Conroy pays to avoid cost benefit analysis: Turnbull

Gillard Government paid to avoid answering cost-benefit questions, says the shadow communications minister

Shadow communication minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has accused the Gillard Government of avoiding a cost benefit analysis through an independent review into NBN Co’s 30-year business plan.

An eight-page executive summary of the review, authored by corporate consultants Greenhill Caliburn, was released this week, though the Federal Government held back on the full release due to confidentiality concerns.

According to a recent blog post, Caliburn was instructed by communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, to deliberately forgo a cost benefit analysis. He accused them of failing to answer the most important questions about the National Broadband Network (NBN).

“Senator Conroy, like a latter day Basil Fawlty, hires one consultant after another instructing them 'don’t mention the cost-benefit analysis', and everyone, just like the dinner guests at Fawlty Towers, does just that highlighting very plainly that they were told NOT to perform such an analysis and in so doing confirming how negligent it is not to ask and answer the fundamental question about the NBN,” Turnbull wrote in the post.

“It is clear that the Government has gotten what it paid for in this report. The only way to really know if taxpayers will get what they are paying for with the NBN is to subject it to a thorough cost benefit analysis.”

He also called on Conroy to also explain why he has chosen to keep secret the full report, following his decision to keep secret 240 pages of the 400 page NBN Co corporate plan.

Greenhill Caliburn's report urged NBN Co itself to continually monitor uptake of mobile and wireless technologies among Australians, which was suggested to be a potential risk to uptake of NBN services in the future.

“Trends towards ‘mobile centric’ broadband networks could also have some significant implications for NBN Co’s fibre offerings to the extent that some consumers may be willing to sacrifice higher speed fibre transmissions for the convenience of mobile platforms,” the report reads.

One of those rivals could be an upgraded LTE network from Telstra, announced by chief executive, David Thodey, at Mobile World Congress in Spain this week and set to go live in Australian capital cities by the end of the year.

The network will operate over the telco’s existing 1800MHz spectrum assets and will fall under the company’s Next G brand, but would not immediately replace the 3G/HSPA+ technologies currently used over the 850MHz in Australia.

According to the Caliburn report, LTE or 4G technologies could potentially contribute to the threat to the NBN as it operates at speeds comparable to fast fixed line broadband with the added functionality and convenience of mobility.

“This report, like the other multi-million dollar consultants’ reports the Government has commissioned, fails to address the single most important issue:- what is the most cost-effective way to ensure that all Australians have access to high speed and affordable broadband?” Turnbull wrote.

Follow Chloe Herrick on Twitter: @chloe_CW

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