An independent audit has damned Labor’s rollout of the national broadband network (NBN) and recommends all major infrastructure projects be subject to a published cost-benefit analysis.
The review by former Productivity Commission head Bill Scales is highly critical of the NBN project, saying the Rudd cabinet gave only “perfunctory” consideration to the $43 billion second stage of its development.
The government-commissioned audit found that while the $4.7 billion NBN Mark I was “in general conducted appropriately from a public policy perspective”, Mark II was “rushed, chaotic and inadequate”.
The Scales review found the second stage, introduced in 2009, was given only 11 weeks consideration by the government.
No business case or cost-benefit analysis was done for the project, which has since been marked by delays and cost blowouts.
The company set up to deliver the project, NBN Co, was not “fit for purpose”, Mr Scales said.
Only a large and established telecommunications company could have rolled out the project in the allotted time.
The audit recommended all taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects worth more than $1 billion be subject to an independent cost benefit analysis, which should be released for public consultation.
Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who has been charged with overhauling the NBN, said the multibillion-dollar infrastructure project was “an extraordinary leap into the unknown”.
“It was just a ramshackle, reckless excursion which has cost the nation tens of billions of dollars,” he told Sky News.
It was already coalition policy to have a cost-benefit analysis for projects worth more than $100 million, Mr Turnbull said.
He agreed there was a good case for making them public, “so the public understand what the government is doing with their money”.
The coalition has promised to rein in spending on the NBN, which under Labor relied on expensive fibre-to-the-premises technology.
It plans to introduce a mix of technologies, including fibre-to-the-node and fixed wireless.
Labor dismissed the Scales audit as a political attack on the NBN, saying it proved the government is not committed to broadband.
“We will create a digital divide in this country where a few people will have access to the best and fastest internet … and the rest of Australians will get second-rate helpings from the Abbott government,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said.