Coalition signals potential changes to broadband policy

Shadow minister for education and manager of Opposition business, Christopher Pyne, has indicated the Coalition may look to change its $6.3 billion broadband policy to meet “ongoing circumstances” in coming months.

Appearing on ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, Pyne said newly instated shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, would continue to push the policy, but said it was unlikely to stay the same over Labor’s second term in government.

“I'm sure that there will be refinements to all Coalition policies over the coming months and if necessary years,” he said. “There's no point in junking all our policies now... We need to refine them of course and improve them with ongoing circumstances. And that will be one of Malcolm Turnbull's roles.”

Pyne later clarified the policy would change before the next Federal election, but wouldn’t rule out potential short term changes to strengthen the policy, which was rubbished by a large segment of the ISP community upon its announcement.

The Opposition’s policy, presented during the Federal election campaign as an alternative to the “white elephant” of Labor’s National Broadband Network (NBN), committed to spending $6.3 billion joint public and private funding on competitive fibre backhaul, improving ADSL2+ coverage and fixed wireless networks for both metropolitan and rural areas. Though the NBN was criticised for its final rollout date of 2018, the Coalition’s alternative would be finished just one year earlier.

Then shadow communications minister, Tony Smith, became one of the few frontbench casualties in the Coalition’s cabinet reshuffle last week, replaced by former party leader, broadband proponent and previous Ozemail chairman, Malcolm Turnbull. In announcing the new cabinet, Liberal leader, Tony Abbott, called upon Turnbull to hold the minority Government “ferociously to account” on the NBN.

Turnbull has since continued to call for a cost-benefit analysis of the $43 billion fibre-to-the-home network and declared the NBN as being poorly planned compared to the Snow River Scheme. However, he is yet to issue strong support for his own party’s scheme apart from a brief mention during a blog posting accepting his new role as frontbench minister.

“Just because the Coalition’s total spend is less doesn’t mean the vast majority of users will be worse off,” he said in the initial post. “On the contrary, most will have access to privately-provided broadband services virtually indistinguishable from Labor’s – but at a much lower cost.”

Turnbull has also confirmed the Coalition policy on climate change was “not ideal from my point of view”, and that he would prefer a market-based mechanism based on a carbon price, indicating he does not see eye to eye on some issues with party consensus.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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