The importance of telling the truth - especially if you are a lecturer in communications.

September 15, 2013

On 13 September, Stuart Rintel, who is a Lecturer in Strategic Communications at the University of Queensland published a blog on the Conversation entitled "NBN Petition and the backlash: when does democracy speak?

His first misrepresentation is in the first paragraph where he writes that social media users "are mobilising against ...Malcolm Turnbull's claim that "democracy has spoken" on the issue of the NBN".

I am not sure what the University of Queensland means by "Strategic" Communications, but I doubt they mean "false" or "misleading".

Rintel put the phrase "democracy has spoken" in quotes intending no doubt to create the impression I had written those words - but I had done no such thing. Had he left the quotes out, readers may have simply assumed he was paraphrasing (in his own view) my remarks. But the use of the quotes deliberately sought to create a false impression, that the words in quotes had been written by me. 

But then he goes on to refer to a blog post on this site in which I "also appeared to dismiss democratic debate outside of elections."  Nobody who read that blog post could have honestly or rationally come to that conclusion. Indeed I described the strategic review and cost benefit analysis of the project and the technologies available to complete as being "vital for the public to be fully informed". Far from dismissing debate outside of elections I concluded by writing:-

"The NBN debate is not over - but I am determined  to ensure that from now on it is at least fully informed."

Stuart Rintel's blog is one which would disgrace any of his students. He deliberately sets out to create a false and misleading impression about my comments, putting words into my mouth I have not said and attributing to me a view as to the role of public debate entirely at odds with the express words of my own blog on the matter.  

Far from ignoring or rejecting the petition I have responded to it. I have also had a discussion with Nick Paine the instigator of the petition. He asked me a number of questions about our policy. I answered them and referred him to our policy documents and FAQs on my website which I encourage him and others interested in the issue to read. I have discussed our policy in numerous forums - in the media, at public meetings, on the web.

The point about the election is not that it closes down debate - it does not. People are perfectly entitled to urge me to abandon our policy and take up Labor's, but they should not take offence when we point out that we did take a very detailed NBN policy to the election, that we won the election and that were we to abandon it a week after that election Australians would thing we had taken leave both of our senses and our integrity.

Regrettably too few people have ever taken the time to read our policy. Of course politicians are slammed for talking in soundbites and urged to be more substantial, but more often than not those substantial and detailed policies are unread. Which of course makes it easier for people  to misrepresent them.

As I have said many times, I believe our policy should be technology agnostic. There is no doubt that if time and money were irrelevant we would run fibre into every premises. But not even the Labor policy proposed to do that. The question of technology choice depends on many factors but notably the time and cost of deployment, the relative service levels attainable and level of demand for particular service levels.

In a recent call with a leading European telco, for example, executives described how with FTTN (vectored VDSL) they could offer 100 mbps down 40 mbps up for between one fifth and one sixth of the cost of deploying FTTP. It could also be rolled out in a fraction of the time. So, they have made a call to do a great deal more FTTN and much less FTTP.  

The strategic review will consider all those matters - openly and honestly. No spin. No politics. Just hard facts. And that will make the debate much better informed. 

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