Malcolm Turnbull and the NBN: This one’s for you, Sir!

Malcolm Turnbull on ABC TV's Lateline: click for video and transcriptThis post is written for an audience of one. The Honorable Malcolm Turnbull MP, Member for Wentworth and Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband. But all you proles are welcome to read it too.

Since I last spoke with Turnbull eighteen months ago for the Patch Monday podcast, his comments on Australia’s National Broadband Network (NBN) have frustrated me to hell. I’m guessing he’s not thrilled with what I’ve written since then either — because most of it has been critical of his comments, or even straight-up mockery.

My frustration is fuelled by cognitive dissonance. I admire Turnbull’s sharp use of political rhetoric. Indeed, I’ve praised him for it many times. But recently so much of Turnbull’s use of this rhetoric has been to play the pathetic old party-political tribal games that dominate the political narrative and, quite frankly, turn people off.

Sure, propaganda must trigger biases and responses that the audience already holds. That’s Joseph Goebbel’s Principles of Propaganda 101. So, yes, here we go again. Cuba communism socialism Labor North Korea Kremlin secrecy Stalin pogrom Labor socialism bad bad bad. Yawn. Y-fucking-awn.

In my most recent piece, Some of that ol’ NBN religion, I wrote:

In a rational world, something as important as a political party’s policies for the nation’s broadband infrastructure would refer to objective facts and measures.

There’d be no talk of “super-fast broadband”, as if that were actually a unit of measurement. There’d be no lumping together of different technologies with widely different performance characteristics under this or any other generic label. We might not necessarily go into the fine details of bonded copper pairs or GPONs versus other kinds of optical fibre distribution, but we’d at least have the decency to talk about actual upload and download speeds, about theoretical maximum speeds versus those that are likely to be obtained in real life, and maybe even about capabilities.

We might even discuss the relationship between upload speeds and download speeds, and the ability for individuals and businesses to be creators and participants in the digital economy and culture, rather than merely consumers.

It said much the same sort of thing back in June 2011 when I wrote The only NBN monopoly seems to be on ignorance. Again, my frustration stemmed from the simple fact that both major political parties, not just Turnbull’s Coalition, seem intent on keeping us ignorant instead of properly explaining their different approaches to what is, as we’re continually told, Australia’s biggest infrastructure project ever.

Now as it happens, Turnbull is delivering a keynote address at Kickstart Forum, the annual get-together of many of Australia’s IT journalists and the vendors who pay to be there, on Tuesday morning. This looks like the perfect opportunity to present some facts to an audience that’s equipped to understand and interpret them for the voters.

I think I’ve only spoken with Turnbull twice. Once was the podcast, and that was over the phone. The other was in the flesh, maybe a year or two beforehand, at some event at the ABC’s headquarters in Ultimo, Sydney. But it was nothing more than a polite greeting as we were introduced.

Mr Turnbull, I very much look forward to meeting you again on Tuesday.

[Photo: Malcolm Turnbull as seen on ABC TV’s Lateline, 14 February 2013.]

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5 comments

  1. Generic Person’s avatar

    Well, you got your arse handed to you at the Kickstart Q&A.

  2. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Generic Person: Really? Here’s the transcript and audio. If you think Turnbull’s playful sarcasm and use of straw-man tactics was me having my arse handed to me on a plate, you must be looking through a rather different prism. Anyway, I’ll be writing more about this in due course.

  3. Craig’s avatar

    Perhaps the only way to save the NBN is to play their game. Start a political party and run candidates in the federal election?

  4. Stilgherrian’s avatar

    @Craig: I don’t think “save the NBN” is the right framing, despite Tony Abbott’s daft “Destroy the NBN!” instructions to Turnbull — well, that’s how political journalists described it. As long as “the NBN” is seen as this specific Labor program being conducted in this particular way, and the Coalition’s policy (such that it is) of altering that plan is seen as destroying the NBN, then the discussion will never move beyond party-political tribalism. And that is the core of so much of my frustration.

    New single-issue political parties have rarely been successful at furthering their aims. The only successful example I can think of in Australia is the No Aircraft Noise party, and that’s because the issue was geographically concentrated, uniting NIMBY interests across the political divide.

  5. bacaren’s avatar

    You said this post was written for an audience of one. So why did you even allow comments from anyone else other than the The Honorable Malcolm Turnbull MP, Member for Wentworth and Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband?

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