Labor latches onto AU$57 billion figure as NBN cost

Image: NBN

The Australian Labor Party has latched onto admissions from representatives of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications that AU$51 billion plus AU$6 billion does indeed equal AU$57 billion.

As mentioned in NBN’s latest corporate plan released last month, the initial rollout of the NBN has a cost of AU$51 billion, and when topped up with AU$6 billion in bank credit announced in May, the total is AU$57 billion.

Of the bank credit, AU$4.5 billion has been allocated to upgrading the fibre-to-the node network, and AU$1.5 billion has been set aside to simplify NBN’s IT setup, provide CVC boosts and financial assistance during the pandemic, provide extra regional capacity, and connect 300,000 new premises.

Under questioning from ALP Senator Nita Green, the department strove to avoid mentioning the number.

“I think there’s a couple of different concepts caught up here,” Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications Simon Atkinson said.

“The peak funding related to the initial rollout, which is almost complete now … In terms of investment decisions post-initial rollout of the NBN, they’re a different consideration … these investments are being funded from public debt markets.”

Senator Green further asked why the price of the multi-technology mix NBN kept going up, something that was repeated later in the day by Shadow Communications Minister Michelle Rowland.

“In 2013, the Liberals promised their inferior multi-technology mix would cost AU$29.5 billion. That increased to AU$41 billion in 2014, to AU$49 billion in 2016, to AU$51 billion in 2018,” Rowland said.

“Under the watchful eyes of Turnbull, Fifield and Fletcher, Australians have been saddled with an inferior NBN that costs more and does less than the original fibre plan.”

Department representatives further added the AU$6 billion credit facility taken on by NBN would increase “outcomes for consumers”, jobs, and the national gross domestic product.

Earlier on Tuesday, Telstra had its own idea for how to increase GDP, as it released a report it commissioned from PwC which claimed digitising the economy could “unlock” AU$90 billion for the economy and create 250,000 new jobs.

“Running a business in a post-COVID world is very different to how we did things pre-pandemic. How we work, shop and interact with our customers has fundamentally changed,” Telstra enterprise group executive Michael Ebeid said.

“The jobs created in a digital Australia aren’t just roles you need an engineering or IT degree for either. Accelerating the digital economy will create a ripple effect across industries, creating jobs in all sectors from customer service, logistics, design and professional services.”

The report simultaneously says that digtisation is more efficient, yet will also create jobs in sectors such as education and healthcare, supply chains, and government itself.

“Warehouse workers can better prepare for deliveries using blockchain technology and smart tracking solutions, to add security and transparency over their supply chain, and reduce work-related injuries through artificial intelligence, smart video analytics and IoT,” the report describes one job-creating scenario that would total 15,000 new roles.

Quite how the education sector will create the report’s claimed 30,000 jobs, while funding to universities is reduced and the institutions undergo massive layoffs, remains to be seen.

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