Opposition leader Tony Abbott has given one of the strongest suggestions to date that the Coalition will not roll back fibre deployed by the NBN Co should it be elected to power at the next election.
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Speaking at a Liberal party address in Launceston, Tasmania, Abbott attacked the National Broadband Network (NBN), describing it as a return to the 1960s’ era of a Telecom monopoly, but stopped short of promising to remove the network on taking power.
“Now, I understand that before the election there was a bit of enthusiasm for this policy here in Tasmania and the last thing I would want to do is damage or detract from any new infrastructure that might actually have been rolled out here in Tasmania,” Abbott said.
Despite making a commitment to remove the infrastructure, Abbott went on to attack the Tasmanian leg of the NBN deployment claiming that only half of the 5000 households passed by the fibre had been connected.
Abbot also claimed, despite evidence to the contrary on high-speed broadband’s contribution to economic growth, that the NBN offered no benefit.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this looks like a gift but it is a gift that we will be paying for again and again, our children and their children. It is a gift funded by debt that we must repay. It is a gift that does not give,” Abbott said.
Abbott’s mixed signals on the NBN follow comments from Opposition communication minister, Malcolm Turnbull in October, that the Opposition had decided to support the separation of Telstra following Telstra’s call for the swift passage of the separation legislation.
“Telstra is committed now to structural separation, and I think it would be in the interests of competition generally, and indeed in the interests of shareholders if there was an effective separation, but it would have to be on terms that gave security, in terms of pricing, to that separated network company," Turnbull said at the time.
In March, Senator Nick Minchin, then acting as the shadow minister handling the separation bill and himself a former shadow communications minister, said the bill was an "extraordinary attack" on Telstra.
“The opposition will be opposing the bill as it is an extraordinary attack on a substantial publicly-listed company by the Australian Government,” he said at the time.