Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry backs National Broadband Network

The National Broadband Network (NBN) has been given strong endorsement by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ACCI) which at the same time has called for hard data from Labor on the economic benefits of the infrastructure project.

Speaking on Network Ten on Sunday, ACCI chief executive, Peter Anderson, said the Australian business community realised the benefits to the economy which national broadband infrastructure initiatives could bring.

"The instinct in the business community is that there can be a real productivity kick and benefit," Anderson said appearing on Meet The Press.

Despite the endorsement, Anderson warned that Labor would have to work harder to address concerns within the business community that the project's cost could be covered by future economic benefit.

"There is also a hard headed approach .... which say that we need to ascertain whether the productivity benefits and economic benefits are likely to offset the costs because the costs are very substantial," he said.

Anderson stopped short of calling for the release of a full cost-benefit analysis, but argued Labor needed be more open on its NBN costing details.

"There needs to be, I think, more transparency in what those costs are, but I think business does recognise that in the short term at least there will be some cost which are not able to be returned in a direct way," he said.

"There will also need to be some subsidisation into regional Australia, that's recognised with major infrastructure like this, but we don't want to sign a blank cheque off if we are going to roll out major infrastructure like this.

"There does need to be hard headed economic approach to these kind of decisions even though the instinct in the business community is that there can be a real productivity kick and benefit with getting on with the job."

The comments are likely to be a mixed blessing for new Opposition communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, who may jump on the ACCI's comments to further pressure Labor to release a cost-benefit analysis for its NBN.

On taking up the portfolio Turnbull wasted no time in drawing a link with the cost of the NBN and Labor's deal with independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor to prioritise the NBN's rollout in rural and regional Australia.

“That’s no doubt beneficial for internet users in whichever rural regions Labor plans to favour first, but bad news for consumers in other under-served areas such as the outer suburbs,” Turnbull said. “The switch will also greatly increase the total amount of capital the Government needs to commit to the NBN."

At the same time, communication minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, will likely use the ACCI's comments as proof that the business community understands the need to lift Australia's productivity, a point Treasurer, Wayne Swan, drove home last week.

"High-speed broadband is absolutely vital to turbo-charging our national economic success by securing long-term productivity growth and boosting our international competitiveness," Swan said in a speech to the Global Access Partners Economic Summit in Sydney.

"We simply wouldn't have been able to compete in years to come without super fast broadband. To do nothing at this point would have been the same as sending our jobs of the future overseas."

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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