Paul Fletcher: Anti-NBN warrior

15 August 2012

Written by: Stephanie Pradier

Paul Fletcher (Source: APH)

The National Broadband Network rollout has been met with protest from the public and politicians alike – Liberal MP Paul Fletcher being close to the front of the pack.

Although the member for Bradfield is not a frontbencher in federal parliament, he doesn’t hold back in condemning the all-fibre broadband network.

And he knows what he’s talking about. Fletcher was once the director of corporate and regulatory affairs at Optus, before moving into Australian politics. In 2009, he became the Australian Liberal Party representative for the New South Wales North Shore district, maintaining a Liberal grip on the seat since the area was first declared an electorate.

Fletcher became the member for Bradfield following the resignation of former Liberal Party leader Brendan Nelson in 2009. The by-election strengthened the Liberal Party’s hold over the seat – considered one of the strongest metropolitan Liberal seats.

At the 2010 federal election, Fletcher held his seat, winning against Labor’s Sarah Gallard with a swing to the Liberals of 4.32 per cent.

Bradfield has been described as ‘a pretty diverse sort of place’ by Dinush Winks, a member of Fletcher’s office. ‘We’ve got a lot of infant schools in the area, a lot of retired people live here,’ she says.

Infrastructure seems to be a high priority to the citizens.

‘There’s a lot of angst over developments in the area – overdevelopment rather – and also infrastructure projects like Hornsby hospital,’ says Winks.

Fletcher says that plans to mend the local hospital with a $120 million injection are great.

Paul Fletcher is originally from England, having moved to Australia at a young age before becoming a citizen in the 1980s. In accordance with Australian law, Fletcher was required to renounce his British citizenship in order to be a candidate for Parliament. Fletcher’s family consists of wife Manuela, stepson Gabriel and son Hugo.

His business and law degrees and a masters in business administration have given him a good standing for both his work at Optus and his work in Bradfield and the House of Representatives.

Fletcher recalled his educational experience in a speech to parliament in 2012: ‘I saw that Australia had an out-dated economic model [in the mid-1980s], with rigid labour markets, high tariff walls and heavy government ownership and control of many areas of the economy.

‘But I also learned about the changes being made – floating the dollar, opening up the banking sector to foreign competitors and reducing tariffs. This reform process would continue for 25 years.’

Fletcher’s work at Optus has given him an advanced standing to comment on the rollout of the National Broadband Network.

‘He doesn’t oppose the principle of it. He opposes the cost of it. It’s too expensive for what it’s trying to do. It’s just twice as much as it should be,’ says Winks.

Another concern is the monopoly Telstra would hold over the broadband.

‘It would also see higher prices and a minimal take-up of broadband,’ says Winks.

Fletcher himself says that it is a highly risky and disruptive way to develop the country’s technology. Speaking at 2012’s Kickstart conference in February, Fletcher said: ‘Unless they are enthusiastic supporters and adopters of the new system, it will languish unused but there is little evidence of any serious thought being given to how take up will be encouraged.’

Fletcher has questioned the integrity of the national broadband rollout after Telstra shareholders gave the green light to the plans. Fletcher claimed that more than 80 per cent of fibre optic sites were in seats favourable to the government or seats that the Liberal party only just had a hold of.

Fletcher has written a book exploring the war between people and groups that has come about from the National Broadband Network. In Wired brown land? Telstra’s battle for broadband, he explores all the issues surrounding the running of fibre optic cables across the country.

Fletcher has aimed to be a ‘strong advocate for the interests of the people of Bradfield’ since his admission into the House of Representatives.

In his first parliamentary address in early 2010, Fletcher shared his appreciation of politics: ‘From the outset the Liberal Party was my natural home. It stood for the values of hard work and self-reliance that I had seen in my parents and in other adults I admired.’

As a newly elected parliamentarian, Fletcher possesses a sense of clarity in his reasons for being in politics. He wants to help make Australia a ‘fairer, stronger, more prosperous, more secure, more inclusive nation’.

All without an NBN though.

Adria De Fazio is a journalism student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter: @adriadf

To view profiles of some of the other backbenchers as part of upstart’s Backbench Insiders project, click here.