NBN summary “curiously inadequate”: Turnbull

Even a full business case wouldn't be enough, shadow comms minister argues

The coalition has jumped on the 36-page summary of the forthcoming NBN Co business plan as “curiously inadequate” in financials.

Read the entire summary here

In a blog post written shortly after the summary was released, shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, criticised the lack of financial statements and balance sheets provided by NBN Co to the public while he attacked the project’s potential cost blowout to $49.5 billion.

The summary stated the National Broadband Network (NBN) would require peak equity from the government of approximately $27.1 billion, with $35.7 billion total capital expenditure for the initial build and maintenance of the fibre-to-the-home network. The non-binding heads of agreement with Telstra would require an additional $13.8 billion in payments from NBN Co to the telco for the decommissioning of the copper network and use of existing infrastructure.

“Beyond a few scraps of information and other warm words this is a thoroughly inadequate document,” he wrote. “It is a sop thrown to the independent Senators in the hope that they will give the Government their vote.”

“Real accountability, real transparency requires a thorough and complete business case, not 36 pages of reassurance devoid of financial detail.”

The 36-page summary of the full, 400-page business case was released by the Gillard Government this afternoon in response to independent senator Nick Xenophon’s threats of blocking related legislation.

See the key findings of the report here

A spokesperson for Senator Xenophon told Computerworld Australia that he was happy with the release of the report and would, as a result, support the Telstra separation bill currently facing debate in Parliament.

It is understood the document released to the public differs from the papers used by NBN Co to brief willing independent senators and crossbench MPs in closed-door meetings held earlier this week. Those who accepted the briefings were forced to sign a two-week non-disclosure agreement.

However, Turnbull argued the summary failed to provide a convincing financial case for the National Broadband Network (NBN) or the non-binding heads of agreement with Telstra. The summary indicated the NBN was better off by $7 billion if the deal were to be finalised.

“Despite a significant hike in the headline price, the Telstra deal is stated to be a real positive for the NBN,” he said. “How can we know without seeing the financial details?

“There has never been a business plan which did not paint a rosy picture of the prospects of a new business venture and no doubt the NBN business plan, if we ever see it, will be no exception.”

In talking to 4BC radio in Brisbane this afternoon, Turnbull said even a full business case itself might not be enough.

“It isn’t sufficient because the real issue, the fundamental, the threshold issue is given we want to have affordable broadband available to all Australians, what is the most cost-effective way of delivering it? That’s the fundamental question,” he said. “The Government has confused the means with the end. The end is universal and affordable broadband. The one means is the NBN. Is it the most cost-effective means? Well let’s do the homework and find out and I don’t believe it is.”