Construction woes slowed the NBN: Conroy

Conroy says NBN has been "well managed", all things considered

Labor’s construction model for the NBN “could be legitimately criticised”, according to former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Conroy made the admission in a speech today to the Australian Computer Society (ACS), his first public speaking appearance since resigning from office.

“I think we underestimated the capacity of the construction industry to respond to the challenge,” Conroy said.

He attributed delays in fibre rollout to “the failure of the construction industry to mobilise resources”.

“There were two decisions that slowed it down a bit for the NBN,” he said.

The first was the decision to ensure people in multi-dwelling units (MDUs) like apartment buildings had the same high speeds as everyone else instead of “just putting a box into the basement”.

The second decision was undeveloped land called greenfields, said Conroy. “The company wasn’t prepared for … greenfields.”

Fibre is the only technology platforms in the NBN that is “significantly delayed”, he said. The other platforms that are not lagging are wireless broadband, satellite, a transit network and IT systems.

“[Given] the relative scale of calamity that could befall a project of this size, you have to say to say the NBN project has been well managed.”

Conroy added that he couldn’t understand why anyone would be disappointed with the progress of the fibre roll out.

“Any further delays to the rollout beyond the schedule in the revised plan that has now been submitted to Mr Turnbull ... will be a consequence of his policies and his change in policy agenda.”

The Coalition’s “fundamental error” has been that “they don’t understand we’re building the NBN because of the promise of the digital economy”.

“We’re not talking about the digital economy to justify the infrastructure investment. Labor made the decision to invest in broadband because of its importance to our economic and social future.

“The starting point should not be identifying the cheapest interim step to get you through the next five years.”

Conroy also had a dig at the Coalition policy for the digital economy, which cited South Korea, Denmark, Sweden and Singapore as nations with the most mature digital economies.

“What do all have in common?” asked Conroy. “The first three of those are amongst the four leading OECD countries for fibre-to-the-premise penetration.”

Conroy declined to weigh in on who should be the next shadow Communications Minister. In a Sky News interview last month, Conroy had indicated he might be up for the role.

“The good news is that under our system, the leader makes the appointments of the portfolios,” he said today. “I will not remotely want to pre-empt the opportunity for the leader to put a name forward.”

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