“A lot of the – there’s no real nice way to say this – a lot of the nerds and geeks are excited, but the majority of people just don’t care,” says Armidale local Dave Martin, 29.
Behind the counter of the computer store he works at, this is how Martin describes the Labor Government’s flagship infrastructure project, the National Broadband Network.
On the morning of 18 May 2011, then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard was here when it was switched on, and Armidale became the first mainland city connected to the fast Internet scheme.
Today, in the town of around 20,000 in the NSW northern tablelands, the rollout is nearly done, and residents, who live in the middle of Nationals country can download content much faster than almost everyone else in Australia.
“The boss here, he was really excited when it came in. He’s got in set up in his house and he loves it,” Martin says, adding that he does not know how he will vote, and whichever way he does, the NBN won’t be what’s on his mind.
Everywhere around Armidale there’s farmland, and rusted-on supporters of The National party. Broadband was never going to be a core issue or win Labor many votes here.
Nigel Forsyth, 57, is in the middle of shutting his takeaway store when three High School students come in. They order three milkshakes, but leave when he tells them he does not take Eftpos.
Fast broadband means little to most people around here, he says.
“There would be a very small percentage of people who have really high internet use, people who sell design work, people who use CAD programs, a few of the academics, and gamers – people who just want to go faster and faster all the time… that small percentage of the Armidale population would be really rapt the NBN is here.”
Forsyth will vote Liberal at the election. Asked if, despite this, he can give some credit to Labor for delivering the NBN, he replies: “No. That’s just government doing its job. It’s infrastructure.”
Two days before the election, Giselle Model will turn 18. She works in a news agency in the Armidale CBD. But her family’s home is 20km away, in Hillgrove.
To even get wireless Internet, her family had to install a “giant antenna” on their roof, she says.
“My family is actually really annoyed about it. If anyone actually needs the Internet it’s us. Everyone in town already had a decent wireless connection.”
“If anything, it’s made us not very fond of Labor.”
When this reporter spoke to Yvonne Duhigg, it was 35 years to the day since she opened an independent bookstore with her husband in the town centre.
“Labor I have a leaning towards,” she says, but this is not the result of the NBN.
“Generally people think it’s a good idea – but there are bigger issues.”
Two doors down, the 56-year-old manager of a gift store, who asked not to be named, said this was the first election in which she would not be voting labor.
“Rudd scares the hell out of me,” she says. “This will be the first [time voting Liberal].”
“He’s had three years to sit there, and all he’s done is plot how to get his little job back.
“He’s done nothing in that three years that’s really creative. He just sat there and used taxpayers’ money.
“He’s not a well man; he’s not a nice person.”
Rose McCarthy, a customer in a local electronics store, says the only reason the NBN was even rolled out first in Armidale is because of retiring Independent MP Tony Windsor.
In July Windsor announced he would not contest the seat of New England, blaming health issues, and a desire to spend more time with his family.
Discussions with locals make it clear many will miss Windsor, who first won the seat after quitting The Nationals in 2001.
“We got the NBN because of Tony Windsor, not because of the Labor Government,” she says. “I don’t think people think they have much to thank Labor for, in a regional town.”
While many of his customers are excited about fast broadband speeds, none of them thank the government for it, says sales assistant James Brookes, 31.
He’s just sold McCarthy a new phone, and, looking up from the register says: “I’ve not heard anyone saying yes, I’ve got NBN, thanks Labor. I don’t think it sways votes at all.”
Ben Collins is on a road trip from opposition leader Tony Abbott’s electorate of Warringah in Sydney to prime minister Kevin Rudd’s electorate of Griffith in Brisbane ahead of the federal election on September 7. He’ll be speaking to voters and business leaders about their concerns and what they hope to see happen in the coming three years.
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