Friday, October 18, 2019

Today by Paddy Manning

The NBN-ding story
New developments in the interminable debate over broadband in Australia

After a decade, the National Broadband Network is now old enough to have its own history wars, and two new fronts opened up this week. First, Telstra chair John Mullen complained that the NBN should never have been built by the federal government, saying that the job should have instead been left to the private sector. His comments were met with a volley of criticism from those who remember Australia’s behemoth incumbent telco blocking investment in faster broadband infrastructure for all it was worth. Then, NBN chief Stephen Rue tried to convince the rest of the world to adopt a new broadband-speed ratings system under which Australia’s performance would look slightly less abysmal, as our international ranking, according to Ookla, has continued to tumble, to 61st place among 175 nations. But it was not that long ago that NBN was promising Australia would climb back up the Ookla rankings as the rollout neared completion.

Telstra is now bleeding profitability due to the NBN’s high wholesale charges, so it is understandable that Mullen might wish his company had behaved differently a decade ago. Rather than go to war with the competition regulator and the government, Telstra should have used its undisputed know-how and privileged position as a former monopoly to build a fibre-optic network that all retailers could resell on equal terms, as the ACCC wanted and the nation needed.

Mullen’s criticism of his predecessors – particularly the disastrous regime of former chair Don McGauchie and chief Sol Trujillo – for stymieing much-needed investment is spot on. Unfortunately, coming from Telstra itself, Mullen’s mea culpa is hard to take seriously. McGauchie and former Howard government finance minister Nick Minchin hit back [$] in defence of Trujillo yesterday, with Minchin describing Trujillo as “terrific for Telstra”. Maybe he was, in the short term, but Trujillo was terrible for Australians – and Minchin as minister should’ve had Australians front of mind, not the welfare of a certain company’s shareholders.

Interestingly, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has not defended Telstra. Instead, as a former Optus executive, he’s resumed his customary position of taking shots at the dominant telco, and Labor for good measure, arguing [$] that consumers benefit from Telstra’s declining market share. But Fletcher’s analysis is backwards-looking – look how far we’ve come since ADSL! – and that’s mainly because he can’t afford to look ahead.

Fletcher is defending the indefensible: the mixed-technology NBN leaves half of Australia’s 11 million homes and businesses languishing with low-speed, already-redundant copper-based fibre-to-the-node connections that are going to need upgrading sooner rather than later at a cost of many billions of dollars. This is the fundamental reason why Australia can’t keep up with comparable countries that are rolling out fibre, like New Zealand, where it’s getting cheaper all the time.

Australia botched the network build under Malcolm Turnbull – who is now offering free engineering and economic advice on what is threatening to become another white elephant, Snowy 2.0. Telstra, at least, would never have invested in brand-spanking-redundant technology like fibre-to-the-node.

“Is there anyone in Australian media or parliament who will ask about Mirweys, the refugee who killed himself two days ago, and why he was forced to this? He was exiled by Australian gov and tortured by this system for years.”

Behrouz Boochani asks for an explanation of the role of Australia’s immigration detention system in the suicide of former Manus detainee, 32 year-old doctor Sayed Mirwais Rohani. Lifeline 13 11 14.

“There is a lot of angst about it. It is one thing about the matter of principle but another issue with the political message it sends on national security.”

An anonymous Labor colleague of Senator Kristina Keneally labels as “opportunistic” her move on Monday to support a Centre Alliance amendment imposing a sunset clause on new expanded police powers at airports, and says that such a move should not have been made on a national security bill.

That won’t feed one cow
As Scott Morrison attempts to control the message on handling the drought, there is bad news for his claims to strong economic management.

The amount the Reserve Bank has delivered to the Morrison government in dividends to help the budget bottom line, on the back of its fourth largest ever trading profit.

“White, Anglo men are not the only sources of knowledge in the party of campaign expertise.”

ALP-aligned women’s group EMILY’s List criticises the lack of diversity in Labor leadership positions in a submission to the party’s 2019 federal election review.

The list

“Jude, Wendy and Adele traditionally spend Christmas with Sylvie in her rackety-lovely house perched high above the sea … But Sylvie has been dead for 11 months, and the three are there not to celebrate Christmas but rather to sort things out so that the house can be sold. It’s a setting for classic Christie. Or Hitchcock. Except there will be no murder. Murder requires motivation and motivation requires plot. The Weekend is a character study and an interrogation of the heart rather than a narrative in search of a plot.”

“I stood outside Pakenham a hopeful man, trying to hitch a ride from Melbourne to Sydney. I watched all the sensible people drive past. After two hours I was so sunburnt I looked embarrassed to be there. After five hours they were still roaring past, and when a car did finally swerve off the road to pick me up – like talkback radio, it was filled with lunatics.”

“In Australia it’s estimated that between 2 and 9 per cent of babies are born each year with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The leading causes of death for FASD sufferers – who have a vastly lower than average life expectancy of 34 years – are suicide, accidents and substance abuse. Despite this, the topic of FASD remains taboo.”

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Inside the Greens and the unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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