SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Labor has at every opportunity taken the chance to raise the hype and expectation surrounding its NBN in South Australia, especially at last year’s federal election where it was a cornerstone of their campaign. What we see now, though, are delays, cost blowouts and uncertainty. While the Coalition believes there is a better way, a cheaper way, to provide faster broadband for all Australians than a $50 billion new Government guaranteed monopoly, South Australians have every reason to ask why are the delays happening, what is the cost blowout and what does this mean for broadband services in SA? Why is it that South Australia is now the only state not to have a construction contract in place for the NBN? What does this mean for the delivery of the service? How much more will the NBN cost Australian taxpayers and how long will South Australians have to wait?
JOURNALIST: Is this really an issue of the Government or is this ETSA [Utilities] holding out for a bigger slice of the pie?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the Government has set the NBN budget, they’re spending billions of dollars more than $50 billion to build the NBN and yet it looks like it can’t be done within that price. We’re seeing the fact this is the second time that NBN tenders have failed and they’ve had to go back to the market and renegotiate. It happened in other states previously, it’s happened in SA, South Australia is at the end of the queue in terms of getting the services and it looks like they won’t be delivered within Labor’s budget. Given all of the blowouts Labor’s had to school halls, to ‘Pink Batts’ is the NBN next? Will it be the next big blowout?
JOURNALIST: What does it mean for the people of South Australia?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, South Australians were promised faster broadband by this Government. All we’re seeing now are delays and cost blowouts so South Australians are right to wonder whether these promises are justified, especially those in regional communities who, had the Coalition had our way in 2007, would have had faster broadband a long, long time ago.
JOURNALIST: Given that the budget is what it is for the NBN, is it then not the responsibility to find someone that can roll it out at a cheaper rate or does ETSA [Utilities] need to come to the party?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, it’s up to ETSA to, of course, negotiate on its own contractual terms and I’ll let ETSA speak for themselves. The concern for taxpayers, of course, is what is the structure of this blowout? How big will the blowout be in the cost to deliver Labor’s NBN? And the concern for South Australians is, how long will they have to wait to get the services?
JOURNALIST: What’s the reaction going to be… we spoke to some people in Willunga that moved into Willunga specifically for the NBN, and I’m sure that there’s some people in Prospect and the other areas… what do you think their reaction’s going to be to this news?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Labor built up the hype, they built up the expectations, they’ve built up this belief that the NBN is going to deliver a panacea of opportunities for people. All it looks like it’s going to deliver is more debt for Australian taxpayers and more heartache for South Australians as they wait to get better services. By taking all of the competition out of the broadband market, by buying out Telstra and Optus with multi-billion dollar payments, the Government is shifting broadband services and competition in this country away from a competitive framework to a monopolistic framework. What we’re seeing already, as the result of that, are cost blowouts and slower services for people.
JOURNALIST: How long could this drag out and potentially how bad could it be for consumers?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, for consumers, of course, there’s ultimate uncertainty. We don’t know how long people will have to wait to get services or how long it will take for this Government to finalise contracts. For taxpayers, there’s even more uncertainty. This is already more than $50 billion of expenditure, $39 billion in construction, many more billions in payments to Telstra and other companies, you’ve got to ask the question, how much more will this cost before taxpayers actually see anything like value for money?
JOURNALIST: Will this be an issue for a lot of South Australians? Some of, you know, the regional places who aren’t expecting the NBN for years and years and years… do you think this small delay is really going to cause them that much heartache?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, the uncertainty is the great pain here for people. The Government should come out and be honest and tell all Australians, tell all South Australians, how long they’re going to have to wait for broadband services. How long will it take for this NBN to be rolled out and how much will the final budget be? Is it going to blow out by billions of dollars? Will this be another Labor failure?