The Federal Government will back down on its promise to privatise the National Broadband Network (NBN) even after its completion, Coalition senators have claimed.
Initially, the Government had planned to split ownership of the NBN equally between the public and private sector. The plan was later changed so NBN Co, which is in charge of the network, would start off as 100 per cent Government owned and eventually sold-off.
The $36 billion fibre network has been tipped to be privatised within five years only after receiving approval from parliament. The NBN is due to be completed in seven years.
South Australian Liberal Senator, Simon Birmingham, has questioned the Government’s commitment to relinquishing control of the NBN to the private sector.
The NBN Companies Bill 2010 introduced to Parliament last year enables the making of regulations to “set limits on private control of NBN Co post-privatisation”.
The legislation, according to Birmingham, will make it harder to sell-off the NBN even under subsequent governments.
In a Senate enquiry report, the Environment and Communications Legislation Committee recommended the NBN Companies Bill to be passed.
“There is a real question whether the government truly believes [the NBN] should become private entity at any stage,” Senator Birmingham said - on behalf of the Coalition - at the Senate hearing today.
“We will pursue… to ensure limitations will be placed on future governments from dealing with this behemoth of an instrumentality that has been created are removed so we have the freedom and flexibility for future governments to do what needs to be done to fix the issue.”
Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher slammed the Government for allegedly hiding its intention to keep the NBN away from privatisation.
She was particularly critical of the process involved in making way for NBN Co’s privatisation. Relevant ministers will have to declare the NBN operations and the finance minister of the day must claim market conditions are suitable before any network sell-off.
“How long is a piece of string? How long is this fibre going to be [before it is] fully operational” Senator Fisher said at the hearing.
“Like I said, written in lemon juice, just iron it, the NBN under this Government is destined to never be sold.
“Why don’t [the Government] just fess up.”
Senator Fisher also lambasted the Government’s suggestion that if the NBN is privatised then it should be subjected to a Productivity Commission review.
The Government has repeatedly rejected calls from the Coalition to put the NBN up for a Productivity review.
“What hypocrisy from the Government when it continues to evade any decent level of scrutiny,” Senator Fisher said.
There have been many concerns raised over the eventual privatisation of the NBN. The Greens are concerned that handing the network over to the commercial sector would just be creating another Telstra.
Telstra has been blamed for the stifling competition in the broadband market by abusing its dominance of the wholesale services market.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) urged the Government to rethink NBN privatisation, arguing a private monopoly would be too politically powerful.
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