‘You Changed Horse In Mid-Stream’: Kevin Rudd On Turnbull’s NBN

‘You Changed Horse In Mid-Stream’: Kevin Rudd On Turnbull’s NBN
Image: Getty

In 2009, then-Prime Minister and Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd launched the National Broadband Network — building fibre infrastructure to 93 per cent of Australian homes, the largest public works project in Australian history. But in the last eight years the NBN has transformed drastically — including a fundamental change in design after the 2013 election won by Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party. After a few years in the wilderness, Kevin Rudd is back in the spotlight, and he’s throwing shade at the farce he thinks the NBN has become.

The 2014 overhaul of the National Broadband Network switched the majority of the network design from fibre to the premises (FTTP) to fibre to the node (FTTN), as well as introducing the ‘multi-technology mix’ of existing installed hybrid fibre-coaxial cables like the ones used for Telstra and Optus’ pay TV networks.

That move has been plagued with headaches, including long waits for installations, a technology divide between different connections, and wildly variable speeds for similar connections on the fibre to the node network.

The all-fibre FTTP network was no darling either, though — with cost overruns for early installations the latest catch-cry for critics of the plan.

The Prime Minister behind the original NBN design spoke to the ABC last night and lambasted the current state of play — and specifically targeting the now-PM Malcolm Turnbull, telling him: “the changes all lie on your head.”

The full transcript of Rudd’s interview with 7:30 host Leigh Sales is included below, or you can click here to watch the video on the ABC website. [ABC]

LEIGH SALES: One of your major policies, the National Broadband Network, is in the news today. Its CEO says it may never turn a profit. There are acres of customer complaints about its operation.

Did the Labor Party saddle the nation with a white elephant?

KEVIN RUDD: Well, Leigh, you know as well as I do that’s a grossly unfair question, because what we launched as the National Broadband Network was fibre optic to the premises nationwide, because it would be that model which actually delivered the revenue stream long-term to make the NBN financially sustainable.

And it was that on which it was modelled.

So what did Abbott and Turnbull then do? They turned it on its head and made it fibre optic not to the premises but to the node: that mystical point somewhere in the neighbourhood. So, in other words, they changed the model completely.

And the reason why people are not taking it up is because what we find is that people don’t see the advantage in terms of reliable bandwidth and band speed on the ground.

I note in passing that the position adopted by the conservatives in the 2013 election seems to have been identical with that preferred by News Limited. It’s I think a matter of historical record that News Limited did not want the National Broadband Network; that News Limited did not want fibre optic to the premises.

And the reason they didn’t want that was because it would provide direct competition to the Foxtel cable television network in this country from service delivery companies like Netflix.

And so, mysteriously, by some act of God, the Liberal Party found itself adopting the same position as Mr Murdoch. I wonder why?

LEIGH SALES: So, in summary: Malcolm Turnbull is on the attack in Parliament this afternoon, making the point that I made, that: is it a white elephant? Your response, in a nutshell?

KEVIN RUDD: You changed horse in mid-stream. What we had planned and began to rollout was perfectly designed for this nation’s needs: fibre optic to the home, to the premises, to the shop, to the school, to the hospital.

You cut that off. Frankly, the changes lie all on your head.


  • It would of failed under rudd too, and it still would of been outdated by now. They really should of thought of something new and better

    • No it wouldn’t have. Fibre end points and WDMs are easily replaced and light has a ridiculous amount of configurable wavelengths to apply to the system, allowing for decades of speed upgrades and probably well beyond that. 5G and other wireless standards still need fibre plugged into them and higher frequency radios require ever increasing power useage, while fibre is mostly a passive network.

      • The reason it would have failed, is due to the setup of NBNCo itself. The method by which the connection is delivered is largely irrelevant. In terms of speed and cost etc., yes it makes a difference, and technically, it SHOULD have cost less to use the mixed technology, but the problem is, NBNCo needs to get $50/month for EVERY household that’s connected, or it’s going to lose money. For a wholesaler, that’s fucked. The reason why that cost is so high? Because they have to lease a whole bunch of shit from Telstra. Even if the network had been full fibre, it’s likely they would still have had to lease bits from Telstra, or spend extra money digging their own pits and cable channels etc.

        • Funny, labor was buying the existing infrastructure they needed from telstra, it was the LNP that decided it was better to lease the ducts.

    • “They really should have just used their time machines to peer into the future and seen what would work by some miracle not only for cities, but for rural as well.”

      The reality is that when people compare Australia to the rest of the world it is unfair, no country has as few people as us spread over such a great range. This bs where people say “but NZ” is a load of crap, in reality we will never be in the top ten speeds because network infrastructure in its current form is not well suited to a country like ours.

      The thing people should be pissed off about is that the signs are already on the wall of Turnbull looking to offload NBN to Telstra.

    • When the idea was first conceived it was state of the art. It was planned to be finished by 2014. The Libs stalled, then they auctioned off who got the right, then they changed who was dealing with it and this is before we even get to the start of the changes of Fibre to the Node.

        • Tony Abbott: Pfft, the internet is a fad like Climate change
          Turnbull: But wait, what if we make it cheaper, and then the public will like us?
          Tony Abbott: Go on…

  • I think it’s easy to throw shade at both parties with the whole NBN debacle. I think the the “decision by committee” approach to how all giant infrastructure projects in Australia are decided that means we have different people all willing to sacrifice something different, performance to save money, money to save time and time to save performance. In the end, everyone gets what they want and the project ends up being slow, late and expensive.

  • While I know that politicians always run for the exit when the heat is on, Rudd really needs to learn that dragging in Murdoch is not helping.

    We’re only going to throw Murdoch out the window and keep coming after Rudd as that distraction tactic doesn’t work.

    • So the symbolism of Tony and Malcolm releasing their NBN policy at Fox Sports Studios in Sydney the morning after a late night meeting with Rupert was lost on you?

      • Classic WH, can’t refute the chain of events so he just downvotes and ignores. Why he spends so much time defending the filthy old economic migrant I can’t understand. Tell me, how is their plan to get 25MB/s minimum installed everywhere in Australia by the end of 2016 going?

      • WH’s right that we can’t just blame Rupert and the Libs… they also had to protect Telstra’s monopoly, after all.

    • The Murdoch discussion aside – I’d say that both implementations of the NBN had their issues.

      Pricing with the FTTP – Speed, reliability and installation timeframes for the FTTN.

      Given how much benefit we could’ve come out with an almost entirely FTTP NBN in place – I’d say it’s pretty hard to argue that FTTN is a better option. So we can have a political witchhunt as both sides will probably start pushing for now – but it’s pretty rich for Turnbull’s government to argue that Labor saddled us with a white elephant, when they’re essentially locking us in for much greater expenses down the track.

      • TBH, I think everyone is sick of the Liberals blaming Labor and Labor doing the same back. Just tell us your actual policies ffs.

        • Neither party has party wide policies, the parties themselves are too diluted with differing individual opinions.

          Individual thought is great, unless you are meant to be moving as a group to steer a country, then its kind of a shit storm.

          • Then maybe, I dunno, work on that first?

            I also had an image of a ship floating adrift on a sea of shit with a storm happening in the distance

  • That’s the damn problem. This country is pretty much leaderless. All the political players are held to account by their backroom politics. 3 times now the acting PM has been knifed mid term by backroom deals.

    What we need is someone who can actually lead the country properly. And I haven’t seen that in a PM since Howard (and I’m unaware of whatever power struggles were happening within the Lib ranks at that time) ran things back before Rudd in 07

    • From memory there was a spat between Costelo and Howard with Costelo claiming Howard promised the Prime Ministership to him (Costelo).

      Nothing eventuated from it though. What did Howard in was basically the botched implementation of Work Choices.

  • I didn’t like Rudd but I think he has an irrefutable point. Liberal changed the model and now they’re saying it’s Labor’s fault. That’s ridiculous and almost a complete lie.

    The labor model was expensive, but it would’ve worked, it was budgeted for and they should’ve gone with it. Liberal messed it up, it doesn’t work, it’s FAR more expensive than originally budgeted and is just a complete joke.

    I actually think the liberal party are generally better at running things but in this case they completely faffed it up.

    • It’s not irrefutable. The model was changed because it wasn’t working, connections weren’t being made and the costs were blowing out considerably. Something had to be done else the rollout would have ended up taking 20 years, and $100 billion.

      • Really? 20 years and 100 billion? You have a source for that?

        And they made their changes and it’s still taken ages, costs have completely skyrocketed, we’re all being forced to use it and consumer dissatisfaction is running at something like 75%.

        You think that was the right call? Really?

  • @alexwalker @campbellsimpson There’s some really suspect block voting going on in this thread from seven accounts (five of which are private) all voting the same way in a 15 minute period. Since sockpuppetry is against the rules, and since votes directly affect people’s ability to post without moderation, could you look into this please?

    • Urg, I knew it was too good to be true that I had not been moderated yet.

      I think it was you that summed it up best, the voting system here has basically made actually discussion on this site impossible now.

      • I personally think the auto moderation from downvotes threshold is too low. I disagree with things you say but i think its unfair that you would be put into auto moderation just for my and a couple of others disagreement. Downvotes should not be a trigger for auto moderation. The flag comment funtion should soley hold that function.

        • We don’t see eye to eye, DJ, but the comment is appreciated. Thank you.

          I’ve been on this site for over 10 years and when I saw the voting system get put into place I saw this scenario was going to happen.

          Don’t get me wrong, I understand as a site grows some automation is needed to help regulate and keep acceptable the posts on the site.

          Unfortunately, the system has been hijacked. All it takes is just a rating of -5 on a single posts and the moderation trips. And if driven down far enough it keeps the user out of even future discussion.

          I was once in moderation for 10 days before I emailed a complaint to have something done about the matter due to a high volume of down votes in one day on a single thread.

          It’s also the reason you see me down vote and usually post just the one long, broad and detailed post and seem to vanish until another article pops up. It’s to get some control back by limiting my post exposure thus making it harder to force false moderation without using sock puppets.

          Anyhow, I’ve gone off topic long enough. Thanks for the brief truce.

          • Personally ive found the easiest way to get out of auto moderation due to downvotes is to make a couple of comments that dont get downvoted at all and youll be moved out of auto moderation. Usually takes me commenting on 3-4 articles before im out of auto moderation.

            But as i said, The flag comment button should be the only buton that can place someone into auto moderation. Downvoting should not result in auto moderation.

  • Initial install cost per premise for FTTP is higher, there is no question about that. But this would have left us with upgradeable tech that costs a lot less to run.

    I’ve previously read the ongoing cost of FTTN would outweigh any savings on installation in as little as six years. Easy way for the Libs to fluff their budget during their tenure IMO.

  • At some point you’ve gotta own your mistakes.

    Regardless of what Labor did, the Coalition five years ago promised a cheaper and faster delivered NBN, and now were being told that the NBN network won’t be worth the money its cost by the time its built.

    At the very least, even a cost overrun FTTH network would have been a sunk asset, with a extended useable life, a lower operating OPEX, and a decent chance of capturing most CAPEX back with a sale.

    • This is almost exactly the argument I made yesterday, except I was arguing that rolling out to regional areas first was what’s killed their opex budget and resale value right now. But of course the technology use is a major contributor as well.

      At this point, the state of the project is 70% Coalition, 30% Labor in terms of contribution. Labor’s regional-first plan was dumb, but it would be blind to deny that the Coalition hasn’t fucked it from both a technology and capex perspective.

      Great minds think alike, fools never differ. One of those applies here at least!

      • Labor’s regional-first plan was dumb, but it would be blind to deny that the Coalition hasn’t fucked it from both a technology and capex perspective.

        This is the thing, I’m certain that the Coalition also realise this but are putting in a lot of effort to save face.

        I almost wish they would just admit they got it wrong and at least go to say FttC and at least get the project back on track.

        I know that is political suicide (admitting one is wrong to one’s opponent) but this has gone beyond the political now. Either side now has to work on restoring trust, in the very least for this project.

        You might not see this for a while as I’m in false moderation again.

        • Neither political party would ever have the courage to admit they got something wrong. You only need to look at QLD Labors blind insistence on supporting Adani. The mine has almost universal opposition yet QLD Labor acts like nothing is wrong.

  • NBN has had trouble from the start and there’s plenty of blame to go around.
    Granted by far the Liberals deserve the most blame for… well pretty much everything they did when they got their hand on it.
    But Labor did a REALLY poor job of selling their their NBN and getting accurate and easy to understand info about it out there early on which made it way too easy for Liberals to peddle their gimped counterproposal and the media (not just the Murdoch owned media) in general made everything worse by focusing almost entirely on the price of the competing plans at the time.
    Still yes, Liberals spent a ludicrous amount of money to switch to an inferior product that almost entirely benefited their backers at the cost of the average Australian. It’s a tragedy the NBN became the political football it did.

  • In all honesty I don’t care who’s problem or who screwed it up at this stage. I just want them to get off their arses and fix it properly ASAP.

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