that everyone in these electorates would have the NBN this year. It is an extraordinary breach of faith. 

It is the same on the west coast of Tasmania. Before the last election, the Prime Minister said that he would build a fibre link to the west coast of Tasmania. Both sides of politics said the same thing: we would build fibre to the west coast of Tasmania. Then, slyly and sneakily, without any announcement, in August last year the Prime Minister switched from building a fibre link to the west coast of Tasmania to putting them on the satellite version of the NBN. Understandably, the people of the west coast of Tasmania have had a gutful of that. They are awfully peeved off. I went to a community meeting in Queenstown in Tasmania last month with the local member. I have never been to a meeting where more people were so angry about being ripped off and dudded by this government on the NBN. They said things in that meeting that I could not repeat in this parliament. They were seriously angry and felt they had been dudded, and that was why I was in Tasmania again last week to announce that a Shorten Labor government will reverse this sneaky, bad decision by Malcolm Turnbull and give the people of the west coast of Tasmania the fibre link that they were promised.

Why has all this happened? Why all the broken promises? How did the Prime Minister get this policy that he put together three years ago so wrong? There is one word for it, and it is ‘copper’. He thought that he could do fibre-to-the-node quite simply and quite cheaply. He thought it would be easy, but he seriously underestimated how hard it would be to go from building a fibre NBN to a copper NBN. He said that he could negotiate access to the copper from Telstra quickly. He said he could do it in a couple of months. It ended up taking nearly two years to seal the deal with Telstra. He also underestimated how much it would cost to build this copper version of the NBN fibre-to-the-node. He said it would be 600 bucks a home for fibre-to-the-node. But, again, that was a massive error. In fact, it was $1,600 a home. He also underestimated the cost of fixing the copper. He said it would cost $55 million to fix the old copper that they had bought back from Telstra. He said it was a conservative assumption. In fact, it is $783 million. It has blown out by more than 1,000 per cent.

He has also had problems with the rollout of this copper NBN. I have a good example. A story that was in The Sydney Morning Herald a couple of months ago revealed that nbn co were supposed to have rolled out fibre-to-the-node to 94,000 homes by 12 February, but they got nowhere near that. According to leaked documents, they only hit 29,000. Then last month there was another leaked document. This time, in the Financial Review, the headline ‘Leaked NBN documents confirm lengthy delays’ revealed that, of the first 40 fibre-to-the-node areas, all of them are behind schedule. Not one of them has been built on time. Every single one of those first 40 fibre-to-the-node areas are all behind schedule.

But it gets even worse, because where it has been switched on it is not working properly. I have told the parliament stories before about the problems in the Hunter, on the Central Coast and in Bundaberg where people have signed on to fibre-to-the-node and are now getting slower speeds than they were getting with ADSL. A good example of that was a recent headline in the Hunter. ‘Hunter’s National Broadband Network in crisis as consumers are plagued by delays and speed issues’ tells the story of one man, Mark Jackson, who said: ‘As soon as we connected, our speeds went down really badly, to the point where I can’t even use Facebook’. And he is just one. There are many people in the Hunter who are complaining to good local members of parliament and complaining to NBN Co, saying, ‘Fix this mess.’ It has got that bad that last week NBN Co actually issued an official apology to the people of the Hunter for the mess that they have made.

Then, yesterday, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman released its complaints data for the first three months of this year. When you look at the complaints data, one thing stands out: all these suburbs—like Toukley, Newcastle, Warners Bay and Belmont North—are all in areas where Malcolm Turnbull’s slower, second-rate copper version of the NBN has been switched on. They are all areas where complaints are up. In fact, six of the top 10 suburbs in the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s complaint report yesterday are areas where fibre-to-the-node has recently been switched on.

It gets even worse than that. I have told the parliament before about how much new copper this government is buying to make this second-rate network work. It is 10 million metres of new copper—enough to connect Melbourne to Mumbai. But now it gets even more bizarre than that, because I recently found this job ad on Seek: Manager Copper Service Assurance:The Manager Copper Service Assurance will lead an NBN team working closely with the Managed Service Partner teams in Melbourne, Mumbai and Delhi. This role will provide visible leadership in relation to the performance management for all aspects of inbound/outbound Service Management. This role will be based in Mumbai, India. This is not a fly-in fly-out role. It will require the manager of copper service assurance to reside in India on an ongoing basis.
Not only have they bought back Telstra’s old copper network, not only are they now buying 10 million metres of new copper, but now they are sending jobs to Mumbai to fix their second-rate copper network. What a mess! It is going to take a Labor government to fix this mess.