Thursday, 18 November 2010
Suspension of Standing Orders
I seek leave to move a motion relating to the government’s refusal to provide certain documents related to the NBN, as circulated in the chamber.
Leave not granted.
Given the government’s refusal to give leave to deal with the issue of the government’s refusal to provide certain documents related to the NBN, and pursuant to contingent notice, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion relating to the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide for the consideration of a motion about the government’s refusal to provide certain documents related to the NBN, as circulated in the chamber.
The government’s ongoing refusal to produce the documents that we have been seeking, namely the National Broadband Network business plan and the government’s response to the McKinsey & Company and KPMG implementation plan, is a matter of grave national concern. It is a matter of grave national importance. What we are talking about is a $43,000 million infrastructure project which still to date does not have a publicly released business plan or an implementation plan. Indeed, Senators Ludlam and Birmingham have moved a motion, which was carried in this place, requiring the production of those documents. The minister is currently in contempt of the Senate by not producing those documents. What it shows is a minister that is highly, highly arrogant or a minister that has got a lot to hide. What this government is saying to us is: ‘We will release the documents but after the parliament has risen.’ That is not good enough. That is not the sort of transparency and openness that we were promised by the Labor Party—and, might I add, by the Labor Party and the Greens, when they came together in their alliance.
Senator Ludlam and Senator Xenophon have both put the government on notice in relation to its ongoing refusal to produce these documents. I welcome their comments in that regard, that the rubber has now hit the road. These senators, the crossbench senators, now have the opportunity to show that they were not just making idle threats for a media headline but that they actually mean business with this government and they will not allow further consideration of NBN matters until these documents are produced.
We are being asked to support legislation, which I have in this folder, relating to the NBN, and we are being asked to vote on matters in relation to the NBN without the business plan and without the implementation plan. Without that documentation before us, how on earth can we make a due, proper and considered decision in relation to that particular piece of legislation? What is worse, the minister is going to insult us this afternoon, if this motion is not passed, with a ministerial statement about the NBN—which will undoubtedly tell us that we are all dear things and that we do not need the information to vote in relation to this legislation and that we can all go home for a Christmas break without being informed of this vital information.
The government parades the NBN as its big nation-building program. What has it got to hide? I say to the government: if it is such a good program, release the business plan. It is only 400 pages. We know what this government will do. When it had to deal with Fuelwatch it could get public servants to work 37 hours straight. What has the government done with the public servants in relation to this business plan? It is a clear go-slow approach. There is no extra work done on this. It is deliberately designed to hide from the parliament and from parliamentary scrutiny this very, very important information.
We on this side of the chamber say that we as a Senate should no longer consider any further matters related to the NBN until these fundamental documents are provided to us. These are the underpinning documents. These are the foundational documents. These are the documents that we actually need. We need to rely on these documents to be able to consider the legislation and whatever other matters might be put before us in the future in relation to this $43,000 million project. Surely the Australian people should not be treated with this sort of contempt—but they are. We in this Senate are empowered by the Australian people through the Constitution and our standing orders to make the government provide these documents or no longer consider the minister’s ministerial statement that he wants to give this afternoon. This is an opportunity for the Senate, and especially the crossbenchers, to show that they are serious on this, and I invite them to join us in support of this motion.
The motion that Senator Abetz sought to move is quite extraordinary in that it seeks to place a gag on the minister in relation to the NBN, specifically to prevent the minister from making a statement on this matter to the Senate later in the day. We may part company with the government on not presenting the documents that are referred to in this motion, but to invite us to join the opposition in a gag on the minister while giving the opposition free rein to debate this topic—to present it to the Senate and move any motion it wishes to on the matter—is to take it too far.
This is a democratic house. There are measures in this motion which can at least take on a minister who serially refuses to produce information. But it is not unlike Senator Abetz to produce a motion that goes a long way further than that. This motion seeks to silence a minister and stop him providing information to the parliament. This is what Senator Abetz rightly describes as an extraordinarily big project in any terms—$43 billion of expenditure. Can I can tell Senator Abetz that this is a very popular project and Australians want to see it implemented, and that includes the Australian Greens.
Senator Ludlam will no doubt be making a contribution to the chamber on the substantive matter of the NBN if this debate continues, but we will not be supporting a gag on a minister on a topic as big as this. It becomes self-defeating, doesn’t it? The opposition want information relating to a report but says, ‘Because we can’t have that, we are going to blockade the minister from giving us information on any other matters.’
The Franklin blockade was successful; I am not sure that the Abetz blockade will be—but we will see. That is a matter for a forthcoming debate. Under section 3 of the motion that Senator Abetz was refused leave to move, there are some matters that can be looked at. But section 4 of that motion is effectively a prohibition on any other information except the sought reports being given to the Senate, and I do not want to extend support to that. I am in favour of all information that we can get being put before the Senate, but I think it is a careless motion. It is poorly framed and it seeks to go way beyond what a progression of measures in this parliament might more cleverly, sensibly and with greater prudence and probity achieve.
This is effectively a suspension order. This is the opportunity where they should argue the urgency in the program. What we have heard from Senator Abetz is perhaps the reasons he wants the particular information, but this is an opportunity for the opposition to lay out the reason that information is needed now and why the motion needs to be pursued now. Senator Abetz has not made that case. Senator Abetz has gone to the substantive matter. He is entitled to do that, but in doing that he has failed to present substantive reasons for this motion to be given urgent consideration.
This motion would upend the Senate procedures for today and take precedence over all other matters. We have a legislative program that the government wants to pursue today and in the next sitting week. It is completely outrageous for the opposition to use this device to upend the Senate and allow this motion to be proceeded with. There are a range of devices and opportunities, including general business this afternoon, that the opposition can use to have these debates and then to argue their case. It is completely inappropriate to use this mechanism in the way it is being used this morning. On that ground, it fails. On that ground, it should not be supported by the Senate. We are being captured by the opposition for their own political purpose—and without notice, may I say—on the basis that they are disappointed with a particular minister about some information.
What the opposition are then doing, as I think Senator Brown highlighted quite neatly, is taking the next outrageous step by utilising a device which is quite preposterous and which in my view will not serve their purposes in any event—that is, pursuing the production of a document by Senator Conroy. Although it is their right to pursue that document through an order for its production, what the opposition are doing next, and this is completely outrageous, is linking their motion to suspend standing orders to a bill designed to promote competition within an industry—the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010and thereby making that bill unavailable for debate. So the opposition are effectively denying the promotion of competition within the telecommunications industry by the use of a device for the suspension of standing orders.
In addition, the opposition has taken a step, which may have a precedent but looks unprecedented to me and certainly has not been used for a very long time, to co-opt additional time after question time for its own purpose—that is, to complain. It has also indicated that it will not consider any further documents on the NBN produced by the Minister for Broadband, Telecommunications and the Digital Economy other than the particular document in which it is interested. In total, the opposition has gone way too far in trying to dictate its views to the Senate. The motion does not simply relate to the production of certain documents; it will also mean that legislation will not be dealt with, that the minister will have to provide an explanation at the end of question time each day and that the minister shall not be heard in relation to any other documents. The opposition is trying to link all those things together in order to encourage the production of one particular document. I will go briefly to the substantive matter, which is the document itself. The government has said that it will make the business plan public and that that will happen shortly, in December. It will be made available when the legislation comes up for debate.
I support the motion to suspend standing orders in order that the substance of the motion may be debated. If there is new information and it is of importance there ought to be a suspension of standing orders. The motion that Senator Bob Brown put to suspend standing orders so that the Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010 could be dealt with was an important motion that ought to have be debated by this parliament, and it was unfortunate that the opposition did not see fit to support it. Notwithstanding that, I indicated to Senator Brown my opposition to the whole concept of voluntary euthanasia. So my criteria for supporting motions to suspend standing orders is that there must be new information of sufficient importance to require debate on the substance of the motion.
I think that when you consider the importance of Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010, you consider the importance of the National Broadband Network and you consider that a business plan has been provided but not yet released then these are legitimate issues for public debate. I will say more about this in the context of the substantive motion if standing orders are suspended. I am yet to be convinced that this motion ought to be passed on the merits of the substance of the motion, but I think the coalition are well within their rights to call for debate on a motion such as this. I point out, since Senator Joyce is in the chamber, that in relation to Senator Nash’s bill, the Social Security Amendment (Income Support for Regional Students) Bill 2010, I could not support a suspension of standing orders for a number of reasons, one of which is that nothing new had been done on the bill between March and November. It had not gone through a committee process as bills normally do so that bills are appropriately scrutinised for the information of the Senate. But I see this is quite different. There is a lack of information and that is a concern for the opposition. Also, matters relating to Telstra are being debated this week and next week. So it is quite legitimate, I believe, to suspend standing orders so that the substance of this motion can be debated.
I rise to support the motion to suspend standing orders. I have listened very carefully to the contributions before mine, particularly that of Senator Ludwig. He claimed that a case for the suspension of standing orders has not been made. I will try to make the case as clearly and simply as possible for Senator Ludwig, because there is a very clear case for the suspension of standing orders. If Senator Ludwig will turn his attention to today’s order of business, at item 8 under government business orders of the day No. 1 he will see the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010.
The government is expecting this chamber to debate that legislation, which is relevant to the National Broadband Network, today. Yesterday, this chamber passed a motion asking for provision of the National Broadband Network business plan and the government’s response to the KPMG-McKinsey implementation study. Senators set out their needs so that we can have the debate that the government wants us to have today, but the government has thumbed its nose at this chamber and at the Australian people by saying that it is not going to provide the documents that senators should be able to consider in order to make an informed contribution to this debate.
The only way that the opposition can ensure that somehow we do put pressure on the government to get access to these documents before we have a debate on this legislation is by going down the path of a suspension of standing orders so that we can debate the motion that the government refused us leave to vote on beforehand. So it is very clear for Senator Ludwig: it is the government’s legislative program that has forced the opposition to act in this way—to bring about the suspension of standing orders in order that we can have this debate—so that we can try as a Senate to force the government to give us the documentation necessary to have an informed debate on the $43 billion National Broadband Network.
I also listened to Senator Xenophon’s contribution. He linked the opposition’s stance earlier this morning on the voluntary euthanasia legislation to our stance now. I respond to Senator Xenophon by saying that there is a difference in the sense that we are being asked by the government to consider legislation today related to the NBN; whereas the Restoring Territory Rights (Voluntary Euthanasia Legislation) Bill 2010 was brought on without notice to other senators of this important topic. Frankly, as somebody who is quite likely to vote for that bill when it ultimately comes to a vote, I think that all senators deserve some decent notice to make a decent and considered contribution to that debate. It was quite reckless to attempt to bring it on in the manner that the government, the Greens and Senator Xenophon sought to do so this morning. It is responsible to delay consideration of that, to give senators notice, to make sure that we all make an informed and considered contribution to that issue.
It is also important for us to make an informed and considered contribution to the issue of the National Broadband Network and to government business of legislation No. 1 for today. That is why we need this business plan; that is why we need to see the government’s response to the KPMG implementation study. It is a very simple argument. Indeed, the government has already almost laid it out itself. It says it has the business plan and will release the business plan. But it will not release it until after the Senate has risen—until after we have been forced to debate and vote on critical legislation.
It is time for this Senate to make a stand. This motion for the suspension of standing orders gives us the chance to do that. The subsequent debate, if allowed, on the substantive motion gives us the chance to make a stand and to say that there are consequences when the government defies the order of the Senate. Those consequences must be enforced by this Senate, must be enforced on a minister like Senator Conroy, who is showing contempt for the Senate and is showing contempt for the 22 million Australian people whom he has enlisted as compulsory shareholders in his $43 billion experiment. It is time the government was open, transparent, did the types of things the OECD was calling for in its report released earlier this year, took a prudent, transparent and robust approach rather than asking this Senate to make decisions while being kept in the dark.
We have seen this from the Labor Party before. We saw with the Henry tax review the way that Labor put things off into the never-never, to try to pull the wool over people’s eyes. We saw it with the guide to the Murray-Darling Basin, and now we are seeing it with the NBN. They will not release the details; they will not be honest with the Australian people. It was absolutely remarkable in the extreme that this morning on national television the minister responsible stood and said that in the legislation that is before the Senate the NBN is not mentioned. From what we can ascertain, it was mentioned 64 times.
It is remarkable that we have not got, even in the most basic form, an understanding of the detail of their legislation and that they are basically trying to do a snow job on the Australian people. I can see by the whites of their eyes as it becomes evident to the crossbenchers, and even to the Greens, that there is something amiss—that there is something not quite right in the state of Denmark on this. There are major questions that need to be answered because we are not in a position as a nation to go out on a $43 billion frolic and leave the Australian taxpayers with the bill. We cannot afford to go back to them and say, ‘Sorry, on top of your $170 billion of gross debt we’re going to bang on another $30 billion of debt and we’re just going to ask you to pay it.’
There are too many people who work at checkouts who will have to work long into the night to pay the tax to pay for this mistake. There are too many people who will work in the sun to pay for the tax to pay for this mistake. There are too many people who will stay back in offices late into the night to pay for the tax to pay for this mistake. They have a right to expect us—and we have a duty—to do everything in our power to ventilate what will be the largest infrastructure expenditure program in our nation’s history. If we do not do that then we are being irresponsible.
It is up to the Labor Party to put forward a cogent argument as to why it does not send the NBN to the Productivity Commission. It is up to the Labor Party to put forward a cogent argument as to why it will not table the business plan. It is up to the Labor Party to show that it actually understands what it is talking about when it talks of its own legislation. It seems absolutely apparent that even on the most basic of detail it is lacking. It is up to the Labor Party to explain to us what it means with section 577BA of the current bill that is before the House. It is not so much an application to increase competition; it is an application to remove it from competition. It is an application for an exemption from, I think, section 51 of the Trade Practices Act. These are the sorts of issues that need to be ventilated.
Government senators interjecting—
You know full well that the Australian people are awake to you and that you do not know the details. You are taking us on a frolic. It is not you who are going to have to pay back the money; you are going to force this on the Australian people—that they must repay it. You cannot even coordinate the discussions between your minister in the other place and your minister here. They both have completely different views about how the legislation before the House relates to the NBN. It is good to see Senator Conroy joining us today. He told us this morning that they have no relationship, but that is not what Minister Albanese said. This mass confusion, which is the Labor Party, is unfortunately the reason that they are actually in government. This is the reason that they are here—because they sold the pup that the NBN was a great idea.
Now when the time comes to stand behind their decision, for honesty and transparency, to have it examined by an independent party, they are doing everything in their power to try to remove that opportunity. They will not stand the test of transparency. They want to live in the shadows of this mischievous half-light where they say to us, as they always do, ‘In many moons time, we will tell you the truth.’ Well, the time to tell the truth is now.
I need to take the Senate back to the point here, which is the suspension of standing orders. As Senator Ludwig pointed out earlier, there has still been no case made out. Senator Birmingham takes us to the Notice Paper and to the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010, the CCS bill, and he seeks to make a very spurious link, as did Senator Joyce. But the point is that the bill on the Notice Paper, the CCS bill, is a stand-alone piece of legislation, mostly relating to Telstra, which does not go to the role of NBN Co. and its commercial structure.
For Senator Birmingham, let me repeat that again: it does not go to the role of NBN Co. and its commercial structure. The NBN legislation dealing with these matters will be introduced next week for consideration next year, well after the business case has been released. This is simply mischievous behaviour by the opposition, which has no plan or agenda of its own. The link between the CCS bill and the NBN business case is spurious. The Telstra deal is envisaged in the CCS bill, but only as part of the structural separation of Telstra rather than an approval of the NBN Co. arrangements. This link is spurious.
Let me make one further point about the CCS bill because it seems as if, given this behaviour, we will not get there today. The opposition, through their mischievous behaviour, is avoiding dealing with this bill, and perhaps that is quite the agenda here. This is not a case to suspend standing orders; this is the opposition seeking to avoid coming to the party on the competition measures that they should be supporting. Those opposite must support the CCS bill, this legislation, if they are serious about improving competition in the telecommunications market and delivering better services for their constituents. But instead it appears that they will continue to deny, through measures such as this—a device through which they have made no case for urgency—a fairer deal for millions of Australians.
That is what this spurious motion to suspend standing orders is about. I have not heard one member of the opposition make a case for urgency. In this motion they have sought to make a spurious link to a different bill about introducing competition into this sector to ensure the achievement of a fairer deal for Australians utilising the telecommunications market. The link is spurious. This is simply mischievous behaviour by the opposition, which has no agenda of their own other than mischief and blocking the government from introducing a fairer deal.
That the motion (Senator Abetz’s) be agreed to.
That the motion circulated in the chamber may be moved immediately and have precedence over all other business today until determined.
Question agreed to.
That the Senate:
- Notes the government’s refusal to produce the following documents relating to the National Broadband Network:
- the National Broadband Network Business plan; and
- the Government’s response to the McKinsey and Company and KPMG Implementation plan.
- Resolves that consideration of any bill relating to the National Broadband Network, including the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards Bill) 2010, be postponed and made an order of the day for the next day of sitting after the documents described in paragraphs (1)(a) and (b) are laid on the table.
- Resolves that, until the documents described in paragraphs (1)(a) and (b) are laid on the table:
- a senator may, at the conclusion of question time on each and any day, ask the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy for an explanation of why the order of 17 November 2010 requiring the production of the documents has not been complied with; and
- the senator may, at the conclusion of the explanation, move without notice—That the Senate take note of the explanation; or
- in the event that the minister does not provide an explanation, the senator may, without notice, move a motion in relation to the minister’s failure to provide either an answer or an explanation.
- Resolves that, until the documents described in paragraphs (1)(a) and (b) are laid on the table, the Senate shall not:
- receive any statement related to the NBN by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, or by any other minister, except in answer to questions asked of the minister at question time; or
- consider any other business related to the NBN proposed by any minister.
- Further resolves that, until the documents described in paragraphs (1)(a) and (b) are laid on the table, so much of the standing orders which provide for ministers to present documents be suspended, so that a minister may not present any other document related to the NBN, except by leave of the Senate.
The Senate has been treated with unparalleled contempt by Senator Conroy and the Labor-Green alliance in not allowing this documentation which we are seeking from being brought to our attention. What we are seeking with this motion is the National Broadband Network business plan and the government’s response to the McKinsey and Co. and KPMG implementation plan. If that is not provided to the Senate, as required by a motion from Senator Ludlam and Senator Birmingham, we as a Senate should be saying that we do not want to hear any further about the NBN until those foundation documents are provided to us.
On 7 September 2010 the Prime Minister said this:
So, let’s draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in; let our parliament be more open than it ever was before.
We will be held to higher standards of transparency and reform, and it’s in that spirit that I approach the task of forming a government.
Those words can come true today if Labor’s alliance partners, the Greens, support this particular motion.
The Labor Party, of course, have form on this; they are serial offenders. The Gillard government failed to release the key documentation and economic and financial modelling underpinning the recommendations of the Henry tax review. This government refuses to release the proceedings of its climate change committee. This government fails to be upfront about its plans to expand or open several onshore detention centres. This is a government that did a mining tax backdown followed by secret negotiations. This is a government that has failed to be upfront about its plans to introduce a carbon tax, despite an election promise not to introduce a carbon tax. This is a government that has refused to reveal the results of its home insulation safety checks. And now on top of all of that we have a government not prepared to release these foundational documents in relation to the NBN.
In relation to their motion to suspend standing orders, we had the hapless Senator Collins tell us that this legislation, which might not be allowed to be debated if this motion gets through, has nothing to do with the NBN. Well, as Senator Joyce pointed out, the bill in fact refers to the NBN 62 times. But what would have been even more instructive for Senator Collins and the even more hapless minister in charge would have been to read the second reading speech of Mr Albanese in the House of Representatives on 20 October. The very second paragraph of that second reading speech says:
The National Broadband Network will fundamentally transform the competitive dynamics of the communications sector in this country. NBN Co. is a wholesale only telecommunications provider with open access arrangements. The new network represents a nationally significant and long overdue micro-economic reform.
On that basis, why should Australian citizens all and, in particular, this representative chamber of the Australian people not be entitled to see the business plan which, if we are to adopt Mr Albanese’s language, is to ‘fundamentally transform the competitive dynamics’, something which is so ‘nationally significant’ and ‘long overdue’? Why are they not releasing these documents? We know they have got the documents, we know they have read the documents, we know they are going to release the documents, but they will only release them after the parliament has risen and after they have demanded that we vote on this legislation. What have they got to hide—or is this just hubris gone mad under this minister and this Prime Minister knowing, I suspect, that they have got the support of the Australian Greens? And that would be a matter of grave concern.
Senator Ludlum said the government’s refusal was a matter of grave concern and they might take this further in the Senate and my good friend Senator Xenophon said something similar. I simply say to those on the crossbench that the time for action is now. You can be the circuit breakers to require this documentation to be provided. Otherwise, you will allow the minister to come in here after question time and humiliate this place with his ministerial speech knowing that he is in contempt of the Senate. A motion was moved by an Australian Green, ably supported by a coalition senator, requiring the government to produce the documents. The minister is in contempt of that motion. We say that if that motion were to mean anything, if this Senate were to uphold that which it has voted on, it has to say to this arrogant minister and the arrogant government: ‘Enough is enough. We will not hear further from you until this documentation, which can so readily be made available, is provided to this chamber.’
Instead, if the numbers are not here in this place on this motion, we will have the arrogant minister coming in here making a ministerial speech without having the foundation and fundamental documents before us. That would be insulting to every individual senator in this place, especially those that have not been lobotomised. I can understand that Labor senators would not mind not having the document placed before them, but I would have thought that every other self-respecting senator in this place would need to have this fundamental documentation placed before them. Indeed, the legislation which we are saying should be held up until such time as this document is provided refers to the National Broadband Network 62 times. The minister in the other place, Minister Albanese, opened his second reading speech talking about the fundamental importance and national significance of the National Broadband Network and how everything would change under this legislation. But we still do not have the business plan, we still do not have the implementation plan, so how can we know that it is going to be so nationally significant? Unless, of course, the national significance is that the Australian people will be burdened with a $43,000 million debt for a white elephant—something which the Australian people are not to be told about until after the parliament rises.
I heard Senator Xenophon say to us that new information should be provided. Well, can I suggest to my good friend that new information is available and it is this: the reports are available and they will be released but not for us to consider before the legislation. If that is acceptable to the Independents and the crossbenchers then so be it but can I say with great respect that I fundamentally disagree. It would be a dereliction of our fundamental duty to the Australian people to vote on the legislation that is currently on the Notice Paper without having those foundation documents. To say to the Australian people that we are willing to go down the National Broadband Network road and start passing legislation for it to occur, without knowing that vital information, would be a fundamental dereliction of our duty. We as a coalition will not stand idly by.
Senator Brown told us that the NBN is highly popular. I say to Senator Brown and the Greens: be very careful. President Obama had a wonderful health program on which he won an election in 2008. But once people saw the actual plan unravel, when they saw the details of that health concept, the Democrats in the United States got a hiding like history has not seen for a long, long time. The same is starting to happen with the National Broadband Network. At the 2010 election it was highly popular as a concept, but now that people are starting to see what it actually means, they are starting to have doubts.
Senator Conroy foolishly interjects and says that people are signing up fast. A huge 11 per cent uptake in Tasmania, where it is being given away for nothing—11 per cent only! So you cannot even give it away to 89 per cent. That is how good it is! I say to this chamber: let us have a look at the business plan. Why is it that 89 per cent of Tasmanians who are being offered this for free are not joining up?
I have indeed. Senator Polley also foolishly interjects and says to go to Scottsdale. I have spoken to many Tasmanians who are, in fact, only signing up for the 25, not the 100, because there is no need for it in their consideration.
Of course, that is why the sign-up rate is so low. But I will not continue to answer the foolish interjections of the Labor Party, because they are designed to distract from the fundamental proposition that is before this chamber.
The fundamental proposition is this: that this information is readily available. There is no excuse for not tabling it right now in this chamber. There is no excuse for why it cannot be provided to this chamber other than the gross cynicism of this government and the gross cynicism of this minister in only delivering it after the parliament has risen so that we cannot analyse it and we cannot look through it to see how it matches up with this considerable piece of legislation.
Of course, this morning Senator Joyce did an absolute demolition derby on the minister. In the media the minister tried to say that this legislation did not refer to the NBN. Of course it does—62 times. Minister Albanese refers to the NBN already in the second paragraph of his second reading speech. But the minister who is actually responsible does not even know what is in his own legislation, what his colleague in the other place has said and the consequences of that. The government has claimed, along with the Green alliance and Messrs Windsor and Oakeshott, that this would be a transparent government and that we are now in a new paradigm. I will tell you what is new about this paradigm: that no other government in the history of Australia has treated the Senate with such gross and blatant contempt in withholding information about a $43,000 million infrastructure project.
To think that it has got this far without a business plan and without an implementation plan is spooky enough in itself. But—
A Labor senator tells us there is an implementation plan, but only Labor senators are allowed to see it. The coalition are not entitled to see it. If it is available, Senator Lundy, table it now. Go to Senator Conroy and tell him to table it. Make it available so we can digest it over the weekend and we may well then be in a position to genuinely consider the legislation that Labor wants us to debate as the first item of government business today.
This is a matter of fundamental principle of this chamber, and might I add that it is a fundamental matter of principle for our friends in the Australian Greens and Family First and for Senator Xenophon. If they allow this government to get away with this gross act of arrogance, they will do it to them again and again and again. I might say that it is good to see that Senator Lundy has moved across to Senator Conroy. I hope she is asking the minister to table the documentation as I requested of her.
This is now the acid test for the Australian Greens in the Labor-Green alliance: whether their media statements and all their joining in with Senator Birmingham in asking for these reports were just media posturing so that they can say, ‘Look how we are pushing this government.’ They have come some of the way, but today is their time for reckoning. Are they actually going to live up to all their hyperbole and rhetoric or, when they come to the first hurdle of actually saying, ‘This Senate should not be treated with contempt,’ will they say, ‘Oh, well, we are in alliance with Labor; yeah, we had better let them get away with it’? Because once you let them get away with it once, they will know that the Greens have become Labor’s doormat. They will know that whatever they want to hide they can hide with the concurrence of the Australian Greens, despite the hyperbole and despite all the rhetoric to which we have been subjected.
Make no mistake: if this is such a vitally important piece of infrastructure, as we have been told, and we are being asked to consider legislation that will deal with the implementation of the NBN and its relationship with Telstra, surely we are entitled to the business plan and to the implementation plan. It is only a 400-page document.
You are quite right, Madam Acting Deputy President. But it is nearly sad to see such an accident-prone and hapless minister foolishly interject when I rely on that which the Prime Minister deigned to put into the public domain—that it was a 400-page document—and tell me that I do not know what I am talking about. In that case, having adopted the Prime Minister’s language, it follows that she herself does not know what she is talking about. Do you know what? On this occasion, I fear the minister may well be correct.
So I withdraw the statement that it is a 400-page document, and we will wait and see how long the document is. If it is not 400 pages then possibly the minister can actually tell us how many pages it is and—
It is now 400! I think the Prime Minister has been on the phone to him saying, ‘You had better correct that.’ So the record is now corrected, yet again, and it is a 400-page document. A 400-page document which has been in the possession of the government now for days on end could surely have been read, considered, digested and provided to this place.
What the government need to tell Senator Xenophon, the Greens and Senator Fielding is this: what is the importance of delaying the release of these documents by what I fear will be only seven days? Why can’t it be released whilst the parliament is still sitting? They said they are going to release it, but why can’t they release those documents now or early next week? What is the work that needs to be done that cannot be done over the next few days? That is the threshold question to which we have not been given an answer and, until we have been given a cogent answer as to the reason why it cannot be tabled late in November but can be tabled early in December, we should demand that no further consideration of this legislation be had until we have that documentation.
We would be derelict in our duty if we were to allow this legislation that is before us to pass and to be subjected to an insulting ministerial statement this afternoon without knowing what the documentation reveals. It is documentation that clearly has been revealed to Labor senators such as Senator Lundy but not to the coalition or to the crossbenchers. It is contemptuous of this place. The minister stands in breach and in contempt of orders of this Senate. The time has come for the Senate to stand up. The time has come to see whether or not the Greens, Senator Xenophon and Senator Fielding are willing to match their rhetoric with real action and, to borrow a term, direct action or whether it will simply be the rhetoric and the Labor-Greens alliance protecting the minister. (Time expired)
Unfortunately Senator Abetz’s content expired at least 10 minutes ago. It was quite sad to see that there is this incredibly important motion that Senator Abetz wants to promote here today, and he had to give his speech twice because he actually ran out of any serious content whatsoever. He ran out of content and just filibustered for the last 10 minutes, and I invite anybody listening to go back and check the Hansard to see how repetitive Senator Abetz was forced to be to fill out his 20 minutes. It was such a sad and pathetic performance. It is like groundhog day today, because this is exactly the same obstructionism, exactly the same performance, by those opposite to delay and ensure that Australians do not get access to cheap and affordable broadband. I look forward, Senator Humphries, to seeing how you vote on this, what you have to say on it and, more importantly, what you are going to say to the people of Gungahlin if this motion is successful, because you will be stopping them getting cheap and, for the first time, affordable and decent broadband. The residents of Gungahlin are listed to be, as you well know, the long-suffering residents of Gungahlin, because this motion will ensure that Telstra shareholders cannot vote without the certainty of this bill passing.
This is not the first time we have had to debate this exact content. We were told, ‘You can’t debate any bills to do with the National Broadband Network unless you give us the expert panel report.’ Then it was, ‘You can’t debate any bills unless you give us the ACCC report.’ Then it was, ‘You cannot debate the content of the bill unless you give us the McKinsey report’—and on and on and on. In recent days, and in the other chamber, we were told, ‘We will not get behind this unless there is a cost-benefit analysis done.’ How many times can you run the same line, pretending you actually support better broadband, saying, ‘We support better broadband; we are just not going to support actually allowing the bills needed to pass.’ Australian consumers—
Go and explain that to the people in Gungahlin, Senator Humphries—the people in Gungahlin who you are denying broadband to. They have been crying out for it, as you well know. And now we are here today being asked: ‘Show us the business case. What have you got to hide?’
Let us be clear: you ran all of these lines about McKinsey. You said to me, ‘What have you got to hide about McKinsey?’ Then there were stories about, ‘Oh, he sent it back. He’s told them to rewrite it. He spent an extra $2 million to get them to write the report that he wants’—all of it completely false, just like—
Oh, Senator Abetz let the cat out of the bag! What has he got to hide? What is wrong with the business case? Just as with McKinsey’s report, you are going to be left with egg on your faces, because the business case verifies, confirms and reinforces the McKinsey case study, which said that the NBN is financially viable and delivers cheap and affordable broadband to all Australians. That is what the business case says. It is a 400-page document, and Senator Abetz wants to carry on, saying, ‘Oh, Senator Conroy is claiming it is not.’ What I was laughing about was his use of the word ‘only’, because only a fool could try and suggest that a business case for a $43 billion cost envelope is an ‘only’ document. This is a substantive document. I have already had a three-hour briefing on it, and I am getting a four-hour briefing on it again tomorrow, because it is a substantive document that deserves substantive consideration. Then, funnily enough, the cabinet would like to be briefed on it as well. So it is not only 400 pages; this is a substantive document. It is 400 pages of complex, important information that needs to be properly considered. It is not unreasonable of the government to say that the cabinet of Australia would like to consider it before we release it.
I accept your admonishment; I am being provoked and responding as I should not. You are correct; I should be ignoring the fools opposite. But, in my own defence, they are being very provocative.
Let us be very clear about this. The government’s National Broadband Network is not just being delivered on the ground in Tasmania; it is being delivered on the ground around Australia right now today. We have live customers in Tasmania.
I note, Senator Lundy, that Mr Abbott was recently in Tasmania. You know what he told the Tasmanian Liberal Party conference? ‘We will be leaving the NBN in place in Tasmania.’ We know Mr Abbott is not a tech-head. We discovered that during the election campaign. Unfortunately, what he is again not quite telling the Tasmanian people is that when you close down the rest of the network on mainland Australia the Tasmanian NBN has to plug into it. The whole principle of the pricing—the reason Tasmanians are now getting the cheapest broadband they have ever got—is based on a national cross-subsidy. We are unashamed about this. Let us be very clear about this. If Australia Post can have a 45c stamp across Australia and if an ATM from all of the banks can have a uniform price to deliver ATM services across Australia, the NBN Co. can deliver a national uniform wholesale price. And that is exactly what we are going to do.
So when you promise the people of Tasmania that you are going to leave the Tasmanian NBN in place you need to then say, ‘And we’re going to keep the national cross-subsidy in place to provide you with the fairest and most affordable broadband that this country has seen.’ If you are going to demolish the rest of the National Broadband Network, have the honesty to tell the people in Tasmania who are signed up and using the National Broadband Network that their prices are about to skyrocket. There is no such thing as a Tasmanian national broadband network. It has to be plugged into the mainland network. If it is not plugged into the mainland network, prices will skyrocket. So have the courage, Mr Abbott and Senator Humphries, to tell the people of Gungahlin that, even if we are able to roll it out to them—which we will do—and you get elected, you are going to turn it off and send their prices through the roof. That is your position. Tell the people of Gungahlin that. Go out there and hold a public meeting. Tell them, ‘We’ll let you keep the fibre to your home, but the price of it is going to go through the roof because there is no national cross-subsidy.’
Let us be clear about this. The first release sites on mainland Australia are under construction today—Brunswick, Townsville, Minnamurra, Kiama Downs, Armidale and the rural town of Willunga in South Australia. What has been the interest? I am embarrassed for you, Senator Birmingham. As a South Australian, with some of the worst broadband in the country, what are you going to say to the 84 per cent of Willunga residents who have decided they want access to the National Broadband Network? Are you going to talk out of the side of your mouth? ‘No, no. It’s okay. We’ll leave it in place—but we’re going to close the rest of the national network down.’ Eighty-four per cent have signed the form to say, ‘Attach it to the side of our house.’
Mr Acting Deputy President Trood, I rise on a point of order. Being called fools on this side of the chamber is one thing; for Senator Birmingham to be called a clown, I think, goes beyond proper parliamentary procedure and should be withdrawn.
If that is your ruling, I withdraw the assertion. The fact will remain, but I withdraw the assertion.
As I was saying, what are you going to say to the residents of Willunga? Are you going to talk out of both sides of your mouth as Mr Abbott did in Tasmania? Are you going to say, ‘We’ll leave your fibre connected to your home—but we’re going to turn the network off, so the price that you will pay will skyrocket’?
Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. You cannot withdraw the assertion and then say the fact remains. You have to withdraw the assertion and withdraw the statement completely.
The Acting Deputy President:
Perhaps you would withdraw the assertion without equivocation, Senator Conroy.
I withdraw without equivocation.
As I was saying, you have to be honest with the people of Willunga. Those opposite need to be honest with the people in Armidale. Eighty-seven per cent have signed up to get the National Broadband Network. It is 74 per cent in Kiama Downs and Minnamurra and 62 per cent in Townsville, and we are just in the beginnings of the process in Brunswick. Be honest with them. Tell them that you intend to turn the network off and that their prices are going to go through the roof. Do not pretend to them that they get to keep their network at the same price; tell them the truth. More and more of the second-release sites will start to be built—places like Bacchus Marsh in regional Victoria, South Morang in Melbourne, Brisbane’s inner north, Springfield Lakes, Toowoomba, Riverstone in New South Wales, Coffs Harbour, Modbury, Prospect, Victoria Park, Geraldton, Casuarina and, here in the ACT, Gungahlin. Just tell these people the truth. You are planning on turning off the rest of the network and their prices are going to go through the roof because we only deliver the pricing by using a cross-subsidy unashamedly.
So let us not pretend that the opposition are remotely fair dinkum about their opposition. They are determined to demolish the NBN, they are determined to block the rollout and they are determined to frustrate ordinary Australians’ capacity to access one of the greatest inventions by humankind. Those opposite have every spurious argument under the sun. On the one hand—
Thank you, Senator Bushby—stifling innovation. On the one hand they stand here and say, ‘You can’t create a monopoly; it’s evil to create a wholesale-only monopoly,’ but on the other hand they say, ‘You should not be building this white elephant because wireless is taking over the world.’ If wireless is taking over the world, then the fixed lines cannot be a monopoly. You cannot actually make the argument: wireless is there so we do not need the NBN but this is such a dangerous thing that we are creating an evil monopoly. These are contradictory arguments.
Do not try the Senator Joyce tactic of this morning of trying to pretend that the ACCC are not involved in this deal. They are at the centre of it. They are giving advice on it all along the way. The deal between Telstra and the NBN—the reference that Senator Joyce keeps making—has nothing to do with the substance of the bill. The bill is enacting consumer protections. The deal referred to by Senator Joyce, when he mentions the NBN, is the deal between Telstra and the NBN. Do not try to pretend otherwise, as Senator Joyce was caught trying to do on national television this morning. Senator Joyce was thrown badly this morning.
I have to confess I was playing in the staff versus politicians soccer match this morning. So we can put it on the official record, we defeated the staff 3-1. I think the politicians in the chamber should be very pleased with themselves for dealing with those young whippersnappers. I came straight from that soccer match, but that is separate from the debate and the point Senator Joyce tried to make this morning, which was that we have exempted the NBN from the Trade Practices Act. This is simply untrue. The deal between the NBN and Telstra, which Senator Joyce keeps referring to, has been ensured so that there is certainty.
The ACCC are absolutely at the centre of this deal all along the way. We have taken away all the appeals mechanisms that could frustrate this deal later. To mislead the public, as Senator Joyce did earlier on national television, by saying that the NBN is exempt from the Trade Practices Act is just a falsehood. Senator Joyce should know better. It has not exempted the NBN from the Trade Practices Act. It has exempted a deal between the NBN and Telstra from the appeals mechanisms after the fact. The ACCC are at the centre of this.
The opposition’s claim is just another furphy to try and sink the deal, to try and ensure that the NBN does not get built. The politicians on that side of the chamber are frauds on this issue. They now support the structural separation of Telstra—I understand that is now their official policy. There is no reason at all for them to be delaying this bill. They have spurious arguments about this bill.
The opposition support the separation of Telstra and we welcome that. I know Senator Birmingham has always really believed that, but finally common sense has prevailed. People like Senator Birmingham and Mr Turnbull deserve acknowledgement and credit for having dragged the dinosaurs in the coalition party room into the 21st century. Senator Joyce is almost in a position where he is supporting Labor’s 2007 policy for 12 megabytes. I reckon, if we give Mr Turnbull, the member for Wentworth, another few weeks, the opposition will finally catch up and support Labor’s 2010 policy. Give them a few more weeks. They now have a 12-megabyte policy, which was Labor’s plan in 2007. I reckon in another few weeks they will be up to 2010. Some day they might catch up with the government’s actual rollout and get behind it rather than speaking from both sides of their mouths, as Senator Humphries does in Gungahlin and as Senator Bushby does in Tasmania.
As has been said publicly, the OPEL deal covered less than eight per cent of residents of Australia. The opposition are trying to pretend that it was some panacea.
Your current policy is just three dot points. You dumped your policy—which was at least some pages—during the election and you have adopted a new policy, which is three dot points. We are building the National Broadband Network. We are actually delivering it on the ground in Senator Bushby’s home state and in five other places across Australia.
Has Senator Bushby met anyone who is using it? I have been to Tasmania and met someone who is using the 100 megabytes. Senator Bushby needs to get out more in his home state. I think Senator Bushby needs to understand that the Tasmanian Liberal Party support this. They are 100 per cent behind this.
Thank you, Senator Brown. Even Mr Abbott supports it now in Tasmania. He said, ‘We won’t turn it off.’ He just will not tell them it will cost them three times more.
Someone is rolling someone and it is not me. I think Mr Turnbull is rolling Mr Abbott along quite nicely, thank you.
But let us be clear: the National Broadband Network is being rolled out on the ground in Australia today and, by the end of this year, we will have started rolling out final preparations for the rollout of the next 19 sites. I have just talked about where they are. You are going to have to explain to every single resident in every single one of those places why you are going to give them a wireless network that will not deliver anything like the capacity of the national fibre network. You can go back to playing your games; you can pretend that everybody in metropolitan Australia has got broadband. Even according to your own policy document—and I know this particular part is right because you copied it from ours; it is true; it came straight from McKinsey—1.2 million Australians who live in metropolitan Australia are blocked from broadband completely on copper by pair gains. And then there are RIMs—such as those in Gungahlin—that block hundreds of thousands more Australians. That is just in metropolitan Australia—before you move into the regions, before you move into Tasmania and before you go to regional and rural Australia. The people from towns all around Australia who queue at my door ask me one question and one question only: how quickly can you do my town; can we be first? You should be ashamed of yourselves for this groundhog day performance. I think this is the third or fourth time you have tried to block debate on these— (Time expired)
Senator Conroy’s final point was: how quickly can you do my town? Well, how quickly can he do the country? How quickly can he absolutely make a complete and utter stuff-up of this? This is like groundhog day. It is like the groundhog day we got with the Henry tax review, where they refused to launch the report. It is like the groundhog day with the guide to the basin plan of the Murray -Darling Basin Authority, another report they refused to release. Now we have a further groundhog day. This plan is uncosted and has no acumen behind it. What we are going to get is the same result we got in the ceiling insulation debacle, the same result we got in the Building the Education Revolution program, the same result we got when we sent out $900 cheques aimlessly around the countryside, and the same result we got when they went on their war against obesity. I never knew quite what happened to the fat people after that—whether it was a win, a draw or a loss—but this time it is serious money and it is borrowed money, and it goes on our nation’s credit card. How on earth are we going to pay it back when these people refuse to shine a light, as Ms Gillard said? The government will not table the business plan and they will not send it to the Productivity Commission. They go through the nefarious process where after everybody has gone, in many moons’ time, they will release the business plan.
That is very similar to how they dealt with the Murray-Darling Basin Authority when they locked one group, the fourth estate, in one room and the other group, the politicians, in another. That is how this crowd shines the light. But let us just make sure right at the start that we debunk one thing. Senator Conroy says it is not going to bring about a price increase, and about the only bit of information we can get is from the McKinsey report. The McKinsey report says that there will be a price increase of 450 per cent in real terms. If you take into account inflation, that is still in excess of 60 per cent over the next 50 years. That is in real terms, so let us get it out of our minds that this is somehow going to save us money. This is not going to save us money; this is going to cost us money.
Senator Conroy accused Senator Abetz of running out of content. The problem we have here is that we just do not have any content; we just do not have any information. To be sprung by Conroy, as he is called, is like being hit in the back by a rainbow. It is beyond belief.
The Acting Deputy President:
Senator Conroy or minister.
To be sprung by Senator Conroy is to be hit in the back by a rainbow. In his performance this morning, he was sweating profusely and glowing like a pig because, all of a sudden, it is all coming crashing down around his ears. He does not have an understanding of the most basic terms of his own legislation. He does not have an understanding of whether it involves the term ‘NBN’. ‘No,’ he repeated. ‘No,’ he repeated thrice. ‘No’—it is in here 62 times. Now he is querying the trade practices implications of proposed section 577BA of the Telecommunications Act 1997, so the only way to do this is to actually refer to subsection (7) of that section, where it says that you can do what you may and it will be accepted for the purposes of section 51(1) of the Competition and Consumer Act. It does the same in subsections (8) and (10). What this arrangement does is allow them to walk around—and in some instances, absolutely leave behind—the proper oversights as conducted by what was known as section 51, part (1) of the Trade Practices Act. These are the sorts of technical details that are very important for people in the business community, and we cannot get them because the government will not be up-front and transparent. It is absolutely essential for all the people involved in the business arrangements to know what is going on. It is our job to ventilate those issues, and it cannot be done when we go through the nebulous process where they will not actually deliver and cough up the details. It is a case where they will deliver the study material after the exam. They want us to vote on it and then they will give us the material to study.
As an accountant you have to come up with business plans; people are coming up with ideas all the time. The first things you ask are: ‘How much is it going to cost, what are your cost tolerances and how much do you think it might blow out by?’ You would want to know what it will return and whether it would be safer just to leave your money in the bank. Even in the McKinsey report, it says that this is going to return six per cent. If I were going to go out and find $43 billion, borrowing the majority of it, just on a hunch I would suggest to the person that they had better get a better return than six per cent—
About six per cent, which is the bond rate. Why on earth would you go and invest in something when there is not the return there? You will have to get the return. How are you going to get it? You are going to get the return by jacking up the price of phone calls.
I take the interjection, Senator Ludlam. Remember they are punching this one back out. Even they say they are going to sell it again. For them to sell it, it has to get a commercial return. If it is going to get a commercial return, you are going to be paying far more for your phone calls than what they put down. This is the reality: even they are not saying that they are going to hold on to this. They believe they can punt this product back out. It is all starting to collapse in on itself. It just does not make any sense. Why would you risk so much of our nation’s money; why would you not just borrow it and invest it in the bank? It is just beyond belief that, on the most basic principles, we will be charging down this path. This is the most substantial capital infrastructure project in our nation’s history not by reason of its merit but by reason of what it is going to cost us.
When people say, ‘Compare it to a hospital,’ you cannot. One is there to save people’s lives; the other is there as an alternative product to products that are already available and, what is more, it could be done at a vastly cheaper rate. These are the discrepancies. As an accountant you would ask: what technical capacities do you have to roll this thing out? I think we need in excess of about 25,000 technicians to work on this. We have, I think, about 8,000. Where are these people going to come from? How is this going to work? Is this something that just goes on forever because we do not have the capacity to actually deliver it in a technical form? These are the sorts of things that we need transparency about and that we need to have laid on the table. Why do we not have this information?
As an accountant you would start looking at the track record of the person who is about to go down this path. You would ask the question: what was your role in previous enterprises and how you have gone so that we get a sense of competency and comfort about where you are and that you are not taking yourselves down a blind alley to be quietly strangled? The government’s competencies are clearly betrayed in the ceiling insulation debacle, where we spent $1½ billion putting fluffy stuff in the ceilings for the rats and mice to urinate on and then spent another billion dollars trying to get it back out again whilst 190 houses caught on fire and, unfortunately and tragically, four people lost their lives. Their competencies were reflected in the costs blow-out in the Building the Education Revolution program—for what purpose we do not know. There was no cost control whatsoever. Their competencies are reflected in the $900 cheques. Their competencies are reflected in the fact that we have just had the biggest deficit in our nation’s history. Their competencies are reflected in the fact that we now have the biggest gross debt in our nation’s history. These are the competencies of this client who wants to build this telephone network—broadband network. Bells are ringing in the Australian nation now. We have people turning up from Mexico saying, ‘This is perverse, where are you people off to?’ We have senior telecom illuminati from Japan turning up and saying, ‘We just don’t know where you people are off to.’
All of a sudden it is starting to dawn on the Australian people that this is not for free; this is borrowed money and borrowed money demands a return and you are not going to get it from this. So you are going to have to try to work out a way to manipulate the process to create a monopoly so that with a monopoly you can demand a return. Who pays for that? It is the same person who currently cannot afford the power in their house. It is the person who cannot afford the food in their trolley. It is the person who cannot afford to keep themselves warm in winter and cool in summer. It is the person who is struggling with the fuel bills. They are the people who end up paying for all of this. It is our job here to protect those people, because those are the basic necessities of life. They are important. People are voting with their feet when this thing is tested. People are not going for the wider suites and broadband nirvana; they are going for the basic service, because cash is king in people’s lives and they want to make sure they protect that.
What is the process in this groundhog day that the Labor Party have presented to us? As I walked out the door, I heard the minister say, ‘It is time for the coalition to tell the truth.’ What a perverse statement. This is all about trying to get the truth out. This is about us in the coalition trying to grab what details we can on behalf of the Australian people to clearly spell out the case of whether this is a prudent investment or an extremely dangerous frolic. There is the frivolous nature that is demonstrated by the minister when you debate him on national television. He talks over you all the time and he tries these oblique sorts of giggling references as if it does not matter. This is other people’s money. There will be some lady at a checkout who will work late into the night to pay tax to pay this debt back. There will be a manual worker laying bricks to pay the tax to pay this debt back. There will be someone in an office who will work late into the night to pay the tax to pay this debt back. They have a right to know what this is all about. They have the right to know how much longer into the night they have to work to pay for this and we have a responsibility to try to tell them. The government have an obligation to be transparent, open and honest and to lay the details before the chamber—before the Senate—and before the parliament for the proper ventilation of this.
This is something that is remiss. This is the crux of the issue, this is why the government are so sensitive about it and here it is: the NBN is the reason the Labor government is in government. That is what they put forward. It is the reason the Independents backed them. The NBN is the key in this house of cards and they know full well that if we pull this card out, if this card falls, the whole show comes down. That is why Minister Conroy was sweating so profusely on television this morning. It is not by reason of the fact that he managed to play soccer, have a shower, put a suit on and come up. It is by reason of the fact that all of a sudden it is starting to become apparent that he is not across the detail and the whole substance of this. The whole reason that led to the government being formed is going to come crashing down around them.
You can always take them to the place where they are weakest, because you take them to the detail. In the details they struggle. In the details they drown. In the details they are found lacking. They are the people with the big brush strokes who cannot get the fine art of the detail right. They never have and never could. When they cannot get the fine art right, what do they do?
I can understand why Senator Lundy is emotive about this, because this is the reason the Labor Party are in power. If this NBN falls flat on its face—and that seems awfully likely—then decisions will have to be made about whether they deserve the mantle of running the government. That is the decision that will go back to the people. This is why this debate is front and centre.
If I were on the Labor Party frontbench I would like to be present when Senator Conroy makes his way to the cabinet meeting so I could ask him where on earth this is going. This thing is coming off the rails. People are losing faith in you. We have even got statements now of concern by the Independents and the Greens about the lack of transparency. You lack transparency when you do not want people to understand what you are up to and you are trying to hide the facts. The Labor Party are hiding facts. They are treating the Australian people once more—it is like groundhog day—like fools.
Currently the minister is, for all intents and purposes, in contempt of the Senate. That is how far this thing has descended. He refuses to acknowledge the will of the Senate as conducted by a vote. Why would we have this contemptible approach? Because they are terrified of the transparency and the consequences that will bring to their government. This precarious and unstable process has brought us the NBN, which is starting to look awfully like the school halls program, the ceiling insulation program, the war on obesity, the war against inflation and the other wars and revolutions we have got. It is a reflection of the manifestation of the same approach we saw when they could not even hold their commitment to the Australian people to keep the person who was elected as the Prime Minister. They had to remove him.
This is the substance and the structure of the management critique of the people who are going to build a new telephone company. Whether you like it or not, if you are a taxpayer in Australia you are going to be a shareholder in this. Whether you like it or not, if you are a citizen of this nation you will now have this process forced on you. It is not something that you are desirous of because it will save you. They painted a false and misleading picture for the Australian people at the election and in this point in time they are not able to back it up with the detail.
When are the Labor Party going to deliver the detail that we and the Australian people have a right to know? When are you going to have a minister who understands what is in his own legislation and who is not so flippant and casual with the facts, like he is flippant and casual with the money? When will Minister Albanese in the other place concur with the comments made by Minister Conroy on television this morning? Minister Conroy said this has no relationship to the NBN, but Minister Albanese says it does.
When are you going to be upfront and truthful about the exact implications of section 577BA? If you did not put in that section, those issues most likely would not be compliant with section 51(1) of the Trade Practices Act. If you had been transparent and had not put in that clause, they would not be compliant with section 51(1). Why did you have to say, regardless of what might appear, these things are going to be compliant with section 51(1)? You said, ‘We are going to deem these things to be compliant with the Trade Practices Act,’ when quite obviously they will not be. But you do not know that, because you do not know the details. All you know is the text message that came via your phone. You never know the detail. You never sit back and actually read what you are about to deliver.
We have to make demands of the Senate—and I hope we get the support. Either you support a transparent and accountable government, especially with the largest infrastructure project in our nation, or you do not. Either you respect the value of money or you do not. As an accountant I spent a lot of time with people who did not respect money and I saw those people at the end of the day living in their son’s or daughter’s caravan because they lost their house.
It is my pleasure to contribute to this debate on the production of documents relating to the NBN. We have heard some extremely interesting contributions from the opposition benches this morning. I think one of the most important things that have been said was Senator Joyce’s statement that the real reason the opposition are opposing this important consumer and competition safeguard legislation is that the coalition believe that Labor won the election on the back of the NBN. In essence, they will pick it apart on the basis that it secured electoral support for us. Let us examine the logic of this.
The opposition are opposing Labor’s plans for the NBN because they believe the nation subscribed to the vision and it helped us win the election. Where is the logic in that? I do not know where it is, but it starts to explain why the arguments we have heard in this debate and on other occasions about their position on the NBN are so inconsistent, so fractious and so devoid of any logic whatsoever.
I think it is plausible that indeed it is not about the issue of substance, about the policy per se, about the fact that the National Broadband Network will deliver a universal, wholesale only, open access network with fibre-to-the-premises for the whole of Australia. The substance of the matter is that the opposition are opposing it for opposition’s sake. It was only with a little provocation that Senator Joyce was able to reveal this to the chamber, and I think it sits underneath the inconsistencies in the opposition’s arguments. I would like to go through some of them.
I will turn first to what I think Senator Conroy described as opposition members ‘talking through both sides of their mouth’ in relation to the NBN. We know Mr Abbott supports the NBN in Tasmania, but opposition members come into this place and the other place and argue against it. I would like to refer directly a little later to Senator Humphries’s statements of support for the National Broadband Network in the Australian Capital Territory, but before I do that I think it is also important to recognise the opposition’s obstructionism on these bills.
We have never heard the opposition challenge the viability or necessity of a fibre-to-the-home network with any credibility. We have heard fractious arguments about wireless somehow being suitable. Those arguments have been completely demolished. We know wireless is not scalable. We know it is not able to deliver the future-proof network and the increasing bandwidth required to serve our future needs. So those arguments are insubstantive and have been proven to be incorrect. There is no counterpoint to a fibre-to-the-home network being the best future-proof technology to deliver the National Broadband Network. There is no argument about that.
There is no argument about the need for a high-bandwidth network for Australia. We know it forms the heart of the economic and social infrastructure of the future. We ought to be very proud as a nation that the National Broadband Network policy closes the digital divide once and for all. I have never heard the opposition argue that we should not close the digital divide. In fact, I recall through every year of their period in government their arguing that they were trying to do that with their flimsy 10 or so different plans to support broadband in this country. They claimed to have the aspiration of closing the digital divide; they just could not achieve it because they never got their policy settings right. They were hopelessly compromised by their higher order agenda to sell Telstra and optimise the share price, to the disbenefit of every telecommunications consumer, whether in the residential or the business market, in this country.
There is a reason Australia has been paying the highest prices for ADSL you could possibly conceive in any comparable nation, and that is that the coalition in government kept those prices high because of their poor policy and their willingness to sustain a residual monopoly in Telstra’s interest for the purpose of the share price. So we inherited a telecommunications network in this country that had no hope of serving our future needs. Telstra themselves and later the government conceded that the existing network was five minutes to midnight—it had reached capacity. We know that because we are talking to the people who are on the waiting lists for humble ADSL in the outer suburbs and the inner-city high-rises and the regional areas of this country. We are talking to them and we know the fervour and the passion and the interest there is for a national broadband network that is future proof, that is fibre to the home—and that is what Labor delivered in the election. So I return to Senator Joyce’s argument. This is what is motivating the opposition: they do not like that Australia subscribes to this grand vision. They do not like the fact that they may have lost the election because they refused to support this vision. Whether that is true or not, the fact remains that they are doing everything they possibly can now to unpick and undermine Labor’s efforts to deliver a universal broadband network to all Australians.
In this chamber their obstructionism is as shallow as it is extreme. Every piece of legislation that has come forth in this place has been confronted by this kind of debate. They do not want to debate the substantive issue because they cannot. They do not have the depth of knowledge or understanding about the National Broadband Network and they do not want to be put on the spot to debate the technical aspects of the bills. Why? Because it is easier to argue that we do not debate it. It is easier to put up furphies about the release of information every step of the way rather than debate the substantive issue, because they know the substantive issue is something that the whole of Australia desires, regardless of what they try and say about the National Broadband Network.
The obstructionism came with the expert panel report, later the ACCC report to government, the McKinsey implementation study, the clamouring for a cost-benefit analysis and now the business case, which the minister has said will be released when it is able to be considered fully—as it should be—by government, but yet they persist in here. I cannot fathom why we are debating this motion rather than the bill itself. If we were debating the bill itself, the opposition would have to be called up on whether or not they supported it. They do not want to have that debate. They do not quite want to be called up on having to oppose a competition and consumer safeguards bill, so they construct this open-ended debate instead. It is a tactic, and we have it seen before. It has been successful in this place because of its obstructionism. They are hiding behind an unwillingness to debate the actual policy of competition and consumer safeguards that facilitate the model that will underpin telecommunications in the future.
I would like to go to the issue of the NBN reference in the bill. This is another complete furphy and clearly just a filler argument so the coalition have some kind of cover and something to say in this debate. The competition and consumer safeguards bill relates primarily to the overall telecommunications network. It mentions the NBN in relation to the agreement with Telstra and has a bearing on it. But for Senator Joyce to come in here and try and say that this is somehow not reflective of the bill or that the minister misrepresented the bill is a complete furphy and shows that the coalition cannot even be bothered to understand the issues of substance in the bill or is unable to present a cohesive argument one way or the other about the competition and consumer safeguards requirements in the bill. It shows that there is lack of capacity or an unwillingness to talk about the policy issues and the provisions of the bill per se. I think it is shallow and it exposes them as not being serious about the issues of substance in the bill.
I would like to turn to the issue of how residents and small businesses around the country feel about the National Broadband Network, because I think this places a great responsibility on the coalition to reassess their position. We already know that they talk out of both sides of their mouth on this. They say one thing out in the constituency, where communities are clamouring for the Broadband Network to come to their region. In here, as we heard from Senator Joyce, they say that no-one wants it, that it is unnecessary and that it is not worth the spend.
Let me quote something from Senator Humphries. Gungahlin was mentioned by Minister Conroy, and quite rightly, because Gungahlin is a quintessential suburban area that suffered through the Howard years, with extremely poor telecommunications as a result of their policy neglect. Gungahlin is a suburban area of Canberra that is served by RIM technology. This has an inhibiting effect on the availability of ADSL services and, unfortunately, it is indicative of many of the newer growth areas right around Australia. Senator Humphries, I presume, will continue to vote with the coalition here against the legislation for the Broadband Network, against the legislation for the consumer and competition safeguards that are associated with the whole of the telecommunications industry. But just listen to this. This is a press release from Senator Humphries from this year, 8 July 2010. This was put out at the same time as the coalition were saying that they were going to oppose the National Broadband Network. Wait for the headline:
CONROY BOWS TO PRESSURE FROM HUMPHRIES
ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries, who has been fighting for better access to broadband in Gungahlin, has welcomed today’s announcement by Labor but says there’s still a long way to go.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy announced this afternoon that 14 locations across Australia, including Gungahlin, that would be among the first to host the National Broadband Network.
Here’s a quote from Senator Humphries:
After almost 3 years of neglect and cut after cut to our community, my longstanding campaign for broadband in Gungahlin has finally cut through …
‘My’ longstanding campaign! Senator Humphries puts his heart and soul in writing and claims credit for the National Broadband Network coming to Gungahlin.
This is quite astounding on two fronts. The first is Senator Humphries claiming any credit at all to do with the National Broadband Network or campaigning for Gungahlin, given his deathly silence through the years of the coalition’s neglect on broadband issues in Gungahlin. But it is most astounding in the context of this debate, where the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Abetz, followed by Senator Barnaby Joyce, claimed that there is no reason why we should be making this investment. Senator Humphries is speaking out of both sides of his mouth, because he is party to the views espoused by his leaders in this place and the other place. As far as we know, it is still Mr Abbott’s intention to tear down the National Broadband Network. Senator Humphries, like every Liberal Party member and like every National Party member who speak out of both sides of their mouth—out of one side to their electorate and out of the other side in here—are now completely and utterly exposed.
It is no wonder that the electorate get frustrated by debates like this. It is no wonder that they hear the issues as they are debated here and say that the coalition has got it wrong on the NBN. It is no wonder that Senator Joyce’s theory that the NBN may have been the decisive factor in the last election is upsetting the coalition so much. We, the Labor government, know, more than anything else, that what is important for this nation is building future-proof economic and social infrastructure that will serve our future needs. I find it absolutely amazing, as I think the vast majority of Australians do, to have an opposition so passionate about not achieving a necessary vision for this country.
The opposition are so passionate in their desire to unpick the very policy that solves a problem of their creation. So keen are they to try and pull apart our policy that they are not even prepared to come in here and debate the bill, the issue of substance. They want to continually move motions to defer debate, to place absurd conditions on the debate in this chamber, such as the order for the production of documents. They are documents which the minister has stated will be provided in due course, when we have had the opportunity—and I believe we have the obligation and the responsibility—to do what we need to do as a government in reviewing that material.
The other issue that I think it is important to turn to in the little time that I have left is the misleading information that the coalition continue to bring in here about the signing-up rate. I get consistent requests from my constituency saying, ‘When are we going to get it?’ I know how warmly welcomed the inclusion of Gungahlin in the next series of rollout sites was and I know that the sign-up rates are incredibly impressive. It showed that there is a complete lack of knowledge when Senator Abetz—I think it was—said, ‘But they’re only signing up for the 25 megabit per second rate, not the 100 megabits per second.’ The whole point of fibre is that you can increase the bandwidth on the same infrastructure. Twenty-five megabits per second may well be what suits consumers now, but I know plenty of consumers, including home based businesses and small businesses, who want a lot more than that, and I know that in 10, 15, 20, 30 or 50 years time the same fibre that is currently delivering what the market wants, whether that is 25 megabits per second or 100 megabits per second, will be able to deliver a gigabit per second—the same piece of fibre.
We are not talking about one of the short-term, stop-gap measures that we saw under the coalition government over their 13-year period in government; we are talking about a network that is future-proof for the vast majority of Australians. We are talking about a network that will ensure that those who the fibre will not reach will be adequately serviced by an affordable high bandwidth through terrestrial wireless or satellite. And those technologies continue to develop at a rate of knots. The jury is in on fibre to the home as being the most scalable future-proof type of network we could possibly invest in.
For Senator Joyce to stand up here and make simplistic arguments associating the expenditure on this infrastructure with other government initiatives is ridiculous in the extreme and shows a shallow—I would not want to insult children—and childlike approach to this debate that exposes their lack of willingness to engage on the detailed policy substance of both the vision for universal connectivity and the mechanisms contained in this and other bills to facilitate it happening.
I am so proud to be part of a Labor government that has been able to articulate this vision and implement this policy for a National Broadband Network. It is being built in this country right now. The fact that we need to go through a painful, unnecessary, politically motivated—thank you, Senator Joyce, for making that clear to all of us—debate in this chamber again and again and again shows that this opposition cares not about the future of this country, this opposition cares not about our economic prospects, it cares not about the social policy outcome of closing the digital divide, and it cares not about the long-term future of our country in this regard and this aspect of microeconomic reform. What it does care about is the shallow attempts to stifle a bill for the purpose of being seen to have something to say on the National Broadband Network. They cannot tackle it on the issues of substance so they need to have something to say, and that has arrived in the form of this absurd obstructionism. I would much rather be presenting my speech in the debate on the second reading of the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010; that is what I ought to have spent the last 20 minutes talking about. I may well say similar things but it would be a much more constructive approach and suit the needs of all Australians for us to be debating that bill right now and not this ridiculous motion that seeks to prevent the debating of the bills of substance.
I am pleased to rise to support this important motion moved by Senator Abetz because it is important that when this Senate orders something, when this Senate requests something, when this Senate instructs that something should be done and the government of the day simply thumbs its nose at the Senate, there are consequences. That is the reality of the motion before us. It is about trying to ensure that the powers of the Senate actually come with consequences if the government chooses to simply ignore those powers of the Senate, ignore those wishes of the Senate, ignore those orders of the Senate. That is why this motion is important. It is critical because it is about the Senate having made a statement yesterday, a very clear statement, that the Senate believes the government should table for our consideration and for the consideration of all Australians two particular documents: the NBN business plan, which the government admits it received last week, and the government’s response to the McKinsey and KPMG implementation study into the NBN. These are two documents that we believe are critical to informing the debate on the legislation that Senator Lundy was just talking about, on the legislation that is listed as the first item of government business for today. And the government wants us to stroll into that debate without the type of information that should be available to all senators to ensure we have the most considered and informed debate possible. That is what we want. We want to have a genuine, serious, considered and informed debate. Senator Lundy shakes her head. I say to Senator Lundy and to Senator Conroy: table the documents.
Table the documents today; I will give you the debate on Monday. Table the documents today and I will happily debate you on the detail of the legislation all of next week. Give us the information to make sure the debate is as informed as it possibly can be. Do not hide the documents from us. Do not treat us with contempt. Do not treat us like the mushrooms that are fed the proverbial. Empower every member of this Senate to make a fully informed contribution to a debate that comes back to, at its heart, the massive expenditure in Australia surrounding a $43 billion program. This is not something inconsequential, it is not insignificant. This legislation that is proposed is a major reform and it has major implications for one of Australia’s largest publicly listed companies, namely, Telstra. It has major implications as to the way the communications market in this country will work for the foreseeable future and it has major implications for the Australian taxpayers who have been roped in as compulsory shareholders, all 22 million of them, in this great big government experiment. They have all got thousands of dollars on the line, each and every Australian taxpayer. They have thousands of their own dollars on the line in this government experiment and they are going to be asked to pay and pay and pay again, either through a business model that is quite likely to need propping up or through a business model that is going to charge them all higher fees to access the types of services that they want.
We have had many conflicting arguments from the government on this. We heard Senator Collins, when she spoke on the suspension of standing orders, argue that this debate around the telecommunications legislation is not at all about the NBN. We had Senator Conroy, in a speech that was 95 per cent about the NBN, saying that the NBN has nothing to do with the substance of the bill. Senator Lundy also pretends it is inconsequential and incidental, yet she goes on and argues at great length about the NBN. It is either one or the other. Either it is incidental and inconsequential or it is at the heart of the bill.
We can see—and Senator Joyce highlighted it well and truly and Senator Abetz highlighted it too—that the NBN is at the heart of this bill. This bill might do other things, but the NBN is very much at the heart of it. This bill is designed to help drive the NBN. There is no denying that from the government. It is a core part of the bill. We know that because within the explanatory memorandum the NBN is referenced on some 204 occasions. Within the bill itself the NBN is referenced on some 65 occasions. Between the two documents, on 269 occasions the NBN is referenced. It is crystal clear to anybody that the NBN is at the heart of this bill.
We also have Senator Lundy and Senator Conroy trying to pretend that the legislation is all about better competition. I look forward, when we get to the legislation, to hearing from them just how it is that restricting the capacity and the remit of the ACCC to give the usual thorough consideration to the types of deals that the government is trying to stitch up between NBN and Telstra is about competition. Restricting the capacity of the ACCC can only stifle competition. Senator Lundy, who has now left the chamber, need not worry because when we get to the substance of the legislation we will have amendments. We have plenty of amendments, many of them that go to the heart of making sure that we get fair dinkum competition out of anything that is ultimately passed by the Senate.
We had Senator Conroy coming in here and talking about the build on the trial sites that NBN Co. is currently undertaking. He likes to talk about those trial sites and throws about figures of an 80 per cent take-up rate. He throws enormous figures around. What he fails to explain, because this is a part of the deceit of the government, is what that means. What it means is that a householder has said, when the government has come along merrily laying fibre down the street, ‘Yes, I am happy for you to connect that fibre to my home for free.’ That is it. That is all those figures that Senator Conroy gives mean. Nobody has signed up to receive a service and nobody has signed up to pay anything, to download anything, through this fibre. Nobody has signed up to use the fibre in these trial sites. They have just said, ‘You can connect it to my house.’ They do not even know how much it is going to cost because the government has given no price, no plan and no details. Do you know what? That is at the heart of the motion we are debating. Plans, details and costs are the things that would be contained, I imagine, in the NBN business plan. These are the things that retailers in the telco space and users of telecommunications should reasonably and realistically expect to know about. These are certainly the things that the opposition believes we as senators should be entitled to know about before we are asked to vote on critical legislation.
Senator Lundy also throws up allegations and questions, as does Senator Conroy, about our commitment to seeing better broadband delivered in some of the suburbs that they love to name. Senator Lundy was certainly debating Senator Humphries’s arguments for better broadband in key parts of the ACT. I will tell you what: our commitment is to build better broadband services but to build better broadband services in the regions, in the towns, in the communities where there are black spots and to build them in places that are underserviced. This is our commitment. It is not to go and overbuild across the entire country, not to close down existing cable networks and not to close down everything that is already there but to actually make sure that the taxpayer dollars that are used are actually used to deliver services to the people who have got no services at present. You want to overbuild the entire network and you want to overbuild even the member for Wentworth’s electorate, which is extremely well serviced already. I have noticed some Labor members highlighting and waving around maps saying how well serviced the member for Wentworth’s electorate is with broadband at present. I have seen them out there at door stops waving the maps around. It is your government that wants to go up and down every street of Wentworth and roll out fibre. How is that good use of taxpayers’ money? How is it good use to go and overlay and rebuild over the top of something that is already there? That is the plan of your government. You want to do that right throughout Wentworth.
It is not there for everyone, Senator Lundy, you are dead right, and that is why we say you should focus on giving it to the people who do not have it, not go and spend $43 billion rolling it out up and down every street that already has it. Senator Lundy, you have exposed the flaw in your own argument. It is not there for everyone and the focus should be on the people who it is there for.
I want to be quite clear here about what it is that we are talking about. We are talking about the government releasing the 400-page business plan for the NBN, which I note the Prime Minister has said today she wants to go through with a fine tooth comb. Forgive my cynicism, but I have seen what the Prime Minister’s fine tooth comb does before. It produces things like the Building the Education Revolution—the school halls debacle. The government’s fine tooth comb produced the home insulation debacle. Frankly, I would rather have a bit of sunlight on the NBN business plan. I would rather have an ‘Operation Sunlight’ on the NBN business plan. I would rather it was put out so it was not the government putting a fine tooth comb through it but the many experts around Australia who will have something to say about it when it is released. They are the people who might actually identify the flaws in it, the problems in it, and ensure that, if this thing has to go ahead, at least the business plan stacks up, rather than allowing Senator Conroy to say, ‘I’m going to go through it, and then I want the government and the cabinet to go through it, and then we will sign it off and you can see it all at the end of the process.’
I have seen what happens when the government gets their way and puts it all at the end of the process. We end up with taxpayers’ moneys wasted, with billions of dollars down the tube and with the types of the debacles that have plagued everything the government has done to date. With the NBN we are seeing the same trajectory—they are keeping it all inhouse and secret; they are just going to make up their own minds about it. The worst thing about it all is that they want those of us in this place to make important decisions without seeing these documents.
There is a second document that we have asked for. We have asked for not just the business plan but also the government’s response to the KPMG-McKinsey implementation study. The government spent $25 million on that study. Yes, most of it has been released; the government, however, have already started rejecting a good number of the recommendations made in the KPMG-McKinsey implementation study. They paid $25 million for good advice, but they have started to reject it. They have rejected recommendations that would ensure there was decent competition at least in terms of who was providing the fixed wireless services to the seven per cent of Australians who are not going to get fibre. They have rejected that and are going to keep it all inhouse for NBN Co.
There are all sorts of questions being asked around the industry about the points of interconnection and what impact that is going to have on prices and how it is going to work. These questions go to the heart of how the government responds to the McKinsey study and what is in the business plan, yet the government is refusing to reveal its thinking on these key critical issues.
What is there to hide? That is the key question here. There should be nothing to hide. The government proclaims it is all about transparency, openness and honesty, so why not put these documents out there? Why not ensure that the business plan is public? Why not ensure that the response to the implementation study is public? Why not allow us to make informed decisions that every individual senator should be able to make on the key legislation that the government wants to bring forward?
From day one, ever since Senator Conroy got off that fateful plane flight with Mr Rudd, the coalition has called for a cost-benefit analysis—a proper Productivity Commission assessment of the NBN. We have called for it because we think it is the only responsible thing to do when a government is running this type of back-of-the-envelope program. I remember, and I know that Senator Lundy would well remember, that the 2007 election involved a different Labor policy. It involved a $4.7 billion policy called ‘fibre to the node’. Just in case anybody missed that figure, it was $4.7 billion, not $47 billion, for fibre to the node. When they discovered that the policy did not stack up, when they discovered they could not deliver on that policy, when they realised they went to the 2007 election with something that they could not deliver, what happened? As we now know, because Mr Rudd was a rather difficult Prime Minister to get to talk to, Senator Conroy hopped on a plane with him and, in a short plane ride, Senator Conroy and the then Prime Minister, Mr Rudd, took the $4.7 billion fibre-to-the-node network and changed it into a $43 billion fibre-to-the-premise network—that was their turnaround in policy. From that moment on we have consistently called for a Productivity Commission cost-benefit analysis of that because it is the only responsible thing to do.
I again say: you have roped every mum and dad Australian, every man and woman in Australia, every old person and every child in Australia into being compulsory shareholders in your NBN—and, at the other end, they are going to be compulsory consumers because it is the only way they are going to be able to get their phone lines connected and access broadband in the future. They are being compulsorily required at either end to be consumers and shareholders. The government want to drag Australians into this $43 billion experiment and see every Australian locked into it.
I note that today in the other place the House defeated a private member’s bill by just one vote—the slimmest of margins—to provide for the Productivity Commission to conduct that cost-benefit analysis. Next week we will reintroduce that legislation in the Senate and give the Senate a chance to have a say. I know there are senators who believe that a decent cost-benefit analysis is worth undertaking. They believe that, if you are going to spend this much money, you should actually make sure you are doing the right thing, setting it up the right way and investing in the right technologies. These are sensible things that we should be doing.
You know? That is right: Labor knows best. That is the response from Senator Lundy. We actually think it is worth getting a bit of expert analysis, not just going on a gut feeling, which is what you are doing.
We note that, at the beginning of this week, the OECD released a report that was pretty scathing of what the government has done. The report suggested that the government needed to be more prudent, transparent and robust in the way it was developing this NBN. That is what we want to bring to the process and to the consideration of the legislation before this chamber. To the process of the NBN we want to bring a more prudent, transparent and robust approach and we want that to be done through a Productivity Commission analysis of the costs and benefits of building the network. It is not an unreasonable thing to ask for. We are even saying that we will not hold the government up in progressing with it; we just want this cost-benefit analysis actually delivered to bring about the prudence, transparency and robustness that is so critical to ensure that taxpayers’ money is well spent.
We also want to bring some prudence, transparency and robustness to the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010, because that is what we are talking about here. We want to bring about that transparency by having the business plan. We want to bring that robustness by having the business plan. We want to bring that robustness by having the response to the implementation study. We want to make sure that this chamber makes prudent, sensible, robust and transparent decisions. That is what we want and that is all we are asking for.
Let me return to the first point I made. We are asking for it because the Senate demanded it yesterday. We are saying that there should be consequences to the government for thumbing its nose at the Australian Senate. There must be consequences or else the decisions of this Senate become quite meaningless. I urge those on the crossbench to think about that—to think about the fact that if every time we bring a motion into this parliament and demand documents, asking for them to be produced, we simply let the government thumb its nose at us then it will keep doing it. There have to be consequences; we have to hold it to account and that is why this motion should be supported.
I have two quick comments to add to my colleague’s contribution to this debate. Firstly, the government is in absolutely no hurry to release the business case. So why should this Senate be in any hurry to consider the legislation that the government wants the Senate to consider? Why should this Senate be in any hurry, particularly when Minister Conroy told us at estimates that the legislation was irrelevant to the build of the NBN?
The minister told us on 25 May at Senate estimates:
The National Broadband Network is commencing and being deployed irrespective of whether or not legislation is passed or not passed by parliament. It does not require parliament to pass it.
that would be me—
Is the legislation irrelevant to the building of the NBN?
Senator Conroy—Yes, completely.
Why the hurry? The government is in no hurry to release the business case. This Senate, on the minister’s own testimony, need be in no hurry to consider, or indeed pass or not pass, the legislation that the government wants considered.
Secondly, I do urge the Independents not to be bought off by the cheap offer from the government of a briefing. The Independents have constituents, and those constituents are de facto shareholders whether they like being forced into bed or not—they have been forced into bed with this government by this government—in the build of the National Broadband Network. For as long as the government refuses to divulge information, those constituents and the Australian electorate would have to be thinking about hopping out of bed.
Finally, for as long as the government continues to surround the National Broadband Network with this shroud of secrecy, the only thing that is clear about the National Broadband Network is that NBN does not stand for National Broadband Network. ‘NBN’ continues to stand for ‘no body (k)nows’.
I will try to be as succinct, time-wise, as Senator Fisher was.
My position is unchanged from when this matter was debated a year ago. I believe we need to have a structural separation of Telstra. It was a fundamental mistake for Telstra to be privatised and to be structured in the way that it was. It was anticompetitive, it was bad for consumers and it was bad for the development of telecommunications in this nation. We know that there has been market failure when it comes to the whole issue of broadband, particularly in the regions. That is why I supported the suspension of standing orders, so that this debate could be further ventilated.
My position has always been that if we have amendments passed to the structural separation legislation that ensure a meaningful role for the ACCC and for the Trade Practices Act to apply in key areas when it comes to the issue of competition and the public interest—that the NBN is checked vis-a-vis the Trade Practices Act—then I think that we should look at passing that legislation. I also think it is important in the context of this particular bill that there is adequate scrutiny of this project. I cannot understand why the government is prepared to send the whole issue of carbon pricing to the Productivity Commission, but will not let them look at the efficiency and implementation of having an NBN. This scrutiny should not be in the terms that the member for Wentworth, Mr Turnbull, has set out, because I believe they are too narrow. In fairness to Mr Turnbull, I have put those concerns to him and I think he is being quite flexible about having broader terms of reference which look at the issues of the social benefit of having a National Broadband Network, the market failure in regional Australia and the nation-building benefits of having an NBN. I think that if you have broader terms of reference that are not constrained to a mere narrow cost-benefit analysis then the Productivity Commission could add to this debate, could add to the information and could ensure that there is better implementation of a national network.
I have to express my absolute disappointment with the government in relation to the lack of information provided. So far the information we have received from the government on the NBN has been about as reliable as dial-up. It has been slow, it has been patchy and it has been infuriatingly unreliable. It is ironic that this entire debate is about the creation of a world-class communications network and yet the government has been providing Third World standards of communication when it comes to this particular debate.
I think that the government is making a fundamental mistake not to ensure that the business plan is provided to us as soon as possible. However, what it means—and I know that Senator Abetz is listening intently to this, as I listened intently to his contribution—
It always worries me when Senator Abetz is taking notes. But we need to get on with the structural separation of Telstra, because Telstra should never have been structured in the way that it was following the privatisation. It has been bad for Australian telecommunications and it has been bad for consumers. But provided that there is an adequate level of scrutiny in the context of ensuring a competition framework and transparency for the structural separation—and I believe that an adequate degree of scrutiny by the Productivity Commission is also important—then I think that this bill can proceed.
However, I will say to the government—and the minister knows my views on this, and I think I have a pretty good working relationship with Senator Conroy—that the minister is making it difficult for those who are supporters of the NBN to support this legislation, given that there has been a lack of information in relation to it. But I still see them as parallel but distinct issues. We should not hold up the structural separation if we can have a framework in place that is adequate in terms of protecting consumers and protecting the public interest. I will not support this motion moved by Senator Abetz, but I think it does highlight the inadequacy of information—the dial-up level of information—we have received from the government.
I rise to add some brief remarks as well. Seeing as how Senator Abetz’s motion has been contingent on the one that I moved earlier this week, with the support of Senator Fielding and the coalition, that the government put these documents in the public domain, my concerns are very similar to those that have just been expressed by Senator Xenophon. I want to take us back 12 months ago, and the term ‘groundhog day’ has been used a couple of times so far this morning, and not without reason, I think. This motion seeks to delay—and I do not think I am verballing Senator Abetz in suggesting that this is what this motion is for—any further debate on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill or on anything else related to the NBN until these documents are put into the public domain.
Just a little bit over a year ago, a motion was put up to delay that very same bill—although it was dated 2009 at that stage—because we had not yet seen the request for proposals documentation on the four-point $4½ billion NBN proposal that the government took to the last election. So we had a motion in the Senate that would have prevented the government from advancing the CCS bill or anything else related to the National Broadband Network until that request for proposals document had been put into the public domain.The one that we are discussing today did not even exist then. NBN Co. probably only had a handful of staff working for it at the time, and the NBN Co. business plan was not even a glimmer in Mr Quigley’s eye at that stage, so of course the Senate did not propose to hang up the debate on the bill. The Senate demanded it; it was an order for production of documents that went through, and the documents were not handed over. In fact, that proposals documentation requested has not been handed over to this day. The debate is still being pursued. As I think one of the coalition senators—Senator Birmingham, I think—quite rightly pointed out, the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy persuaded former Prime Minister Rudd to simply shift a decimal place across, and we came out with something that was worth effectively 10 times more—and we have still never seen the original requested proposals documentation.
The Senate demanded it; it did not get it, and at the time, just over a year ago now, we argued two things. The first was that the two issues were separate. In other words, the proposed structural reform to the telecommunications sector would probably, subject to some other concerns that we had, be good public policy even if we were not proposing to build an NBN. We argued that, even if this proposal to bring fibre to everyone’s home—which obviously was not contemplated then—was not on the table, it was still a very good idea to begin to fix the mess that was caused when the coalition, against the will of the rest of the parties in this place, moved to the third tranche of privatisation of Telstra and sold it, leaving us with this structurally out-of-balance market which we are still dealing with now. We suggested that it would be a very good idea for the debate on the CCS bill to proceed a year ago, and here we are in November 2010 having the same debate, with the opposition seeking to delay passage of that bill based on another document that has come forward and using, in fact, an order for production that the Greens moved.
The second thing that we argued is that deadlocks of the kind which we have seen again yesterday and today need to be broken. The minister has committed, I think, something very serious in denying an order for production of documents of the Australian Senate and effectively thumbing his nose at this chamber. This deadlock must be broken.
Honourable senators interjecting—
He is making it very difficult for us, and I will list the matters in play in a moment. This week while the national parliament is sitting the motion is related to telecommunications but, with the support of Senator Fielding and Senator Xenophon at the time, we put up a proposal to once and for all break these deadlocks when the parliament and the executive have a difference of opinion over whether material should be put into the public domain. Let us establish an independent arbiter and let us respect the will of the umpire. Let us respect the independent judgment. In this case, at the time we were talking about an independent arbiter of the kind that exists in New South Wales and has for many years—you send it out for that independent point of view and then you respect the view that comes back. If it is all commercial-in-confidence and it is not appropriate for it to be put into the public domain then so be it; we will cease pressing that point.
We referred that motion to the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration and it reported on 2 February 2010. I have participated in a fair number of committees since I got here a couple of years ago, and I think that was among the worst duddings that we have had. Both of the major parties effectively ignored every piece of evidence that was put to the committee. Everybody who gave evidence to that committee said, ‘You need a mechanism to break these deadlocks.’ We have another one today and we still do not have a mechanism for breaking these deadlocks. I know this is an issue that Senator Cormann has been following very closely and that he also has a very keen interest in public interest immunity. What does it actually mean when the government says, ‘You can’t put that into the public domain. It’s against the public interest. Take my word for it’? We are still taking Minister Conroy’s word for it on the original RSPT tender documents that are now several years old. We are having to take his word on the documents that we have requested today. The report from the finance and public administration committee—apart from, as usual, the diligent work of the staff—was virtually useless, because the evidence that was taken was simply disregarded.
In March we brought the CCS bill back for debate again, and the opposition put so many people on the speakers’ list that we paralysed the national parliament, the Australian Senate, for a day and a half while more and more people were put on the speaking list. It has never been the opposition’s intention, in my view—perhaps until recently—to debate the merits of the bill. Vote against it if that is your will, but you have done everything that you can and tried on every procedural trick in the book in the last year and a half to prevent this thing from coming on today. What is in the motion that we are debating now? Oh, it suggests that we hold up debate on the CCS bill until such time as this material has been put into the public domain! In April, the Senate demanded the implementation study that was produced at taxpayers’ expense and was worth approximately $25 million. The minister said no and defied an order for production for documents that the Senate put forward. He ended up handing it over in May with glowing reviews that it totally supports the government’s case and so on. It had some numbers in it that the coalition did not particularly like, but at least it was in the public domain.
Since the implementation study was tabled we have had the draft heads of agreement with Telstra, which substantially changes the assumptions that McKinsey and KPMG were given to work with, and we have still as yet seen no government response to that implementation study. That was why we put that up as one of the two documents that we were requesting. Nobody outside the minister, NBN Co. obviously and a handful in the minister’s department have seen the business plan. I think it is entirely reasonable in the last sitting fortnight of this year, while a national parliament is proposing to debate the CCS bill; to debate Mr Turnbull’s, the member for Wentworth, private member’s bill; to debate the amendments that Mr Turnbull has put forward to the CCS bill; two motions for standing committees; and a new NBN bill that is going to come into this place I believe next week. Against a backdrop of all that activity—it is NBN week in the national parliament—the business plan is being withheld, apparently because it is so full of good news that we are not going to be able to see it. It is an overflowing pot of gold and that is the reason we are not going to be able to have that in our debate!
We want this document because it was meant to have gone to NBN’s board in May. That is how long this has been in play. It has been bouncing backwards and forwards within NBN Co. since approximately May. At the time, in Senate estimates committee hearings some time in the third or fourth week of May, Senator Conroy actually told the estimates committee that we would never get it. He said:
... it would be absurd to suggest or even think it is going to happen ...
That is what he told that estimates committee: ‘You’re never going to get it. You’re going to be shareholders in NBN Co., the business plan is extraordinarily good news all round, but you are not going to have it.’ Since then we have seen a gradual withdrawal from the proposal, because at the time I and a number of coalition senators contested that—that is, that there was no way that this material should not be put into the public domain—and now we see gradual backsliding to the point where at some stage it looked as though that material would go to cabinet last week, that it would then come up and we would be able to evaluate it in the course of the debate on all of these matters that are in play at the moment.
We know for a fact that NBN Co. disagrees with some of the findings and some of the more important principles in the implementation plan. So there are major issues in play here that we are expected to be debating this week and next week and yet this material is not going to be put into the public domain.
There are a couple of things that need to happen. I think it is still possible for the Prime Minister and the communications minister to reconsider and, immediately after that cabinet meeting on Monday, for these documents be put into the public domain so that we can continue and at least play a part and try to do our job in evaluating this material while we are here on Capital Hill debating all these matters.
The second thing that needs to happen is that these deadlocks need to be broken. I believe Senator Cormann moved a couple of other matters earlier in the week, Senator Fisher moved another one through the chamber this very morning, and we still have material that is outstanding from years and years ago—that we have to just take the minister’s word for it that it is not in the public interest that it be handed over. So I will draw senators’ attention to the agreement that was signed between Senator Brown and the Prime Minister that was an important part of what allowed to the Labor Party to form government in the first place. It is in the agreement that is on the Australian Greens and the Senate office website. It is clause 3(e) in the agreement. I will just read it. I tried to do this in my two-minute statement by leave yesterday and ran out of time:
e) Refer issues of public interest disclosure, where the Senate or House votes on the floor against the decision of a Minister, to the Information Commissioner,—
this is a new post that has only just been established—
who will arbitrate on the release of relevant documents and report to both Houses.
There is your independent umpire. The government has agreed to that. We will be moving very, very shortly to make sure that that agreement is put into effect so that never regain we are faced with having to take the minister’s word for it that it cannot be released, it is not in the public interest, it hasn’t been to cabinet—take your pick of whatever your excuse might be.
But, of course, we will not be supporting the opposition’s motion, which effectively gags the minister. The minister has tried to blindfold the parliament; the coalition’s response is to try and gag the minister. Both sides are behaving very, very badly. That material needs to be put into the public domain so that all of these debates, not just the CCS bill, that are going on concurrently in the national parliament can take place with senators and members able to do their job.
Clearly this debate revolves around the heart of the government’s $43 billion National Broadband Network. The Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill is not called the ‘National Broadband Network bill’ but it probably could be, given that it really underpins what I would call the framework in moving forward under the government’s $43 billion National Broadband Network. So I am not sure why the minister this morning tried to claim that it had nothing to do with the NBN. It has already been pointed out in here that the NBN has been mention 62 times in the bill. But I could also refer to Mr Albanese’s speech on this bill from the lower house, where he has a statement in there:
On 20 June 2010 Telstra and NBN Co. announced that they had entered into a financial heads of agreement. That agreement provides for the progressive migration of customers from Telstra’s copper and pay TV cable networks to NBN Co’s new wholesale-only, fibre network as it is rolled out. This will deliver the ultimate structural reform of the telecommunications sector.
And here is the quote:
This legislation will create a framework to deliver this important reform.
So quite clearly you cannot deny that this bill is about the government’s $43 billion NBN, and anyone voting for this bill is for the government’s $43 billion network. Anyone who votes against this bill is against the $43 billion National Broadband Network, the way the government wants to roll it out. So it is an important issue, and I think it was important to have this debate on information about the $43 billion National Broadband Network and the business case. I have been assured by the minister that I will get a briefing from NBN Co. on the business case. On that basis, I am satisfied that I will have the information that I need prior to giving my speech in the second reading debate in the parliament. I have had that assurance—and others can seek that assurance if they want. On that basis, I will not be supporting this motion.
I thank honourable senators for their contribution to this debate. At no stage in this debate have Labor told us any reason why they are hiding the business plan for the NBN from the Australian people until after the parliament rises. No reason has been advanced by the minister as to why these documents, which are clearly available, will be released as soon as the parliament rises—and that is what Labor are going to do.
We have had Senator Ludlam say to the media that the government would be making a serious tactical error if it continued to refuse to hand over this documentation. I say to the Greens that there is a very real opportunity for them to show that they not only mean those words but are actually going to follow them up with action. Senator Ludlum went on to say in the same interview that the Greens would not use this issue as a reason to block legislation. I suggest that that is a serious tactical error on the Greens’ part. They are saying to the government: ‘We are all huff and puff on this issue, but don’t worry, there won’t actually be any practical consequences as a result of you defying Senator Ludlam’s motion’—which is co-sponsored by Senator Birmingham. I am astounded that they say there are serious consequences but are not actually going to do anything about it. That is a matter of some regret, I must say, from the coalition’s perspective.
We are told in today’s Financial Reviewand I assume this is correct—that Senator Ludlam and the Greens have been offered a secret briefing subject to signing a nondisclosure statement. I assume that the same has been offered to Senator Fielding. The same is being offered to Senator Xenophon. It is a pity, but I do not think any coalition senator has been offered a similar deal. But what is the benefit of a secret briefing if you cannot tell the Australian people what you are actually told in that briefing, let alone seek outside independent advice as to whether the material you are given in the briefing is true, correct, robust and reliable? With great respect to our crossbench senators, the government has thrown them a bone and, unfortunately, they accept it not realising that the bone does not have any genuine substance. I have got to give it to Senator Ludlam that he at least said in the media—as reported today—that it was a matter of concern. He said it was good for him to get a private briefing but what about everybody else? The coalition have not been offered that and I have not been offered that. Some others in my party may have been offered that. If the government are willing to brief one senator secretly, they should be prepared to advance that offer to every single senator in this place. But they have not. Of course, this is a government that likes to deal in secrecy. They had the secret deal with the miners, they have secrecy surrounding their climate change committee and now it is secret briefings on a $43,000 million infrastructure project for which we still do not have a business plan or a government response to the implementation plan.
My dear friend Senator Xenophon has said to the media:
Every day the Government held up releasing the plan was a day its case was diminished. The government can expect a much rockier ride with its legislation unless the business plan is released in the next couple of days.
Well, there is an opportunity for my dear friend Senator Xenophon to give the government a rockier ride by actually agreeing to put a rock on the road and force the government to account—but, once again, Senator Xenophon is the beneficiary of the offer of one of these secret briefings.
That is a very, very useful contribution to the debate because methinks Senator Xenophon will now not be getting the briefing—or, if he does, we will have to ask: why is it that the Greens have to sign a nondisclosure document but Senator Xenophon does not? The government treats the crossbenchers with absolute contempt. Senators on the crossbench are being tied up in different ways. Senator Xenophon, I think you might be in a more privileged positioned than the Greens who have actually formed an alliance with this government. We do not know why you got that privileged position but it will be interesting to see whether or not you are provided with that detailed briefing.
Whilst I am talking about matters in the media, today the Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, promised to put a fine toothcomb through the business case for the broadband network before it is publicly released. So here we are, with the Prime Minister saying she still has not put the fine toothcomb through the business plan. But we are rolling out the National Broadband Network. We are committed to $43,000 million worth of expenditure; we have legislation before us that we should be voting on in the next few days—but neither she nor the cabinet have been through the business plan with a fine toothcomb. How on earth can any responsible government commit itself to legislation and to the rollout of a program without a business plan, let alone one that has had a fine toothcomb put through it? So it seems that we should be passing the legislation and going on with the rollout—and then, somewhere along the way, we might consider whether or not we should be putting a fine toothcomb through the business plan.
In a previous part of this debate, we were told that the opposition motion was too extreme. That was told to us by the Greens. I must say, I always find it interesting when the Greens assert that something is too extreme! All I would say is that I think that term ‘extreme’ was used as a fig leaf to try to cover up the transparency of their deal in the Labor-Green alliance. If it was too extreme then, given all the time that has passed, I would have thought that the Australian Greens could have said to us: ‘We don’t agree with this particular paragraph or that particular paragraph; delete those. Remove the extreme elements of the motion’—whatever they are—‘and we will support you.’ But no such offer was made; no such suggestion was made. That suggests to me that this was just a ruse to try to get them out of supporting this motion.
So what the Greens—and, with respect, the crossbenchers—have been saying to the government is: ‘We’re angry with you. And, to prove it, we’re going to say so publicly in a press release—so there! Take that, you fiends! But then, of course, we’ll vote for your legislation.’ I am sure Senator Conroy is in his office laughing at the crossbenchers and all their public protestations. Senator Conroy is interested in only one thing: the passing of the legislation—that is all he is interested in. We could require the government, if we had the will—and the coalition has the will; it is up to the crossbenchers to decide if they have the backbone and the will—to force the government to hand over this vital information before we pass the legislation and consider matters NBN any further. So, for all the sabre rattling by the crossbenchers as to how angry they are, they are not even willing to unsheathe the sabre and go in for the fight. So it has all been rattle, rattle, rattle in the sheath, but no unsheathing of the sabre and saying, ‘Government, this is a fundamental principle on which we will take you on.’ I really cannot imagine a more important matter than this—a $43,000 million taxpayer liability—to have examined, and for which to have a business plan, and to have that in the public domain so that we can actually discuss and consider the robustness of it all.
Senator Conroy’s contribution was highly irrelevant and somewhat bizarre. I think that it shows he still has not graduated from the high school debating team because, for all the hyperbole and insults, he did not actually deal with the issue at stake. I say to him—leaving aside the mere sloganeering and the mere repetition of the names of little towns all around Australia that might be getting broadband: if it is all that good, then just give us the business plan. In his 20-minute or so contribution, he did not outline to the Australian people why the business plan has not been released and why the government’s response to the implementation study has not been released. At one stage, he sort of suggested that it might be because cabinet might want to consider something. He did not say, ‘Cabinet still has to consider’; he just put it up there like flying a kite. We do not know if that is actually the reason or not. I simply say to the minister and, again, to the crossbenchers: if we are to believe, at face value, Senator Conroy’s assertion about cabinet possibly wanting to consider the documentation, don’t you, crossbenchers, think that that actually should have been considered prior to the drafting and submitting of this legislation to this parliament—that those matters should have been considered by cabinet before changing from a $4.7 billion National Broadband Network policy to one 10 times the size: $43 billion worth.
So we have had all the words from the crossbenchers, with Senator Xenophon telling us about his absolute disappointment, how infuriating it was, how the communications standards were Third World—you see, Senator Xenophon, I was taking notes. So we have had all that. But the acid question is: will you do something about it? We know that, on this motion, the answer is no. Hopefully, next week there may be some strength to your arm on this and you might give the legislation a genuinely rocky ride—not like today where you attacked the government with a limp lettuce leaf and said, ‘This is how angry we are—but, really, we’re not going to do anything about it.’ To sum up: if we do not pass this, it will show that our friends on the crossbenches are great in the media and get all the publicity but, when it comes to the crunch, they are all sizzle but no sausage. There is no substance there, and that, from our point of view, is disappointing.
This was a first, very real, opportunity for the Australian Greens, in particular, to make a stand and say that, whilst they are in an alliance with the Labor Party, they will not subject their so-called principles to the executive of Labor. Clearly, they have. They have, on this occasion at least, shown themselves willing to be a doormat for the Australian Labor Party. I hope they will not do so in the future.
Unfortunately, judging by the speeches—unless a rush of common sense has since overtaken those on the cross benches—this motion will not be carried and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy will be chuckling in his office at the weakness of the crossbenchers on this important principle. He will be chuckling and treating the crossbenchers with contempt as he gives his ministerial statement this afternoon, and the Senate’s motion for production of documents—
Senator Xenophon right: he who laughs last always laughs the longest. Senator Conroy, I predict, is chuckling and laughing in his office. I hope that he will not have the last laugh and, as a result, some other matters will arise next week in relation to the legislation before us. This is a fundamental principle for the opposition. The Australian people demand it. To not require it and to put up a barrier to the government to show that the Senate is saying, ‘Enough is enough,’ on this matter shows that our friends on the cross benches are great with the media and great with the spin but when it comes to the crunch—when it comes to the substance—they are found wanting.
That the motion (Senator Abetz’s) be agreed to.