FactCheck Q&A: broadband, climate change and Labor Party reform

Catch up on Q&A from 8 July. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/

UPDATED: We were inundated with ideas for statements to check from Monday night’s Q&A on ABC TV. Here, our experts tackle four claims on three of the most requested topics.

1. Anthony Albanese: claims about the speeds available under Labor’s National Broadband Network.

“The NBN will allow uploads of 400 [megabits per second], 1000 [megabits per second] downloads, for a total cost of $30.4 billion in terms of equity. Malcolm’s plan is $29.5 billion.” - Communications minister Anthony Albanese, Q&A, 8 July. (Watch the NBN segment here).

The access speeds of a telecommunications network are facts that can be verified. The costs debate is much trickier - more on that shortly.

Albanese’s claim that the national broadband network (NBN) will allow uploads of 400 megabits per second (Mbps) and downloads of 1000 Mbps is correct. However, it should be pointed out that these speeds are not yet available in NBN Co’s current standard household implementation, which is limited to 40 Mbps upload speeds and 100 Mbps downloads.

NBN Co, the government enterprise rolling out the network, has said it will offer much faster speeds by the end of this year at wholesale prices of between $70-$150 a month.

Verdict

Albanese’s claims about NBN speeds are correct. - Peter Gerrand


2. Malcolm Turnbull: Labor’s National Broadband Network would cost $94 billion-$100 billion.

“[The Coalition’s NBN plan is] about $60 billion cheaper… Your plan would cost $100 billion… On very conservative assumptions it would cost $94 billion.” Shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, Q&A, 8 July. (Watch the NBN segment here)

According to Labor, taxpayers’ share of building the NBN by 2021 will be $30.4 billion in equity, which was revised up from an original estimate of $27.5 billion.

The Coalition says that its rollout of an “affordable” version of the national broadband network could be finished sooner by 2019 and cost taxpayers $29.5 billion.

The major saving proposed in the Coalition’s plan is its preference for implementing Fibre to the Node instead of Fibre to the Home (see this article.

On Q&A, Albanese did not dispute the Coalition’s $29.5 billion figure, instead arguing that there was little price difference between the parties’ plans and:

“why would you buy an inferior product for basically 29 bucks rather than 30? That’s the difference in terms of equity between the two”.

Turnbull’s claim that the current Labor/NBN Co plan could cost an extra $60 billion is based on his own consultants’ advice, which is included as a 12-page analysis in background papers for The Coalition’s Plan for Fast Broadband and an Affordable NBN.

That claim is based on four key assumptions: much lower broadband revenue, 40 per cent higher costs to connect premises in established areas, more people choosing wireless-only connections by 2028, and an extra four years of work on top of the current eight year schedule - a 50 per cent blow-out.

As the analysis for the Coalition also notes:

“This is a simple model. It is subject to the normal uncertainties of any such analysis, but it is in the Coalition’s view a much more likely forecast than that contained in the NBN Co 2012‐2015 Corporate Plan.” (Background Papers, page 29)

The truth is, the cost estimates in either party’s business plan are only as good as their underlying assumptions.

For a ten-year “build and operate” engineering infrastructure project as massive as this, it is likely that some of the assumptions – under either plan – will inevitably be found to be significantly in error.

Verdict

The costs of completing a national broadband network - under either a Labor or Coalition government - can only be considered estimates until the network is actually implemented, and all costs and revenues brought to book.

The merits of the Labor/NBN Co and Coalition NBN plans deserve more analysis and debate in an election year. However, there are too many uncertainties and assumptions to be able to provide a definitive fact check on which party is right on its costings. - Peter Gerrand


3. Malcolm Turnbull: Obama’s climate change policies are more like the Coalition’s than Labor’s.

“[US president] Barack Obama gave a great speech about climate change recently, a lot of initiatives, [and] an emissions trading scheme is not part of them. The measures he announced are more like the Coalition’s policies in fact.” - Shadow communications minister Malcolm Turnbull, 8 July. (Watch his statement here).

Climate policy is back in the news, both in Australia and in the United States. The Labor leadership change, from Julia Gillard to Kevin Rudd, has sparked speculation that the government will move from the current fixed carbon price to an emissions trading scheme in 2014, a year earlier than currently planned.

(You can read an explainer on the differences between an emissions trading scheme and a carbon tax here.)

While Malcolm Turnbull has long made it clear that he personally favours emissions trading, he stressed on Monday’s show that he “will support the collective wisdom of the party room”. Rather than making businesses pay for emissions permits, under the Coalition’s Direct Action plan an Abbott government would buy emission reductions from industry, provide support for rooftop solar panels and start a tree-planting program.

So is Labor or the Coalition closer to Obama’s current policy position?

President Obama last month announced a suite of climate change initiatives including regulating greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants and further investment in clean-energy companies.

Both Obama’s and the Coalition’s approaches are based on direct government intervention. In Obama’s proposal, the government reduces emissions by regulating emitters to stop or reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. In the Coalition policy, the government would pay the emitters directly to stop or reduce. Both are different from emissions trading, in which permits to pollute are bought and sold by major emitters - such as power generators and factories - who then move towards stopping or reducing their emissions to lower their costs.

But it’s easy to go too far here. The Obama policies are more like the Direct Action scheme than Labor’s current carbon price, but much of the detail of the Coalition’s policy is yet to be made clear. At the moment, we know Direct Action will provide a voluntary mechanism where organisations can bid for funding to reduce emissions. Obama’s will be a mandatory system imposed by regulation.

It’s not the same, but it’s certainly not emissions trading either.

To some extent, Obama has been forced to go down the path of regulation. Since 2009, Obama has essentially faced some of the same difficulties that Labor faced while trying to introduce a carbon price in Australia.

During his election campaign, Obama, along with the Republican candidate, were both expressing a strong view that a move to address climate change was critical. In 2008/09, there was a move to introduce an emissions trading scheme, commonly known as the Waxman-Markey Bill. There was initially a lot of support for it in Congress but ultimately it failed because by the time Obama got into government the Republicans resisted it strongly.

So then it became difficult, if not impossible, for Obama to get his market-based policy through congress. In his second term, he was forced to try and find alternatives. His new regulatory approach is much more likely to succeed as it does not need congressional approval.

Verdict

Turnbull is correct – the current policies of the Obama administration are closer to the Coalition’s than Labor’s. But this shouldn’t be read as an assessment of the Coalition’s policy against the government’s. - Tony Wood


4. Anthony Albanese: political party reform is happening around the world

“[Political party reform] is happening around the world with parties of both the left and the right.” - Deputy prime minister Anthony Albanese, 8 July. (Watch his statement here).

Particularly since the Occupy Wall Street movement, the 15th May movement and the Arab Spring, there has been debate about how governments and political parties can do more to involve people in politics. “People want engagement, people don’t just want to receive, they want to also be able to participate in a real way,” Albanese said of Labor’s proposed reforms, which would ensure the leader is elected jointly by party members and members of parliament. Now, MPs have the sole right to elect the leader.

Political parties in Western representative democracies have often found the need to re-energise themselves. This happened under Gough Whitlam’s leadership in the 1960s when there was an expansion of National Conference and the national executive and federal interventions in NSW and Victoria.

The British Labour Party is sometimes cited as an example of recent reform that Labor is following. But that change happened in 1981, some 30 years ago, when the election of the party leader was opened up from the caucus (the current ALP system) to a tripartite college of caucus, unions and membership.The BLP was following the path blazed by the British Liberal Party in 1976.

The British Conservative Party opened to party membership the election of party leader, but only when there are two final candidates, in 1998, some 15 years ago. In Canada, the Parti Quebecois (a leftist provincial party) opened the election of its leader to its members back in 1985. So the recent reform by the Labor party equivalent, the New Democratic Party, is not so new for Canada.

The French Socialist Party introduced primaries for its supporters to elect its leader in advance of the 2012 election. And the Italian Democratic Party (PD) allowed primaries in 2011. In Italy’s case, it needs to be seen in the context of almost 20 years of political reform to what was a corrupt political system.

It’s possible to see Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s initiative not as part of a democratic idea sweeping the world - if that is what Albanese meant - but part of the sporadic happenings of parties that find themselves in substantial political difficulties. Parties have to respond to each generation of voters, and attempts to involve voters through the internet have been arguably more important to increasing voter participation than opening up leadership ballots to party members.

Verdict

It is a stretch to say that Rudd’s proposed reforms are part of a recent global trend - they have been happening for more than four decades. Usually, changes to the election of leaders have had more to do with parties responding at various times to local political difficulties than to a general blossoming of political participation across the globe. - Mark Rolfe

The Conversation is fact checking statements made in the lead-up to this year’s federal election. Normally, these are reviewed. But each week, we will also check significant factual assertions on the ABC’s Q&A program. To allow us to publish these checks as soon as possible, there will be no review process. Request a check at checkit@theconversation.edu.au. Please include the statement you would like us to check, the date it was made, and a link if possible.

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