As has been true since 2010, our aspiring leaders seem to be determined to outdo each other in silliness this week. Since Julia Gillard will (with 90 per cent probability) be nothing more than a bad memory in a year’s time, while Tony Abbott will be an unavoidable reality, I’m going to ignore Gillard’s “Rob Peter to Pay Paul” aprroach to funding Gonski and talk about the National Broadband Network.
The Abbott-Turnbull proposal for a cutprice NBN has been an amazing success in clarifying issues that previously seemed too complex to be resolved. Until now, it’s been far from obvious how to assess the NBN – the complaint that we didn’t have a benefit cost analysis was obviously silly in the absence of any easy way of quantifying the benefits. But now that we’ve seen the alternative – a 25MBps network, dependent on Telstra’s failing copper network and non-existent goodwill, it’s obvious that the NBN is the only option that gives us any hope of keeping up with the steady growth in demand for information. The claim that individual subscribers can choose to upgrade to fibre-to-the-premises appears to have collapsed in the face of expert scrutiny. Instead, it seems, we’ll end up with lots of street-corner boxes, which will have to be ripped out and replaced wholesale when their inadequacy becomes apparent.
Given that he is going to win the coming election anyway, Abbott could greatly improve his chances of re-election in 2016 by admitting his mistake and going with the existing NBN plan, maybe with some cosmetic tweaks. As a bonus, from Abbott’s POV, Turnbull would have to eat a lot of humble pie.
The same is true for the other slogans on which he’s relied so far, like “Stop the Boats’ and “Axe the Tax”. Thanks to Labor’s implosion, he can afford to dump them now, and replace them with something more realistic – there’s no shame in changing policies before an election.
I don’t expect Abbott to take this unsolicited advice, but he could look at the cautionary lesson provided by Bligh, Gillard and NSW Labor among others, and consider carefully whether it’s better to take a few lumps now, or gain office on the basis of commitments that will prove a millstone, whether they are abandoned or adhered to.
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* I know, this quote attributed to Thomas J Watson is apocryphal, as is a similar one attributed to Bill Gates, but lots of similar statements have been made in reality, and they’ve all proved to be silly. For example, I can remember people saying in the early 80s that 8-bit address space of 64k (a double octet) were all we would ever need. Many more people said, well into the 1990s, that graphical interfaces were an unnecessary luxury and that personal computers would always start with a C:> prompt.