Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tony Abbott - a luxury we cannot now afford

So Her Majesty's loyal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott wants the Australian Federal Government to stop building the National Broadband Network (NBN).

"The National Broadband Network is a luxury that Australia cannot now afford. The one thing you don't do is redo your bathroom when your roof has just been blown off" Mr Abbott told reporters in Brisbane yesterday.

There is some consensus world wide that the world economy has moved from the industrial age to the information age. Workers in industrialized economies are already competing in a global job market for work which involves the jobs remaining that are not easily automated. Process workers, factory foremen, data processors and supervisors, occupations that sustained a comfortable Australian middle class for generations, have been made redundant by machines. Middle class workers displaced by workplace automation must up skill to become engineers, lawyers, scientists, teachers, executives, journalists, or similar knowledge workers, or settle for no or low-skilled, low-wage service jobs. The machines have seized the middle ground and show no signs of loosening their grip.

As automation polarizes the world's workforce between skilled and unskilled the chasm between rich and poor grows wider, and deeper. Although the world's industrial output has increased, the wealth of the world's workers has decreased. Where the fate of a nation's workforce once depended on national economies it is now coupled with the globalized economy. Workers are working harder, for longer, but the value of their work is decreasing.

Australia has always been slow to adopt new technology. For example, the railway networks that are now seen to have been the backbone of the industrial revolution that changed the world and stimulated the rise of the now impoverished middle classes were only completed, in Australia, during the 1950's, when a Liberal Government standardized rail gauges across the nation. Before rail gauges were standardized, passengers and goods needed to be transferred between train wagons running on different tracks, in different states. The Albury railway station, the longest covered rail platform in Australia, stands as silent witness to the failure of private enterprise to deliver standardized services across an economy.

Her Majesty's loyal Opposition, the Liberal-National coalition, failed to win government in 2010 because of its communications policies. The disastrous privatization of Telstra and other communications policy failures by the former Howard Government led to the current great disparity of communications services between rural and urban Australia. Even urban areas are not fully serviced by Telstra's main rival, Optus, leaving country and urban consumers equally disadvantaged by the high cost of poor services.

"While many urban locations currently have high-speed broadband, usually upload speeds are much slower than download speeds, and reliability can be patchy. Both of these are substantial impediments to telehealth, which would be remedied by the NBN", Access Economics reported in 2010.

Her Majesty's loyal Opposition of course opposes the NBN because its ideology insists that governments should not intervene in markets. If there were a need for high speed broadband, private enterprise would provide it, the theory goes.

"The Coalition does not believe that it is the role of government to force taxpayers to spend billions of dollars to build and or buy businesses in areas where the private sector is able to perform the role."

An Australian high speed broadband Internet is not a luxury. It is as necessary as the railways were to the industrial age. The Liberal-National coalition proposes a similar service to that provided by the Australian railways in the nineteenth and twentieth century - ad-hoc, asymmetric and urban-centric. Just when Australia needs a level communications playing-field that allows a diminished middle class to compete in a global economy, the coalition vows to wreck it.

For the sake of our future, Tony Abbott's belief in the panacea of private enterprise is a luxury we cannot now afford.


  1. I know that broadband is considered affordable, but I can't afford it. I have to be content with dial up. Will the proposed NBN be cheaper for everyone?

  2. Phone and internet around $50 a month including phone calls.