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NBN Co coffee budget brews caffeinated controversy

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NBN Co, the entity charged with spending over $AUD30bn or so building a national broadband network for Australia, has defended the price it pays for coffee.

The company felt the need to do so because members of Australia's opposition parties, after combing through NBN Co's finances, wondered why it had spent over $AUD100,000 on coffeee.

The question has a semi-serious point to make, as NBN Co is building with borrowed money. $100,000 for macchiatos today will, thanks to the wondrous power of interest, cost more in the long run.

The realpolitik of the question is that the opposition is trying to paint the government as wasteful. Finding fat cats on the public teat supping lattes at taxpayer expense is the kind of thing that makes tabloid headlines, so the cost of NBN Co capuccino was raised in a parliamentary hearing.

NBNCo today emitted a press release explaining its decision to provide coffee as follows:

“Coffee and coffee machines have been purchased by NBN Co as an amenity for employees, contractors and visitors in order to aid productivity by reducing the time spent by staff purchasing coffee outside their offices.”

It hasnt stopped NBN staffers from enjoying latency-laden lunches: Vulture South shares a suburb with an NBN Co office and often bumps into staffers as we dine.

But we digress.

NBN Co says it is spending about 16 cents per cup and contrasts that with the $3.00 to $3.50 charged at a cafe close to the headquarters of News Ltd's Sydney offices (News has not been kind to the NBN or the government) and $3.40 in the parliamentary cafe.

That's not the most accurate of metrics, however, given the quoted prices are from retailers. Hardly anyone's employer runs a tab at a cafe (not a hint) in Australia, so NBN Co is not really comparing capuccinos with capuccinos.

NBN Co's critics could therefore change tack and argue the company is denying revenue to small business, a phenomenon Vulture South can vouch for since IBM infamously cut staff coffee globally a few years back. IBMers of this correspondent's acquaintance still grumble about that decision, but note it has been a boon for cafes near or on IBM campuses. ®

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