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Rudd goes silent on broadband to avoid bad headlines.

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Thu, 7th August 2008


The Hon Bruce Billson MP Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd never talks about Labor’s grand National Broadband Network promises anymore because he knows if he does he will only attract bad publicity about failing to deliver.

While much of the central political debate has focussed on other issues, such as the government’s failure to ease cost of living pressures, more and more Australians are now questioning why there has been so little progress by the Rudd Government with broadband, despite its overblown promises in opposition.

In the lead up to the Federal election, hardly a day passed without Mr Rudd promising how under Labor ‘s plan to spend up to $4.7 billion of taxpayers’ money broadband in Australia would reach mythical levels, with the first new services up and running before the end of 2008.

But since the election Mr Rudd doesn’t want to talk about broadband, Labor’s single biggest infrastructure promise. To do so would simply draw attention to a shambolic and secretive tender process littered with several broken deadline promises and estimates of staggering cost blow-outs.

And more than eight months after the election Communications Minister Stephen Conroy can’t even explain what taxpayers will actually get for their $4.7 billion. That’s billion, not million.

After formally calling for network construction proposals back in April, Senator Conroy has not even been able provide potential bidders with the basic information they need to develop and cost their proposals, despite several failed attempts.

I am receiving reports from around the country of communities asking why they are yet to see any sign of imminent broadband benefits under the Rudd Government. Many of these communities would have been beneficiaries of the previous government’s OPEL broadband project, which Senator Conroy cancelled despite having no alternative to it.

At a time when Australians are seeking clarity and explanations as to why Labor’s broadband plan is in tatters, Senator Conroy has conveniently gone to ground and Mr Rudd doesn’t want his name associated with another major embarrassment.

While Senator Conroy dithers, the private sector has understandably frozen further broadband investment in commercially viable areas of the market depriving consumers of new services today.

Senator Conroy has a habit of blaming others for his broadband woes, whether it be the opposition, his own department or telcos, but Telstra’s Dr Phil Burgess hit the nail on the head when this week when he said:

“They [The Government] are sitting on their hands.”

Dr Burgess predicted the process was likely to drag on until September next year because of lengthy negotiations, legislation changes, Senate approval and a Christmas period lag. (The Herald Sun 6/8/08).

The big problem for Labor is it based its broadband promise on an election sound bite, with no sound public policy to back it up. For Senator Conroy, shifting deadlines and dodging scrutiny will not fix a fundamentally flawed process.