Tuesday, 30 November 2021
Matters of Public Importance
After eight long years of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, Australians are entitled to look back and ask, 'What has been the point of that?' As it heads into its ninth year and as it prepares to ask the Australian public to start a second decade in office, what has been the legacy of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government? You really have to feel for the historians of future generations. When they set about trying to tell the story of the achievements of this government, they are going to confront a very difficult challenge indeed. The first thing they are going to have to do is dig through a mountain of marketing guff, because those opposite—across Abbott, across Turnbull and across the Morrison government—certainly know how to produce a pamphlet. One cynic has gone so far as to call this model of government a 'pamphletocracy'. But, for all of its glossy graphic design and marketing slogans, this government has never had anything at the heart of it. It's never had a vision for the kind of country it was setting out to create or a policy agenda for how to deliver it.
Even worse, they haven't just taken up space and they haven't just wasted time; the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government have actively taken us backwards. The only thing that they have set about doing with any zeal has been trashing the policy achievements that had been put in place by the previous Labor government. There's no better example of this than the NBN.
For this MPI, I have delved into the back catalogue of this government's pamphlets for a deep cut. Tony Abbott's 'real solutions' election pamphlet—do you remember that one? It's a classic; it's a real classic. I was looking at it this morning, but I couldn't see the current Prime Minister on it. He didn't make the cut back in 2013. That's how many prime ministers and leaders this government has churned through. Prime Minister Morrison didn't even make the top six in the Abbott government in 2013. But this one is full of their greatest hits—and I know the members opposite are really looking forward to this one—like 'we will get the budget back under control, cut waste, start reducing debt and start delivering real budget surpluses'. Do you remember that one? It's a good tune, isn't it! Take a breath. Remember to breathe. It is breathtaking, I know! Because since then those opposite have delivered eight consecutive budget deficits, with a ninth in March in the new parliamentary sitting calendar that we saw recently. They doubled the deficit before COVID hit, and now we are left with $1 trillion of Liberal debt as a legacy for the nation going forward. And what do we have to show for it?
But I'm distracted by this. It's the NBN commitments I'm most interested in here. The first Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government pamphlet promised that this government would 'deliver broadband faster, sooner and at less expense to taxpayers and consumers than Labor's National Broadband Network.' It's almost as embarrassing as the deficit quote, because, despite this pamphlet-thin commitment, Tony Abbott also explicitly asked Malcolm Turnbull to demolish Labor's fibre-to-the-home NBN, and he did that and then some. When he axed Labor's fibre NBN, Malcolm Turnbull announced that he'd deliver a multitechnology mix NBN for a total cost of $29.5 billion. What they've delivered is a copper and HFC NBN that cost nearly three times as much—$57 billion. It's a $28 billion budget blowout. That's even bigger than the $20 billion blowout that they wasted on JobKeeper payments to companies that increased their revenues in the pandemic. So it's a big one in policy failures under that government. It's billions of dollars more than it would have cost to deliver Labor's full fibre-to-the-home vision for the NBN. It's a special achievement to bungle a policy so badly that you deliver half as much for twice the price, but that's what happens when all you have is a political strategy rather than a policy vision.
It has led the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government to sacrifice this nation's future in pursuit of short-term political interests. Here we are, eight years later, and what do we have to show for it? Australia is ranked 59th in the world for average broadband speeds and 32 out of 37 OECD countries. An Anthony Albanese Labor government has a vision for the future of our country and the courage to pursue it and the plans to deliver it, a vision for Australia to be a leader in the new digital economy, not just an international follower. We'll restore the original vision of the NBN as best we can given the mess this government has made of it. We'll extend the access of a full-fibre NBN to 1.5 million homes and businesses. An Albanese Labor government will make sure that NBN Co invests an additional $2.4 billion to boost fibre to the country making sure that 10 million premises in Australia have access to a gigabit connection by 2025. That's 90 per cent of Australian businesses, and we'll keep NBN Co in public hands while we do it.