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Wednesday, 25 August 2010 23:43

Broadband and Mining, Gillard and Abbott


If the Gillard Government wins this marathon election, it will have been broadband that gets it over the line. That is, unless Opposition leader Tony Abbott's refusal to submit his election promises to Treasury for costing hasn't already handed Labor the win.

Broadband was one of the very real differentiators in this crazy poll. And with the result reliant on the opinions of a tiny half-handful of rural independent MPs, broadband remains a key differentiator.

The biggest beneficiaries of the Government's National Broadband Network were always going to be people in the bush, simply because it promises to deliver rural communities new opportunities.

And the three independent MPs understand this. Bob Katter from Kennedy in north Queensland, Rob Oakeshott from Lyne on the NSW mid-north coast and Tony Windsor from New England, have each spoken on the issue.

So broadband is already in the back-pocket of these potential king-makers.

Government doesn't need to convince them of the largesse - they are well aware of that - but it will certainly want to brief the three on how many jobs might get created in their electorate during the construction phase, or what improved services they can expect in health and education.

But with broadband pocketed, the three MPs - all of them ex-Nationals - will be saying "yes, but what have you done for me lately?"

Broadband is important, but it is a sideline issue now as they pursue whatever other offers might be on the table from Julia Gillard.

If they are unhappy with what the Prime Minister is able to offer, you can guarantee that one of the first things they will be pressing on Tony Abbott will be rock solid new commitments for regional telecommunications.

Of course, nothing is ever simple. Politics gets in the way of everything. And if these blokes eventually side with Labor and don't return to their electorates carrying bags of shiny new baubles and trinkets they are going to get their arses kicked.

Improved telecommunications is one thing. But the mining tax is quite another. And while each of these MPs was elected with incredible first preference returns (more than 70 per cent for Katter and Windsor), the mining tax was not popular.

And this is the issue that will be front-of-mind - along with the various reforms to Parliamentary procedure they have put forward - when they sit across the table from the Prime Minister and Tony Abbott next week.

Meanwhile, Tony Abbott has his own problems. Last night's performance in which he refused the Independents' request that election promises be costed by Treasury and Finance may well be the moment where the election was decided.

Abbott did himself no favours. He looked like he was trying to pull a shifty. And it's no good saying you don't trust the public servants to do the costings, because not trusting the nation's most senior bureaucrats is not a good look for someone asking to become Prime Minister.

But there is a long way to travel yet, and Mr Abbott has revealed himself in this campaign as an incredibly good '¦ well, campaigner.

His messaging had been precise and devastating throughout. Right up until last night.

Now he will regroup. And he has a very good story to tell these independents, particularly on the mining tax.

But he has a real problem in regional telecommunications and he doesn't have a policy that holds water. And on the evidence so far, he doesn't have a shadow Minister capable of either developing a better policy or explaining it.

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