The issue of broadband has decided the future of Australia’s Government with key independent, Tony Windsor, naming Labor’s NBN as the most important issue in his decision.
“The issues that I thought were critical to this, and possibly the most critical, is broadband,” he said. “There’s an enormous opportunity for regional Australians to engage with the infrastructure of this century.
“My advisors in relation to the broadband technology, and there are a number of them, suggest that you do it once, you do it right and you do it with fibre.
“One of the breakthroughs that we did have…is in relation to the broadband network. There’ll also be equity in terms of wholesale pricing across country areas.”
Fellow independent MP, Rob Oakeshott, also praised the NBN and said regional Australia would benefit even more after the negotiations with the Government.
“It’ll be roll-in and not roll-out, priority for regional areas first so it’s a broadband roll in now – bingo,” he said.
Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, was keen to point out that the move would mean subsidised Internet for rural and regional users thanks to a nationalised price.
"People should take a moment to have the force and significance of this to settle into their minds," she said in a Canberra press conference. "Whether you're on the broadband in Tamworth or on the broadband in CBD Sydney, the wholesale price on broadband will be the same.
"What it means is that every Australian is going to get access to the same wholesale price and opportunity."
Labor Senator, Kate Lundy, said the result was a huge relief for her and a strong endorsement of her party’s policy. She said she was not surprised by the influence broadband had on Windsor.
“I’m pretty happy right now,” she said. “For Windsor to call it up like that was absolutely right. He obviously gets it and understands how transformative it is.
“I think it’s a credit to the Federal Labor party for being visionary with our policy,” she added. “The good news today is that it’ll be built because the Coalition alternative would be to walk away.
“For me personally, one of the greatest tragedies if we had not been able to form Government would’ve been the loss of the NBN...I think [the win locks it in] because we will start to see the results of it.”
But Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, refused to back down on the Coalition’s broadband policy and insisted it was the better of the two.
“I think that the very big swing to the Coalition is a sign that we did take good policy to the election,” he said. “My strong suspicion is that the NBN is going to be school halls on steroids. I think it is going to be a minefield, an absolute minefield of waste and incompetence and you can be absolutely certain that the opposition will be hyper-vigilant in this area.
“No competent Government would contribute $43 billion in public funding to a project without a full cost-benefit analysis…the important thing is to get a good system at the best possible price and that’s what I don’t think we’re going to get with the NBN.”
Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) CEO, Ian Birks, said the IT industry would be happy with the decision and relieved the ordeal of negotiations was over.
“It’s good to have a decision,” he said. “Industry will be very happy in general to hear that the NBN will be proceeding. I think the uncertainty around that question was causing some difficulties.
“We’re delighted to see that not only will it continue, but that it’ll probably get higher a priority. But it’s really important on the back of this that we start focussing on the digital economy and what we’re going to do with it.”
Internet Industry Association CEO, Peter Coroneos, said it was very gratifying to see how much broadband featured on the agenda during the election and the final decision.
“The word ‘equity’ was used because I think there’s an appreciation that broadband has become fundamental to people’s lives and that it is not justifiable to have a digital divide situation,” he said.
Australian Computer Society CEO, Bruce Lakin, said getting a result after weeks of waiting was great for the IT industry. He also claimed it was positive to see Labor’s IT policies continue.
“Maybe there’ll be consideration given to an ICT Ministry portfolio,” he said. “We’d be happy to see Senator Conroy get a broader portfolio because he and we’ve talked publicly about the frustrations we feel having to deal with multiple ministers and portfolios.
“I think there’s some interesting times ahead because we’re in un-charted territory…it’s going to be a Government with some constraints but hopefully they don’t apply to ICT and Parliament understands that the industry is fundamental to building the nation.”
Lakin also said the Opposition had miscalculated with its broadband policy and that people had not accepted it as an alternative to the NBN.
“They were leading with what they thought was a lower cost model which would help their focus on getting back to surplus earlier,” he said. “They probably thought 12Mbps versus 100Mbps would be acceptable to the electorate.
“I think when it all summed up, the equation didn’t quite work.”
BigAir CEO, Jason Aston, was one of the telco bosses to come out against the Government’s NBN in an open letter during the crucial final stages of the negotiations between the parties and the independent MPs.
“Moving aside my personal view on the NBN I think it’s a great outcome broadband has been elevated to a national level like this,” he said.
“Government will be more consultative in approach and more inclusive of industry opinion and there is a real opportunity for the Alliance for Affordable Broadband to provide some alternative thinking on broadband.”
When asked if he expected bad blood from the Government, Aston said he hoped not and that a democracy should applaud people for providing differing opinions.
Internode carrier affairs manager, John Lindsay, was more straightforward in his support for the Government and its win with the support of the independent MPs.
“We appear to have the makings of the next govt which would seem to indicate the NBN lives – yay!” he said. “We were rather surprised the Coalition didn’t bother to address [broadband] until the last minute before the election and it didn’t have a debate or discussion with the electorate or the industry about it before the election.
“Not knowing which direction the election was going has made it difficult in the past few months to make a decision. We welcome the certainty that an outcome from the election brings.”
Optus director of government and corporate affairs, Maha Krishnapillai, also welcomed the move and Windsor’s declaration that broadband was vital. But he called on the Government to speed up regulatory reform.
“We welcome the Government’s commitment to building the NBN in regional Australia first,” he said in a statement. “As we build towards an NBN future, immediate regulatory reform is essential.
“We believe that the telco reform bill – including the structural separation of Telstra and greater power for the ACCC to enforce a level playing field in the fixed line market – must be a priority for the new Government.”
Meanwhile at the company responsible for the rollout of the Government’s policy, NBN Co, everything is set to be restored to full operations after it was put in freeze during negotiations.
“NBN Co’s management and its 300 employees welcome the clarity that today’s announcements provides in relation to the NBN,” a spokesperson said. “We will now work to restore deferred processes, including the recruitment of staff.
“NBN Co will meet with its shareholder ministers to discuss future policy directions.”
Additional reporting by Spandas Lui