Whatever your political persuasion and whichever part of the business community you come from, the overwhelming feeling upon reading Thursday’s strategic review by NBN Co is disappointment and impotent frustration.
It is a depressing state of affairs that four and a half years after Kevin Rudd and Stephen Conroy ripped up their previous plans to announce the creation of NBN Co and a national broadband network that we are left debating which side of politics’ approach has been the most clueless.
It shouldn’t be like this. We are supposedly a clever country, yet we can’t seem to grasp the importance of not screwing around with vital infrastructure of a modern economy.
By now we should be seeing the first indications of economic and social benefits of high speed broadband in pockets around the country. Instead, we’re back at the drawing board and drowning in a sea of excuses and political recriminations.
Presenting the findings of the strategic review to Parliament, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that it was time to end the spin and wishful thinking and embrace reality.
“Welcome to the real world moment for the NBN,” he said.
Unfortunately, the reality is that, as a nation, we have blown it.
Unsurprisingly the review conducted by NBN Co mark 2 found the predicted price of the previous government’s policy to be alarmingly under-estimated (by $28.8 billion) and the progress to be woefully behind even its latest pre-election estimates.
These claims are vehemently disputed by Labor, with Turnbull’s opposite number, Jason Clare, who has his own new documents, provided from the previous NBN Co board, which appear to show we would be much better to continue with the previous government’s policy.
The fact that the Coalition is now admitting that some of its own pre-election broadband costings and timings weren’t worth the paper they were written on due to the extent of the projects’ woes, should elicit nothing more than an angry sigh towards both sides. Mr Turnbull still deserves some leeway for being new to the job, but the fact that his own pre-election projections have already blown out in terms of time and money, leaves the feeling of just another spin of the merry-go-round.
As a nation, we’re basically going to spend almost the same as we were going to spend before, but rather than having world-leading infrastructure to show for it, we will be wheezing along to keep pace with what everyone else is doing anyway.
It’s a reality check alright. But not a happy one.
Business wants less noise, more action
It shouldn’t be news to either side that the business community doesn’t care about either the strategic review, or Labor’s contradictory report. It is just more noise around an issue that should have been bipartisan, and already be starting to form the backbone of a new era for potential growth.
Business leaders just want a new network built. They’ve heard enough about corporate plans, strategic reviews and feasibility studies and want to start figuring if there is any competitive advantage left to glean from upgraded infrastructure.
As the soul searching continues about just what kind of industries and workers should define Australia into the future, the most obvious option of technology and knowledge-based professionals is hamstrung by the continuing inability of governments to plan and build for a digital future.
If we haven’t already missed the bus for reaping the potential benefits of high-speed broadband, we are probably running down the street after it.
We aren’t going to get world beating infrastructure, we won’t be blazing a trail ahead of rival nations, we will simply be spending truckloads of cash in the hope of being on par – if that –with other countries.
If there is anything positive to come from today’s mess, it is that things can’t get much worse.
Who knows how bad it was inside the old NBN Co? Who knows whether the fibre to the premises plan could have been pulled off? Who knows whether mythical new technologies will emerge to prove the Coalition right for holding back on FTTP?
It’s time to stop arguing about it because of the harm we are doing to our future prospects of prosperity by engaging in circular debates.
We are where we are and – for better or worse – we have the government we elected. So let’s stop the politicisation of basic modern infrastructure and try to make the best of a wretched situation.