Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. I refer the minister to recent comments by Telstra CFO John Stanhope that building the government’s proposed national broadband network could take 13 years, nearly three times as long as the government’s promise. I ask the minister: why did the government mislead the Australian people by claiming its broadband network would be built within five years?
I was actually hoping that the question would be about the costs and the impact of the global financial crisis on the costs, but maybe that will come tomorrow. The situation with the national broadband network tender is that we are currently involved in a live tender process. We have a deadline of 26 November. That is when we will receive the tenders. In the interim, what we are seeing is lots of interest and competition taking place between prospective bidders. This is a healthy sign. On the one hand, we have some bidders making claims about the cost, about the length of time and about how hard or not hard it will be to raise capital and, on the other hand, we have bidders who are saying we must have this regulatory system or that regulatory system. So what we are seeing with the national broadband network—notwithstanding the opposition from those opposite us in the chamber—is that there is enormous interest and enormous competitive interest in bidding for the government’s tender.
We are offering $4.7 billion towards the cost of building this network. We have seen estimates that it will be up to $25 billion. It has now come down to $10 billion to $15 billion. We are seeing wild claims in all directions from potential proponents. Part of this is simply positioning. Part of this is nothing more than the competitive processes which we put in place and which we welcome. So we do not have any difficulty whatsoever with the public commentary. We welcome it, because it shows the robust process that Labor put in place—as opposed to the process put in place by those opposite.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. We have listened for three minutes in an endeavour to get an answer from Senator Conroy. The question was really very simple: does he stand by the five-year time frame he promised or doesn’t he?
Thank you. Those opposite fully understand that this is a live process. They choose to buy into the debate in this way, where they seek to try and make cheap political points to cover for the fact that they do not have a policy in this area. The national broadband network tender document is very simple; it is very clear. It is available on the website if those opposite would like to have a look. It makes it clear that that is the government’s timetable.
This is a bidding process. When proponents are campaigning to win the government’s tender process, which is what is happening at the moment, they are going to make a whole variety of claims. If those opposite want to buy into the debate and try and push one line or another, they are being the broadband vandals that they were when they had 18 failed broadband plans. In 11½ years those opposite had 18 failed broadband plans. They set up a process where they had no serious guidelines whatsoever, and they want to come into the chamber today and start to make cheap political points.
The tender document is live. Those opposite should well understand that we are not going to be drawn into a public commentary on matters that will be subject to ongoing negotiations as part of the national broadband network process. These will be matters of ongoing negotiations. Those proponents who want to campaign publicly, as I said— (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How can the minister guarantee any competitive rigour in this national broadband network tender process if Telstra itself does not lodge a bid, which Telstra CEO Sol Trujillo has said is a real possibility?
I thank Senator Minchin for his question again. The positioning that is taking place is not a surprise to anyone in this sector. This is a sector where, on the one hand, one potential bidder says, ‘If we don’t get this regulatory guarantee right now, we’re not going to put in a bid.’ On the other hand, one of the other potential bidders will say, ‘If you have that regulatory system we will not bid either.’ What we have here—as those opposite well know—
Thank you, Mr President. Those opposite are well aware of the tactics in this sector, where there is a robust public commentary, a robust debate and robust claims. We will not be drawn into responding to each and every individual claim. As I have mentioned, Telstra said originally that it was going to $25 billion. Now they say it is only going to cost $10 billion to $15 billion— (Time expired)