Clare gears up for an NBN fight

The shadow communications minister Jason Clare can never match the bombast of his predecessor Stephen Conroy, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

Shadow communications minister Jason Clare has big shoes to fill if he’s ever hoping to match the bombast of his predecessor Stephen Conroy, but then again the Labor party needs a different sort of a political beast to make things difficult for Malcolm Turnbull.

By all accounts Clare has made quite an impression on the coterie of tech journalists gathered at the Tech Leaders' Forum on the Gold Coast this week.

He was frank, he was polished and he delivered a speech brimming with positivity, which is a welcome change from the relentless negativity the Coalition doled out in spades during its tenure as Opposition.

However, the adulation could well prove to be short-lived, after all Clare has just started his journey and there are sterner tasks ahead.

Clare may have scored a few points against Paul Fletcher, parliamentary secretary for the communications minister, at the forum. But going toe-to-toe against Turnbull is guaranteed to be a far more bruising affair.

Just how Clare copes with that sort of pressure will be instructive.

The job of aligning the NBN construction process to fit the Coalition’s vision is still on the starting blocks. The deck chairs are still being reshuffled ahead of the arrival of the new captain Bill Morrow, who faces the unenviable task of ensuring that the NBN Co ship stays afloat.

The Coalition’s NBN supposedly delivers a cheaper network but the Achilles heel for Turnbull is the renegotiation with Telstra. Firstly, there’s new infrastructure (HFC/copper) in play and then there’s the issue of the condition of Telstra’s copper, which will determine the effectiveness of VDSL vectoring.

The copper hasn’t given up its ghost entirely but there are substantial tracts in need of remediation.  

Just what transpires at these copper sites will be crucial to making the multi-technology methodology work and it won’t be easy.

This is the ammunition that Clare needs to put Turnbull under pressure, and the newly minted shadow communications minister has already shown some sense by being upfront about the deficiencies of his own party when it comes to the NBN.

Clare is candid about the torturous construction process – mistakes were made and lessons have been learnt – but his message to the public needs to be nuanced.

The Coalition, by its own admission, is rolling out a network that’s technically inferior to what Labor had promised but it’s cheaper and will be delivered faster. That’s the plan, anyway, but there are no guarantees and many obstacles still stand in the way.

Holding Turnbull accountable for every missed timetable and every delay while instilling more transparency is Jason Clare’s immediate task – and he's off to a good start.

The Coalition's $90 billion price tag for Labor's NBN was always rooted in politics rather than fact and Clare hasn't wasted any opportunity in making that clear. Fair enough, but at $72.6 billion the Labor version was still pretty dear.

His point about the Coalition making more work for itself by building a series of separate networks is also valid. Delivering a cheaper network quicker requires making compromises and we are at the very start of that journey.

So far Clare has shown a willingness to engage but he will have to carry the burden of Labor's NBN legacy: big on ambition, poor on execution. Something he will be reminded of at every turn by Turnbull.