Qld report slams Networking the Nation maze

Qld report slams Networking the Nation maze

A Queensland report skewering the $500 million Networking the Nation scheme highlights the continued absence of a promised national audit of the project.

The in-house report laments that NTN's opportunity to create a national broadband telecommunications network "has been lost in a maze of dislocated grants".

Assessing the results of NTN funding in Queensland, the report found:

* Many grants have been driven by partisan political considerations rather than objective assessments of the programs being funded.

* Individuals and community groups, though well-meaning, lacked the skills and experience to implement many of the programs properly.

* Some projects appear stalled with grant money approved as long as two years ago still unspent.

The time lag suggests "either the project sponsors were poorly prepared, or have experienced difficulty in putting in place the systems and procedures required for the grants to be turned into cash payments.

"It may also reflect on the quality of the procedures required before such expenditure becomes a reality.

"This should not be surprising, given that the grants result from a process with significant political overtones combined with an assessment approach that is strongly Canberra-centric."

Although the Federal Government set aside $750,000 in 1998-99 to fund its own audit, nothing has yet been released. The contract was won by Canberra town planning consultancy Purdon Associates, which has not returned calls enquiring about the report.

Communications consultant Dick Rowe, who helped prepare the Queensland report, said release of the national audit was originally promised last June.

In recent months, Labor's Shadow Minister for Communications Stephen Smith tried to pry the audit out of the Government during Senate estimates hearings.

Each time he asked for the audit to be tabled, the Government responded it was yet to be finalised, according to Smith's staff.

The Queensland report was prepared for Innovation and Information Economy Minister Paul Lucas. It examined NTN projects as part of a general assessment of the state's communications infrastructure.

Lucas said he plans "personal and direct" representations to Federal Communications Minister Senator Richard Alston concerning the points raised by the internal report.

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