Turnbull says NBN should learn from the Snowy Mountains Scheme

Snow Scheme had a cost-benefit analysis

Opposition communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has co-opted the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme to attack Labor on its own would-be iconic piece of infrastructure, the National Broadband Network (NBN).

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Commenting in a blog post at the weekend, Turnbull wrote that, unlike the NBN, the Snowy Mountains scheme was preceded by lengthy and detailed public discussion and debate.

See Computerworld Australia’s NBN Coverage maps

“A joint Commonwealth and State Snowy River Committee was established to investigate the financial viability of the proposal,” the post read. “The process took several years and produced a number of reports. The cost of the project was thoroughly analysed as were the benefits to electricity generation and irrigation."

Turnbull argued that whatever the economic or environmental impact of the Snowy scheme may look like today, the infrastructure project had been the subject of a “rigorous analysis” and public debate before construction was commenced.

“So the question for Julia Gillard is this: if the Snowy Mountains scheme is to be the benchmark for national infrastructure, why is her so-called 21st century equivalent proceeding without any of the analysis that preceded the Snowy scheme?” the post reads.

Turnbull’s call was also echoed at the weekend by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) which called for hard data from Labor on the economic benefits of the infrastructure project.

Speaking on Network Ten on Sunday, ACCI chief executive, Peter Anderson, said the Australian business community realised the benefits to the economy which national broadband infrastructure initiatives could bring but was concerned that the project's cost could be covered by future economic benefit.

"The instinct in the business community is that there can be a real productivity kick and benefit," Anderson said appearing on Meet The Press.

"There is also a hard headed approach .... which says that we need to ascertain whether the productivity benefits and economic benefits are likely to offset the costs because the costs are very substantial," he said.

Despite the Opposition’s steady position on calling for a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN, Shadow minister for education and manager of Opposition business, Christopher Pyne, also flagged at the weekend that the Coalition may look to change its $6.3 billion broadband policy to meet “ongoing circumstances” in coming months.

Appearing on ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, Pyne said newly instated shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, would continue to push the policy, but said it was unlikely to stay the same over Labor’s second term in government.

“I'm sure that there will be refinements to all Coalition policies over the coming months and if necessary, years,” he said. “There's no point in junking all our policies now... We need to refine them of course and improve them with ongoing circumstances. And that will be one of Malcolm Turnbull's roles.

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