Greens win NBN FoI victory as Turnbull falters


The Greens last night celebrated what they described as “a big win for transparency and openness” regarding Labor’s flagship National Broadband Network project, successfully moving amendments to the current NBN legislation before parliament that will open up NBN Co to scrutiny through Freedom of Information laws.

The party had been pushing for the measure over the past several months, after it emerged that NBN Co would not be subject to FoI requests because of its status as a government-owned corporation. A deal was struck with Labor on the issue in late February, despite Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s prior statement on the issue that NBN Co’s FoI exemption had been “ordinary business”.

“This is a big win for transparency and openness in the rollout of high-speed broadband in Australia,” sole Greens MP Adam Bandt said in a statement last night, as the National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 and the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (National Broadband Network Measure — Access Arrangements) Bill 2010 passed the House of Representatives.

“High-speed broadband is crucial to Australia’s future and it is essential that its development is subject to high levels of accountability. The amendments will mean NBN Co is subject to FOI Act in the same manner as government business enterprises such as Australia Post, Medibank and the CSIRO.”

Bandt thanked the Labor Government and independent MPs for the “constructive” way they had approached the issue. But the MP described the Coalition’s efforts as “a last minute attempt to derail the amendments”.

Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam said the bills would now move into the Senate, where they would be subject to “detailed consideration” by the Standing Committee on Environment and Communications — which will report on the legislation on March 16.

Other legislative progress was also made regarding the NBN yesterday. The Greens also reached an agreement with the Government to create a new 16 seat parliamentary Joint Committee to oversee the rollout of the NBN, with both sides of politics and cross-bench members of parliament to also be represented.

Knocked back
However, not everyone had as much luck — with AAP reporting the narrow defeat of a motion by Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull which would have made NBN Co a prescribed authority under the FOI legislation. It appears that such a move would have given the FOI legislation further powers over information relating to NBN Co’s commercial activities.

Turnbull also railed against the creation of the joint committee, telling parliament that “in the normal course of events” the issue would be handled through the Public Works Committee Acts. “The Joint Committee terms of reference are very different from the PWCA … they do not allow for the investigation of the cost-effectiveness of the proposals,” the Liberal MP said. “They do not allow for the investigation of the suitability of the work. The committee is based on the assumption that the NBN is a given.”

“The PWCA was founded a hundred years ago,” he added. “That PWCA has been excluded today from its duty by a government which is unaccountable and reckless … the PWCA is there to do a job and should be allowed to do it, but the government is afraid to let it examine this gigantic project.”

But Minister for Infrastructure and Transport Anthony Albanese rejected Turnbull’s claims. “NBN Co will remain subject to full parliamentary oversight,” he said. “We have a House of Representatives Committee and immediately after this debate there will be the proposition for a Joint Committee.”

Marina Freri also contributed to this article. Image credit: The Victorian Greens, Creative Commons


  1. Who says Labour hasn’t learnt from the Insulation debacle.
    Not how to avoid a debacle, but how to minimise scrutiny of a debacle.

    Lucky for Labour the Greens need to look like they make a contribution.
    And a little pat on the head makes them feel better.

    Public works committee excluded is clear evidence of process hijacked, subversive govt.

    Bring on the election. Lets see how smart or stupid the majority is !

    • I have to say, I read through the FOI Act last night, and Turnbull does have a point — it looks like ‘commercial in confidence’ material will be excluded from FOI requests. Of course, that’s just my layman’s interpretation — I’m not a lawyer.

      • Ok this the deal with FOI

        If a company IS under FOI, the government (specifically the governor attorneys office) decides what is COI and what isn’t. This is what happens with Medicare and Post.

        If a company ISN’T under FOI, then the company themselves decides what is COI and what isn’t

        The onus was that if a company isn’t under FOI, it makes gives them a very easy ability to hide unfortunate information by just calling it COI (even if it isn’t), this was also the greens argument.

        However the turnaround, as Malcolm pointed out, was the whole company didn’t even end up being put under FOI. There were certain documents (which were apparently COI) which were excluded from the FOI, so the original point of putting the company under FOI is pointless, because there are still documents which cannot actually be determined to be COI under the general attorneys office

        • @Michael W,

          Since NBN2.0 commenced April 2009,

          Over $1 Billion dollars spent,

          Hundreds of millions dollars committed to in contracts,

          To have 554 paying customers on the NBN in Mar 2011 !!!!!!!! (under a special below cost offer)

          Ahead of budget and ahead schedule, Bravo, Bravo. WOW what an incredible achievement !!

          Demented stupidity, somehow seems too mild to explain the mind of some.

          • Could they have budgeted to spend $2 Billion dollars by now and have no more than 500 customers !!

          • Have you received the new shovel I bought you for your birthday yet? Keep on digging…

            Time and time and time again, you demonstrate your complete lack of understanding of even BASIC project management concepts.

            Until you do understand them – don’t try and comment on the rollout schedule – you just look sillier each time.

          • @Reality Check, I take it your the resident nutter here. You definitely live in your own little reality. Say if I start building a hotel, I’ve got site works costs, architectural design costs, costings for council approval, building costs…ths list goes on, along with a lot of time. Since I have spent all this money and time but havn’t had anyone rent in my hotel, is it a failure? Of course not.

          • @ Lord Rocker,

            Yes there are projects that can only open for business once complete.
            And while it’s possible to test and forecast viability prior to completion or commencement, the absolute proof of commercial viability is only there once the project is complete and open for business.

            The NBN product is ready for business to every premises it offers a connection to NOW.
            Not once fibre is rolled out passed 93% of the pop.
            Let me repeat its open for business NOW.
            You can have the holy grail 100 Mb/s NOW (or less if you cant see the future is NOW ;-)
            You can even have it for an introductory below cost price NOW.

            The viability of the project can be judged all the way along from NOW.
            And the results look staggeringly bad.

            Make a counter argument, If its worthy it will be conceded to. If its half reasonable it may be disputed. but it will be respected. If its so inept, so feeble, so stupid, or a lame attempt to misguide people, then your Stupidity will be exposed and clearly labelled as such.

            So if you call someone a nutter you should try to use evidence that doesn’t reveal your own intellectual deficiency. ;-)

          • @Reality Check – ‘The viability of the project can be judged all the way along from NOW.
            And the results look staggeringly bad.’

            Bad in which way? What, because the amount of people who have signed up for it? Ever thought that the majority of people may be stuck on 2 year contracts?

          • @ Michael W,

            Lord Rocker’s completely lame, No Commercial / Marketing reality answer, about people under contract for 2 years, didn’t get a response from me because I thought it was completely embarrassingly obvious to everybody on this forum how childishly foolish his thinking was.

            I stand corrected, Michael your a bigger Fool than I previously thought. :-)

            Try reading a book you small minded self interested techie .
            You may be very good in the techie domain you occupy. But you have no idea about reality and the NBN.

            I suggest “Freakonomics”. its very good in defining misconceptions about Correlations and Causality.

  2. An observation , its disconcerting that at least one independent has clearly put his personal agenda above all else, and im still floundering to recall one occassion that an independent (apart from Bob Katter )who has mentioned his electorate, its all reality of the times and untill a poll is taken in the effected electorates this will continue unabated and if not we will have to wait for the election .On the bright side Bob is pushing the only reforms through even if we dont necessarly agree with his green policies. The ammendment from Bob on NBN will pass, i wonder what else in this regard is in the pipeline.

  3. “NBN Co will remain subject to full parliamentary oversight” … doesn’t fill me with confidence. Make NBN Co subject to full public scrutiny and if they can still hide their incompetence and backhanders, then good luck to them they deserve them.

    Why else would the government be unwilling to let the people they represent see all the details. Perception is everything government people … our perception is that you are hiding things, doing dodgy deals and paying out your mates … prove us wrong. “Freedom” on Information, my arse.

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