Turnbull to audit the conception of Labor's NBN

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Turnbull to audit the conception of Labor's NBN

Former Telstra exec to lead sixth inquiry into NBN.

The Coalition Government has announced it will conduct a four-month audit into the process by which the previous Labor government conceived of the national broadband network.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today announced the audit, to be run by Swinburne University Chancellor Bill Scales, would cover the period from when the former Government issued a request for proposal for the NBN in April 2008 to the release of the NBN implementation study in May 2010.

Scales was previously employed as a regulatory and corporate executive for Telstra. He has also served as the chairman of the productivity commission, secretary of the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet, and on a number of Government inquiries. 

The Government expects the audit will help the country avoid a “mistake we can literally never afford to make again,” a spokesperson for Minister Turnbull told iTnews.

“This is a project which has now been marred with such poor decision making from the outset, it has led to an incredible waste of taxpayer’s money. It would be good to lay bare the processes that got [Labor] to where they were to make sure the mistake is never repeated," he said.

Turnbull’s office is yet to confirm the cost of the audit. 

A spokesperson for Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare said Turnbull should focus on building the NBN rather than playing politics. 

"Turnbull seems to have an unhealthy obsession with Stephen Conroy and fighting old wars," the spokesperson said.

The audit will detail the process Labor undertook to create NBN policy, including the advice it took leading to the establishment of NBN Co, the basis for the majority fibre-to-the-premise model, and the Government's approach towards cost-benefit or independent reviews of the project. 

It will also provide recommendations on future actions an Australian Government should take when approaching a project of the scale of the NBN. 

The Labor Government - specifically former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - were popularly believed to have devised of the plan to build a Government-owned FttP NBN during a plane trip, after Telstra submitted an invalid bid for the work

Conroy has since dispelled this as a myth, and insisted the Labor Government changed its mind on an initial fibre-to-the-node plan after being recommended to do so by an expert panel and encountering Telstra’s opposition to structural reform of its business. 

After coming to power last September, the Coalition initially promised a $29.5 billion version of the NBN - a “multi-technology mix” made up predominantly of fibre-to-the-node technology - but in a December review approved by NBN Co’s board, revealed an $11.5 billion increase to the build cost to $41 million.

The ALP FttP network was independently costed at $37.4 billion. In its December review, the Coalition claimed Labor’s bill for the NBN would have grown to $73 billion had the ALP remained in power.

The audit will run separately to the review into NBN Co governance conducted by KordaMentha. 

It is the sixth audit the Coalition Government has held into the national broadband network since it came to power late last year.

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