Today show host Karl Stefanovic has confronted the Minister for Communications Senator Mitch Fifield over mounting criticism of the National Broadband Network (NBN).
Politicians have been placing blame for the expensive and lengthy rollout of the network after a Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s report showed NBN complaints had increased by 160 per cent in the last financial year.
Liberal politicians including Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull have attempted to shift the blame onto Labor, while former Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd accused the Turnbull government of making detrimental changes to his ‘perfectly designed’ plan.
Interviewing Senator Fifield on the Nine breakfast program on Tuesday, Mr Stefanovic asked whether he too would “play the blame game” over the “$50 billion disaster”.
“Do you feel in any way responsible?” Stefanovic asked Senator Fifield.
“What we inherited from Labor was a failed project,” Senator Fifield retorted, prompting Stefanovic to shoot back: “That sounds like the blame game.”
“It was a failed project Karl,” Senator Fifield said. “We’ve turned it around, we’ve got it on track. NBN is now available to half the nation and it’ll be 75 percent by the middle of next year and it will be all done and dusted by 2020.
“The good news is that’s a good six to eight years sooner then it would have been the case under our predecessors.”
Stefanovic’s line of questioning then turned to the network’s cost, and whether the government could ever recoup the money spent.
On Monday, Prime Minister Turnbull warned that the commercial return on the network would likely not be enough to write off the government’s investment of about $49 billion.
Senator Fifield conceded making the money back would be “hard”, but suggested it may be possible after the project reached completion and was put up for sale.
“We’ll know at that stage what return the taxpayer ultimately gets,” Senator Fifield said.
But Mr Stefanovic labelled the project a “turkey” and challenged Senator Fifield to “fast forward to 2020” and attempt to sell it to future investors.
“What I’d say is that this is a NBN we are the first continent to have this sort of fast broadband network. It’s fit for purpose and it’s over to the investors,” Senator Fifield said.
“That’s your pitch?” an incredulous Stefanovic shot back.
“I don’t have a room of investors before me at the moment … my focus is on getting the NBN completed,” Senator Fifield said.
“It’s ineffective, it’s outdated already!” Stefanovic argued. “You’re not going to be able to sell it, who’s going to buy it?”
Despite Senator Fifield’s protestations, Stefanovic said the Australia public wanted the government to take responsibilty for the “stuff-up” and “write it off”.
“We are taking responsibility. It absolutely has it challenges, but our job isn’t to look into the rear view mirror, our job is to get this thing rolled out,” Senator Fifield concluded.
Former PM Mr Rudd appeared on Channel Nine shortly after Senator Fifield and said it made his “blood boil” to see the NBN become “practically useless”.
Referring to the Turnbull government, Mr Rudd said: “These guys just did a 180-degree change, produced an entirely new NBN while keeping the name, radically changed it in terms of whether the cable was going to your home or somewhere else in the suburb.
“And here is my deep source of anger – they did so largely in partnership with News Limited because News Limited had a big interest which was they wanted to protect their Fox cable monopoly in this country.”
On Monday, Mr Turnbull said Labor had handed his government a “calamitous trainwreck”.
“No-one would’ve wanted to start from where Labor left us, so we have done the best we can getting that project on track,” he said.
— The Today Show (@TheTodayShow) October 23, 2017