A Federal Senate committee into the National Broadband Network (NBN) has condemned the Government’s lack of information and called for a raft of audits, timetables and a cost-benefit analysis. But a spokesperson for the broadband minister claims it is highly biased.
The Senate Select Committee findings come as the Tasmanian Government ramps up preparations for its fibre optic rollout. Among the recommendations was a call for detailed timetables for both that trial and national rollouts.
“Despite the commencement of the rollout, Tasmanians are still in the dark as to which towns will be connected by fibre and which will miss out,” the committee said in its findings. “The committee condemns the government’s (sic) refusal to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the implementation of the national broadband network.”
Other suggestions made within its 12 recommendations included: A request for the Government to prioritise regional and rural communities; a detailed business plan for the Tasmanian NBN by December 31; legislation for the NBN’s governance and funding; and the cost-benefit analysis be completed before any asset purchases on the mainland.
The Senate Committee has also stressed the Government should change its NBN policy if the implementation study labels its goals “unrealistic, not practical or uneconomical” and said related legislation should not be considered until the implementation study is completed and a Government response tabled.
Although notionally bipartisan, four of the seven committee members were from the Coalition with two Labor Party senators and one Australian Greens senator making up the rest. A spokesperson for the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, lashed out against the committee's findings and labelled them highly biased.
“The inquiry was established when Libs had control of senate so the committee was dominated by Lib senators and the report is therefore highly partisan and weighted towards their political angles," the spokesperson said.
“The Government is getting on with the job of rolling out this vital productive infrastructure platform...Nick Minchin and the Liberal Party have no communications policy and no contribution to make on broadband.”
Greens communications spokesperson and committee member, Senator Scott Ludlam, said the group had worked very well and become “collegial” during the NBN investigation.
“We will be looking for the publication of the implementation study or an interim report of that implementation study which the committee has quite rightly called for to see if the government has bothered to provide any justification for the concept of privatising something again which is being constructed partly as a response to the failed privatisation of Telstra,” he said.
But he agreed with Labor’s spokesperson and during a Senate sitting on November 26 said the group’s reports were tainted by politicisation and high levels of bias.
“Unfortunately, what has been printed does reflect a tone of quite partisan bitterness and suspicion, which is a shame, because it does not really reflect very well on the collaborative and careful way in which the committee and its wonderful staff have undertaken research and field trips, and on the way we have conducted the hearings,” he said.
“This is our third report, and each time we see a majority report and a handful of dissents, additional comments or minority reports, because unfortunately the issues have become very politicised.”