Turnbull ridicules NBN operations, hints at $33 billion shortfall

By Patrick Avenell

SYDNEY, NSW: Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has hit out at the decision-making process behind the National Broadband Network (NBN), ridiculing Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner and suggesting the scheme could depreciate by $33 billion upon completion.

Speaking to business leaders at an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce event in Sydney today, Mr Turnbull said that, in general, the financial oversight of the Rudd Government has been lacking, selecting the NBN for specific individual criticism.

“The big risk, and this is something the productivity commission has criticised the Government over, is the way in which they are spending so much money, or promising to spend so much money on infrastructure, with no financial analysis at all,” Mr Turnbull said.

“$43 billion on a national broadband network, not one line of excel spreadsheet to analyse. And when Lindsay Tanner was asked why there’d be no financial analysis he said, in a remark that as Henry Ergas said could earn him a Nobel Prize for economics, he said ‘the problem with financial analyses is that you get a different outcome depending on the assumption you put into it’.”

This remark was met with widespread laughter across the ballroom of the Westin Hotel, encouraging Mr Turnbull to launch into sarcasm.

 “I mean, what a genius, no wonder he’s the Finance Minister.”

Later in his address, when prompted by an audience member to talk more about the NBN, Mr Turnbull reiterated his criticism.

“I do not, and we in the Liberal Party do not, take the view that Labor does, that taxes are anything other than other people’s money,” Mr Turnbull said.

“When governments deal with other people’s money they are to deal with those tax revenues as prudently and carefully as possible, and hence the importance of when you invest in infrastructure you get the best bang for your buck.

“There’s no point in spending $43 billion on a broadband network that ends up being worth $10 billion, as you’ve just torched $33 billion, if that’s what it came out to be.

"So, notwithstanding the future Nobel laureate Mr Tanner we should fill the figure in before we actually commit to the investment. I know it’s old-fashioned, but there it is.”

Current.com.au has contacted Mr Tanner’s office, the Finance Minister declined our opportunity to respond.

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