A Productivity Commission cost-benefit analysis of the National Broadband Network would not delay the roll out of the national infrastructure project, according to Opposition communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
In a doorstop interview, Turnbull said claims by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard,and communications minister, Stephen Conroy, that a cost-benefit analysis would simply stall the rollout of the NBN were false.
“This is one of the great furphies that Stephen Conroy has put up as a reason for not having a Productivity Commission inquiry,” Turnbull said. “A Productivity Commission inquiry could be completed within six months, so say by the end of May next year.
“It would be very able to do that work. It would not put a brake on any of the experimental demonstration sites that are being rolled out at all.”
Turnbull also claimed that recent OECD recommendations suggested any delay to the NBN’s rollout, should it occur, could be beneficial.
“And indeed, one of the other recommendations of the OECD that has not had a lot of coverage to date is that they actually recommended a more prudent, slower, roll-out of the NBN so that you could actually see what the take-up is and what the experience is in the take-up sites,” Turnbull said. “But the [Productivity Commission] inquiry would not have any impact on the roll-out at all.”
Turnbull also used the OECD recommendations to reiterate the Opposition’s concerns with the NBN being anti-competitive.
The comments stand in contrast to those of the Prime Minister, who in October claimed Turnbull’s calls, and private member’s bill, to have the NBN referred to the Productivity Commission was a stalling tactic, and would only hurt consumers.
"…We are urging the Opposition today to not delay [the Telstra separation] bill," Gillard said. “Do not delay and cause extra days of higher prices and less choice, particularly for those Australians who live in our regions."
Senator Conroy has also repeatedly said that the economic case for the NBN had already been made, making redundant the Opposition's call for a cost-benefit analysis.
"The Productivity Commission will be a complete waste of taxpayers' money to be engaged in this," he said. “They are wilfully delaying millions of Australians from getting a fairer deal on broadband and telecommunications services."
Turnbull, citing Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures, also went on to attack the NBN, claiming that the price of access for consumers would be so high as to increase the digital divide.
“According to the latest ABS figures on this, the rate of internet access at home for households with incomes of $40,000 or less is only 43 per cent,” he said. “For households with incomes of $120,000 or more, it’s about 95 per cent.
“The reality is affordability is one of the big obstacles to internet access. It’s the big marker in the digital divide. The NBN will make internet access more expensive, not less.”