Senate debates

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Bills

National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 (No. 2); Second Reading

10:16 am

Photo of Stephen ConroyStephen Conroy (Victoria, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I thank the members of the Senate who have contributed to this debate on the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 (No. 2). Let us be clear about the motives of the coalition in reintroducing this private member's bill. It is not to task the Produc­tivity Commission to do a cost-benefit analysis on the NBN by 1 February 2012; it is all about masking the fact that they have now cobbled together over 21 broadband policies, with their latest policy calling for the cross-subsidy to the bush to be abolished and replaced with vouchers, treating people in regional Australia as second-class citizens.

Let me make the government's position very clear. In summing up, I note our speakers have repeatedly demonstrated that there is a uniform, wholesale national price so that all Australians, no matter where they live, can enjoy fast and fairly priced broadband. The Gillard government is delivering world-class broadband infra­structure which will underpin Australia's productivity, prosperity and creativity into the future. There is considerable evidence available on the benefits of the NBN nationally and internationally. The NBN is a reality and work is well advanced across the country and this measure is really all about trying to delay the rollout.

Parliament looked at a cost-benefit analysis and its issues in detail during the debate into the NBN Co. bills and access bills. The opposition wants the Productivity Commission to conduct a cost-benefit analysis, but when you boil it down such a call is just another excuse for delay, another stunt to prevent the rollout of high-speed broadband in this country. The government has already examined the viability of the NBN, including through the 2010 McKinsey-KPMG implementation study, released on 6 May 2010, and the Greenhill Caliburn review of the NBN Co.'s corporate plan, an executive summary of which was released on 14 February 2011. Those opposite are not genuinely interested in what a cost-benefit analysis conducted by the Productivity Commission or any other cost-benefit analysis has to say. It is a purely political stunt designed to cover their lack of a credible broadband policy. I think it was Mr Graeme Samuel, as chairman of the ACCC, who summed up the erroneous claims for a cost-benefit analysis best when in an interview he said the following:

I don’t think there is anyone in the country or in the world that will be able to tell you the benefits flowing from a high-speed broadband network five or 10 years out, let alone 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 years out.

And therefore when people talk about social cost-benefit analyses or cost-benefit analyses, I think that their failure to understand that what we’re talking about here is a visionary project much like the Snowy Mountains Scheme, which I will venture to suggest to you was never the subject of a cost-benefit analysis as has been described, but was the subject of a range of different elements, not the least of which was a vision as to how it might benefit communities in general into the future.

The time frame set out under the amendment requiring the Productivity Commission to prepare a cost-benefit analysis of the NBN proposal by 1 February 2012 is ridiculous and unrealistic. To do a formal cost-benefit analysis of the NBN would take at least 18 months but even then would require many heroic assumptions and would only tell us something that we already know, that Australia needs greater investment in high-speed broadband infrastructure.

NBN Co. is already subject to compre­hensive scrutiny, more so than any publicly listed company and rightfully so given the amount of Commonwealth equity involved in the NBN rollout. NBN Co. is required to appear before the Senate Environment and Communications Com­mittee as part of the Senate estimates process, where a significant number of questions on notice have been received and responded to. But let us be clear: in that forum the opposition continues to cry crocodile tears in claiming they are focused on and care about scrutiny and financial transparency. I say that because the evidence is to the contrary; it completely contradicts their claims. In the most recent Senate estimates hearing for NBN Co.—and, Senator Ludlam, I think you were forced to sit through it—in four hours of testimony, the opposition devoted over 3½ hours to their disgraceful smear campaign on Mr Michael Quigley, the CEO, and no more than 17 minutes to questions on issues to do with the NBN; 17 minutes in four hours.

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