Opposition Communications Minister Tony Smith has hit back at claims his party does not support the need for fast broadband - despite his bombshell revelation yesterday that the NBN in its current form would be scrapped should the Coalition with the next Federal election.
Smith caused a storm yesterday with his first policy revelation - that the Coalition would not continue rolling out the NBN in its current form beyond contracts that were already signed.
He also told The Australian yesterday that the "principles and priority" underpinning its OPEL proposal - which was canned by Labor when they came to power - could be revived.
Smith did not go into much detail about what the Coalition's broadband network might look like. But it was made clear there would be an increased reliance on telcos and ISPs - rather than taxpayers - to foot the bill.
The comments drew a rebuke from Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.
"Tony Smith has signalled that a Coalition government would stop the NBN rollout and revert to the failed broadband policies of the Howard government," Conroy said.
"They claim to be for high speed broadband, but every single position they take, including their obstructionist tactics in the Senate, aims to block its delivery."
Conroy then called on the Opposition "to outline which Australian consumers, businesses, schools and hospitals do not need high speed broadband."
It was this inference that the lack of NBN support equated to "opposition to better and faster broadband" that Smith took exception to.
"We all want to see better, faster, more affordable broadband; the question is how that is best achieved," Smith said.
"To claim, as Labor does, that the only road to that destination is one that costs $43 billion with taxpayers owning the risk, is transparently absurd.
"In the world of Conroy, anyone that questions Labor's chaotic and reckless NBN or refuses to join them on their ill-conceived adventure must be a broadband non-believer who should presumably be burnt at the stake."
Smith claimed Labor's only success to date had been denying "900,000 under-served households from receiving better and more affordable broadband through the cancellation of the previous Coalition Government's OPEL contract."
"The Coalition believes there are better ways to drive a comprehensive upgrade of Australia's broadband infrastructure both nationally and in under-served areas [than the NBN]," Smith said.
"The Coalition will be looking to implement a very different, responsible and targeted approach that will be designed to deliver better, affordable, reliable broadband services where they are needed without a reckless waste of taxpayer's funds, as well as encouraging the private sector to upgrade broadband infrastructure."
The storm came as NBN Co stepped up its hiring efforts by listing jobs for fibre quality assurance and compliance testers in Adelaide, Townsville and NSW.
The locations appeared tied to states where NBN Co was to test different fibre network construction and deployment methods as part of a test phase announced earlier this month.
Test sites included parts of Townsville suburbs Aitkenvale and Mudingburra, Minnamurra and Kiama Downs on the NSW south coast, an area west of Armidale in regional NSW, and the South Australian rural community Willunga.