Prime Minister Julia Gillard has pledged to continue the build of the National Broadband Network (NBN) in the face of the Queensland flood disasters, which the Treasury this week estimated would yield a repair bill of up to $5.6 billion.
Appearing in her first public address of 2011, Gillard told members of the National Press Club this week that the Australian Government would abide by most of its commitments to ensure it could sustain resources under “unprecedented pressure on Australia’s infrastructure,” as a result of the floods.
“More infrastructure is already needed to nurture the mining boom and support economic growth, so the Government is investing in long-lived economic assets and infrastructure like high-speed broadband, ports, roads and rail,” she said.
“2011 remains a year when I will be delivering the National Broadband Network, creating more opportunity through education reforms, improving health care and a year when I will make long-term decisions on increasing participation and pricing carbon.”
However, despite the promise to retain infrastructure, policy documents outlining the flood recovery packaged and sighted by Computerworld Australia identified reassessment of infrastructure budgets across state and federal governments as a means of saving money within the budget.
“The Government will re-prioritise approximately $1 billion of existing infrastructure projects, freeing up the necessary capacity to ensure a rapid reconstruction,” the documents read.
Six road projects in Queensland have been deferred by up to three years, providing savings of up to $325 million, while scrapping the O-Bahn project in South Australia is expected to yield $56 million in savings, funds which will be diverted to the recovery.
Some at the address speculated the increasing number of priorities placed on the government may “over-stretch” it.
Gillard’s promise comes in response to claims by opposition leader, Tony Abbott, that the NBN should be scrapped in order to fund repairs to those homes and businesses affected by the floods.
"We think that as far as the general public of flood-ravaged Queensland and Victoria are concerned, what they want is restored roads, restored railways, bridges that you can safely cross," he said in a press conference following Gillard's renewed commitment. "They don't necessarily want more interactive gambling or movie downloads."
Abbott’s claims prompted NBN Co’s largely apolitical chief executive, Mike Quigley, to defend the project.
"This is clearly in our view ... (in the) long-term interest of Australia," he told ABC Radio.
"Having a fibre network will be a big plus - for all sorts of reasons, for productivity reasons, education, health. There has to be remediation from what has happened now as a consequence of the flood but that doesn't mean that we have to mortgage our future completely."
Quigley told journalists during the initial Rockhampton floods that the natural disaster would be unlikely to change planned rollout timelines.
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