Today was a day that showed where Tony Abbott’s priorities lay. The Liberal Party announced its broadband policy in Canberra. In attendance were the usually unsighted Tony Smith and holding his hand was Andrew Robb. Tony Abbott? Where was he for this $6b announcement on the major issue that distinguishes the Liberal Party from the ALP? He of course was in Sydney doing what you would expect in a week where the attention has firmly become fixed on the economy – he was talking about asylum seekers in Nauru with Scott Morrison.
The press conference had a real odd vibe about it – like everyone in the room knew this was a side issue that had long since been passed by. Abbott – no doubt having seen the front page of the SMH – had his “Last question face” on right from the get go, knowing that most of the questions were not going to be on his favourite topic. To his small credit he answered 18 of them – beating his average by three. And to the credit of the press pack following him, they were good questions.
Malcolm Farr for example pointed out that over 90 percent of those who were sent to Nauru under the Pacific Solution ended up in Australia. Another wanted to know what was in it for Nauru – why would they do this if there was no financial incentive. Abbott’s line that Nauru just wanted to be of help was not exactly a winning argument.
Ben Packham asked a ripper about debt saying that given debt was about 6 percent of GDP and most people’s home loans were massivly greater than their income – including Abbott's own, didn’t that make him personally a bad financial manager? Abbott umm’d and ahh’d and talked about how he had a “normal family”, and then he talked about how much debt we would owe in 2013-14. Packham quickly followed up by saying it was minor compared to our GDP, whereupon Abbott pulled out the standard tosh about how he would rather be spending all that money on hospitals and schools rather than interest – yeah because the Howard Govt did so much of that when it was in surplus…
It was topped off by Abbott having to admit that the Liberal Party’s media release which claimed to have found a black hole in the ALP’s election promises costings had “a couple of typos” – namely they added one program twice and they also claimed that one ALP program would cost $15m, when in fact it would cost $1.5m, . Whoops. Don’t you just hate those pesky decimal points.
All in all it was pretty much a nothing press conference – evidenced by the lack of attention it was given on the nightly news.
Meanwhile in Canberra, Robb and Smith were having the time of their lives answering over an hour’s worth of questions from a media pack that had the smell of blood.
Tony Smith might be a nice bloke, but he would be great to play poker against because his face betrays when he is bluffing. And the entire press conference his face screamed “look they told me to say this, why are you asking me all these questions??” It got particularly bad when one of the journalists suggested, “Isn’t this a bit of a joke – you’re offering us what we can get already!”
And the policy was a joke. It essentially boils down to: Telstra will do it, because they are nice. Anyone hearing Smith say that 97 percent of the country will be guaranteed a minimum high speed of 12mps must have wondered if we had gone back 10 years. And anyone hearing Robb say people will get high speed broadband wherever there is a demand for it, should have laughed out loud. Demand ain’t got nought to do with it – it’s all about cost and profit – if it is not cost worthy for Telstra to do it – because they figure people will keep paying for their ADSL – then Telstra won’t do it. I have an ADSL 2 connection, but because I live more than a mile away from the exchange my line speed is a slack 3.92mbps.
The Liberals’ plan won’t help me. When Smith was asked in the communications debate at the press conference today whether or not the Canberra suburb of Gungahlin would get fibre to the home, he couldn’t say. It would be up to the market, he said. Well I can tell Smith, the market hasn’t done it, ain’t doing it, and won’t do it.
Smith looked so lost during the debate and the press conference that I was sure he was going to start talking about the “internet doohickey” and the “broadband thingummy” – and when talk got on to spectrum, well geez, you just wanted to rush the stage and say, there, there, don’t worry, you’ll never actually be in charge of all of this.
The industries response was hardly in raptures. They all pointed out that yes $6b was a lot less than the ALP’s NBN, but telecommunication’s analyst Paul Budd put the policy in perfect frame when he said:
“….the opposition’s talk of improving competition doesn’t add up. For 10 years under the Howard government they were unable to create competition and there are no details about how they plan on changing that. The only way to get to 100Mbps for 97 per cent of the population is to build a fibre network. But without measures to address Telstra’s dominance there will be no competition, because Telstra will use its network to control the sector."
The Libs are all about “wireless broadband”; completely ignoring that with it you can’t get anywhere near 100mbps. Kelly O’Dwyer – the bright young hope of the Liberal Party – on Sky News said that fibre to the home could well be outdated by the time it is rolled out. This is quite amazing because it seems the Liberals have a plan up their sleeve to alter the laws of physics. I guess the speed of light will always be faster under a Liberal Government.
The debate at the press club between Smith, Stephen Conroy and the Greens spokesperson Senator Ludlam was interesting, if only for displaying that both Ludlam and Conroy actually understood the subject and that Smith couldn't quite keep the “geez this wasn't in my cheat notes” look off his face. Ludlam was very good – once again displaying that he is the future leader of the Greens. The only issue Conroy was troubled on was his dopey net filter. But Smith had that covered, by essentially telling everyone that if you like the NBN and hate the filter that you should vote ALP in the lower house and the Greens in the Senate. Win-win.
In fact with the Libs now opposing the filter and the NBN, there is not much electoral need for the ALP to change its position on the filter, because it is effectively dead. Those who are most against the filter would likely also include those most in favour of the NBN, so they’ll be happy to vote the ALP to get the NBN, and know that as the Greens will get the balance of power the filter will be dead as well.
Tony Abbott’s performance on the 7:30 Report didn’t help things either when he repeatedly admitted to Kerry O’Brien he wasn’t really across all the technical stuff – and yet he had no problem signing off on spending $6b anyway….
Over in Adelaide Julia was (as I predicted she would) stopping by her old alma mater of Unley High.
The local paper did her a huge favour by giving her glowing front page treatment with her announcement on the buy back of water for the Murray.
The press conference she gave (another chock full of policy directed questions – 22 of them) questioned how the ALP could pledge to do what they were saying to do given they didn’t know what the National Water Authority would recommend. Gillard responded:
We provisioned $3.1 billion in the Government’s budget - $1.4 billion has been expended to date.
We’ve made provision in the budget. There is money in the budget to keep undertaking water purchases and we will. Then we will get the Murray Darling Basin Authority plan and we will, as necessary in the future, make the allocations to keep buying water. But we can keep buying water now because we have money in the Budget to do it.
Either way she didn’t give herself much wriggle room, and South Australians will take her announcement as meaning she’ll fix the Murray. Good luck meeting those expectations…
Coming off her strong work on QANDA last night, and another excellent and easy performance on the 7pm Project tonight, Julia is looking like a good thing. And if the Lib’s biggest policy is a $6b one that is as dud as their one today she’ll stay a good thing till Aug 21.