Independent Senator, Nick Xenophon, has thrown his weight behind a Senate enquiry into the costs of the abandoned National Broadband Network (NBN) tender process.
Costs of the process, which involved a panel of seven experts appraising bids in the tender process over a 10-month period, surfaced last week after the Department for Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy responded to questions submitted by Shadow Communications Minister, Nick Minchin.
The department's answers showed tax payers will be hit with staff expenses of $3.36 million for a taskforce that supported the expert panel during its evaluation of tender bids.
The expert panel conducted 42 meetings, with all but two members – who are public servants – receiving $375 an hour (capped at eight hours a day). The panel also incurred travel expenses of $89,946 over a 10-month period from March, 2008.
The final NBN announcement was made last month, with the Federal Government rejecting all tenders in favour of building a fibre-to-the-premise broadband network themselves.
Speaking to ARN, Xenophon said concerns over the cost incurred by the tender process are reasonable and emphasised the importance of having the issue analysed in the context of a Senate enquiry.
“There is a strong case for the Government to justify how that taxpayer money was spent and that is why it should be subjected to scrutiny by the Senate enquiry process,” he said. “It does seem like a lot of money so it needs to be broken down and looked at.
“I think taxpayers have the right to know how the money is spent and what was delivered for the cost.”
Xenophon also saw the Senate enquiry as vital in determining the NBN’s cost viability.
“We need to learn from an enquiry to make sure that the money is spent in the optimal way.”
On Minchin’s ultimatum to block NBN legislation if the Government doesn’t table the expert panel’s findings, Xenophon has yet to take a side.
“I want to talk to [Communications Minister] Senator Conroy and Senator Minchin about the issue,” he said. “We need to go through a rigorous process as it is an enormous amount of money at stake here for Australia’s technological future.
“To ensure our country doesn’t continue to lag behind in terms of ICT and broadband, we need to spend that money wisely.”
Xenophon's comments come on the back of the budget, where the Federal Government plugged the NBN as one of its centrepiece infrastructure initiatives, allocating $4.7 billion to the project.
Analyst firm, Frost & Sullivan, also recently claimed wireless broadband could prove a formidable opponent for the NBN, but industry analysts disagreed.
The expert panel:
- University of Melbourne laureate professor, Rod Tucker
- Allphones chairman, Tony Mitchell
- Lazard Carnegie Wylie CEO, John Wylie
- Coutts Communications, Reg Coutts
- Tony Shaw (former ACA chairman)
- Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy secretary, Patricia Scott
- Treasury secretary, Dr Ken Henry