Shorten won’t release Lazard NBN report



news The Opposition has confirmed it will not consent to key Labor cabinet documents related to the National Broadband Network being publicly released, in comments which let Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull off the hook from doing the same.

When new Ministers are sworn in to lead government portfolios, they receive extensive briefings on those portfolios from their departmental bureaucrats. Known as ‘Red Books’ for a returning Government or ‘Blue Books’ for a new Government, the briefing documents contain a wealth of information about the new Minister’s portfolio, commitments, decisions and so on.

In Turnbull’s case, the Blue Book ministerial briefing is particularly important, because the post of Communications Minister will be a critical one for the Australian Government over the next several years. This is because the Coalition has promised to radically reshape Labor’s National Broadband Network, despite the fact that Labor’s NBN policy has always enjoyed overwhelming popular support amongst the general population. In addition, there are a number of other key issues in the Communications portfolio which Turnbull will need to deal with, ranging from Internet censorship and filtering, digital rights, media law and so on.

Because of the pivotal nature of the role, on 25 September Delimiter sought access under FoI laws to the ‘Blue book’ of briefing documents which was provided by the Department of Communications to Turnbull when he was sworn in as Minister. This document, which is 545 pages long (according to the department), consists of everything which the department believes Turnbull will need to know. The Department has blocked it from being released, but Delimiter has pledged to appeal the decision, as well as appealing similar decisions by other departments such as the Attorney-General’s Department.

Speaking in Parliament last week (YouTube video), Turnbull claimed the decision was not his as to whether the document should be released publicly. “The decisions about incoming ministers briefs are taken not by the minister but by the senior public servants that take them,” the Liberal MP said. “But I would be prepared — very, very happy — to encourage my secretary to release that incoming ministers brief if the Leader of the Opposition were prepared to consent to release all of the cabinet papers relating to the NBN.”

Turnbull appeared to especially be referring to a report produced by investment bank Lazard back in 2010 that warned the then-Labor administration of major risks to the NBN plan. Details about the report were recently revealed by The Australian newspaper, but the report itself has never been released publicly. It was one of a number of reports commissioned by the Government at the time and presents one view of the NBN. Other reports presented different views.

Subsequent to Turnbull’s comments, Delimiter invited Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to comment on whether the Opposition would meet Turnbull’s demand and release the Lazard report and other key NBN documents compiled under the previous Labor administration.

Shorten did not respond to Delimiter’s request for comment, but punted the question to Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare. Today, Clare issued a statement saying:

“This is not the Government that they promised to be. In Opposition Malcolm Turnbull said NBN Co was more secretive than the Kremlin. Now he is in Government he is refusing to release the brief he was given when he became a Minister. Previous Ministers have done this and so should he.”
“Cabinet documents are kept confidential by Governments of both persuasions. If Mr Turnbull wants to change that convention, he probably should run it by the Prime Minister.”

It’s a shame the Opposition has declined to call Turnbull’s bluff on this issue. As I wrote last week:

“Labor has little to lose from releasing the Lazard report (and indeed, other documents relating to NBN advice given to cabinet) at this point. It might as well get these documents out on the public record so that they won’t keep on coming around to haunt the party in the pages of The Australian every so often. Plus, I’m sure that the Lazard report isn’t quite as single-faceted as it’s being painted, and that it actually contains a variety of advice. It would be good to get this complexity out there — the more information we have, the better the policy formation process will be.

Plus, by releasing the Lazard report and perhaps a couple of other key NBN documents, which are really only of historical interest at this point, Labor will have a lever to pressure Turnbull to be more transparent and release more documents himself, including the Blue Book. I remind Labor that Turnbull has already promised publicly to be more transparent , saying in late September:

” … our commitment is, our focus is, to have a much greater level of transparency and openness. I know there’s a lot of politics associated with the broadband issue but much more than there ever ought to have been and there’s been a huge amount of misinformation and spin about broadband and what various technologies can offer and so my focus and my commitment is that we deal in fact. Fact, not fiction, no more spin, fact. That’s what Australians need to know so they can make informed decisions.”

Calling Turnbull’s bluff and releasing the Lazard report and a couple of other NBN documents would force Turnbull to consider releasing his Blue Book. This would have the effect of embarassing the Minister and driving a little stake in his relationship with Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who has been public about the fact that he does not want the incoming ministers’ briefings released.

Image credit: Peter Campbell, GNU Free Documentation License


  1. Lazard report, maybe its all about they should never have done the NBN, we cant afford it, its like driving a porche when a camry does the same thing, who knows, one things clear, it cant be all rosy, else I’m sure Shorten would take great delight in rubbing Abbotts face in it and produce it.

    • Or maybe Shorten wants to sit back and see if Fraudband falls flat on it’s proverbial face and if it does in the next election Labor can say “See, the Coalition has done nothing. So much for faster, sooner!”

    • This is due process. It is systematic of people today to assume we know more about everything than our forebears. But it is likely this provision for the sanctity of carbinet documents was added (possibly after encountering some issue) to ensure the smother operation of any Westminster System based government in the future. So I’d like to see this report but Bill is correct in his approach to protocol adherence.

  2. lol Renai LeMay
    I remind Labor that Turnbull has already promised publicly to be more transparent , saying in late September:


    you can not be serious , that turnbull will keep his word.

    we have seen turnbull does not have the guts to stand up against his leader

  3. Turnbull’s hypocrisy needs to be noted here on several fronts. There is the obvious failure to be open and transparent as he has long claimed his government will be.
    Then there is also the matter of him initially saying he didn’t control the release of the Blue book, but then saying he could get it released but only on his terms. Sorry, but if you can arrange to get it released on terms, then there is absolutely no reason you cant arrange to get it released for the publics interest.
    It really shows the hypocrisy and contempt Turnbull shows towards the public.

    • That is a good point. Either he can release it or he can’t. He can’t have it both ways.

      Apparently he can release it, which means he was lying when he said he couldn’t. Awesome. Yet another lie by Malcolm Turnbull.

  4. I don’t see how this in any way lets Turnbull off the hook. If Lazard did provide the government with this report wouldn’t have that information made up part of the info Turnbull was given?

    To be honest I find it a slightly strange position for Delimiter to be taking considering we collectively ponied up quite a bit of cash to get our hands on the blue book. We didn’t pay to get our hands on the Lazard report.

  5. One of the other reports which got some publicity some time ago was by a similar non technical body and turned out to be a desk job. Unless the authors of these reports do a thorough audit of the state of the copper, how can such reports be of any possible value? Even Telstra “insiders” have made different statements on that fundamental issue.

    If the Lazard report is adverse to Labor’s plans, but they went ahead anyway, it could and should be in Shorten’s interest to explain why. And if it was favourable, why not release it and let it speak for itself?

    Labor was never good in explaining its policies; it needs practice this skill if it wants to regain power. It should have been a no brainer to extoll the advantages to the nation of getting a fair share of an irreplaceable national asset in the form of the mining tax. Instead they let the miners invest a small amount in advertising costs for a massive return in freedom from the need to pay their fair share.

  6. I agree with Renai… they should just release it warts and all…

    Like seriously, it is obviously negative, but as I mentioned previously in relation to this link…

    … you’ll find as per the 3 supposed reasons outlined that the NBN would struggle, most of the reasoning would also pertain to the current gov’s FttN just as much, if not more so…

    Also, the reasons in many ways aren’t sound (as outlined) anyway.

    And let’s face it, if/WHEN the government start their rhetoric, the now opposition should remind them of the current gov’s own fierce opposition to the very FttN topology they are going to implement, which they referred to as “fraudband” in 2007.

    At least (in 2007) unlike now, FttN still had a decent shelf life…

  7. Assuming labor released the Lazard report “warts and all…” what makes you think the govt would release their information? Lets face it this was supposed to be a government of no surprises. It is in actual fact a government of secrets. No way turnbull would release. he would just belt the opposition with the Lazard report. Don’t be so naive Renai

    • SmeeHere – Lets face it this was supposed to be a government of no surprises. It is in actual fact a government of secrets.

      I am surprised that anyone is surprised.

      This is a government that simply has no concept of how to govern.

      I’d bet $100 to a pound of cold cocky shit that regardless of what the opposition or anyone else released Turnbull would still refuse to release the blue book.

      Out of all the ministers in the LNP Government Turnbull is the biggest disappointment. I once thought the Turnbull would make a great leader, but now I can’t wait to see the back of him. Even Alston made more sense that this turkey.

      • SmeeHere my warts and all comment had nothing to do with suggesting MT would or wouldn’t release his info… So for the record, I concur with Scarytas in that regard (hence my reply here :)

  8. Releasing the Lazard report should deal with any assumptions people might have that Labor is scared of it.

    If Turnbull then failed to deliver on his side of the bargain, it wouldn’t be the first time they had squibbed on a deal.

    “No excuses”. No surprises.”

  9. I have a suggestion:

    Get Malcolm and Bill to release both document to a third party (here you go Renai) which would only make them publicly available if both are handed over.

  10. Possibly documents like the Lazard report are being held in check until after Turnball releases the so called impartial review next month or when he releases some actual time frames and costings for their muppet network.

  11. On the NBN issue there is a clear divide of the 2 sides of politics, at least in the official line given to the public. But releasing facts to the public instead of PR bullshit? on this they are allies and have an unspoken agreement not to set a precedent. Conspiracy or just politics or a bit of both.

    • Indeed Richard….

      It’s a bit like, the two (supposedly) hate each other…

      But they seem to hate others (either Greens, Democrats, Independents, PUP’s) encroaching upon their Labor or Coalition turf only, even more!

  12. Yup agree he should have released it..
    Just put a watermark on it “Do not copy Mr.Turnbull” and it would have been all good!

  13. “which let Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull off the hook from doing the same.”

    er, why exactly does it let him off? are we truly in pre-school or something?

    the ALP are no longer in power, its up to the LNP to provide leadership, not delve into “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” garbage.

    • +1 Raymond…

      I have had the same discussion with Fibroid since the election many times…

  14. What?

    Seriously. Turnbull has stated he’ll not release a damn thing. Labor releasing anything is free ammunition. As we are so frequently told here, there has been an election, it doesn’t matter.

    Labor’s policy is dead. Turnbull is seeking clarification on the best steps forward. It’s probably going to be a mixture of FTTH, FTTN and FTTB.

    The investment levels will be radically cut back. The schedule is already being pushed back. The maps have seen a purge of anything looking like ‘building’ is happening. You can’t hold someone accountable for delivery if there’s no visible delivery to happen.

    Let’s remember that prior to the last Election, the Coalition was not responsible for it’s policy until in government. It’s a bit convenient to flip this on it’s head now.

    We know NBNco has struggled. We know there have been issues. Turnbull has the blue-book, it has the details in it. There would be very little difference between this and anything Labor release – which, again – is now irrelevant, from a policy stand-point.

    People are buried in the past, rather than holding the current government accountable for the future. The opposition is no-longer in the drivers seat.

    The new government is happy to keep everything secret; I’d be more concerned about what they are doing, than what has now become a semantics argument and blame shifting.

      • So you believe Turnbull? That’s not sarcasm, by the way.

        That’s a question based on recent history where disclosure decisions have been reversed. I don’t believe for a moment the Minister for Internet’s will do any such thing.

          • For sure. Would make for interesting reading, either document.

            But I think we both know Turnbull isn’t that stupid. :)

            It’s a document that Labor will see no value in releasing (and they get no milage from the blue-book, either) so Turnbull gets to keep the blue-book under wraps. It’s pretty much the usual thing from government.

          • Congratulations…

            You have just repeated what I have been telling you for two years, yet you argued.

            Regardless of the issue the answer is the same.

            Remember this…

          • 1 + 1 yet again dear Fibroid…(surely you know the answer by now?)… so must I spoonfeed you perpetually?

            Righto, open wide once again then, you have had your appetiser, so here’s the main course…

            You argued that Labor governments are all crooked and incompotent (perhaps not in those exact words, but that was the gist – before you say, no I didn’t)… whilst simultaneously arguing all Coalition governmnets are pure as vestal virgins, whos compotence is beyond reproach (and probably used those words ;)

            Now you have awoken to the fact that they are all in fact, somewhere in the middle of your previous gullibility, by now admitting and I quote…

            “No change it seems no matter who is in Government.”

            Again as I did below I congratulate you for finally joining us all here in reality and realising this… welcome, it’s been a long time coming.

            Dessert? You’ve earned it.


          • ‘You argued that Labor governments are all crooked and incompotent (perhaps not in those exact words, but that was the gist – before you say, no I didn’t)… whilst simultaneously arguing all Coalition governmnets are pure as vestal virgins, whos compotence is beyond reproach (and probably used those words’

            I have never argued that and I especially have never used those words, instead of creating false argument because you are constantly caught out, why don’t you just stick to the subject matter instead of creating artificial personality conflicts of your own fantasy.

          • LOL…

            What, I was caught out agreeing with you and praising you for finally you seeing reality…?

          • That is a ridiculous comment.

            By the same logic, you should be panning Turnbull for not releasing the blue-book (without some kind of childish “i’ll show you mine” bluff).

            And yet..

  15. Frankly I’d probably get more enjoyment from Shorten thwacking Turnbull with the report.

    It may well not be positive now, if rumors are to be believed (i suspect, like anything, it’ll be somewhere in the middle) however post review, it may well be a rather valuable asset to clobber the Coalition with.

    We need a strong opposition to keep the government in check. Just as we’d want, were it the other way around.

  16. What outcomes is everyone expecting from either publishing the contents of the Lazarus report or the Blue Book?

    • None…

      Just proves what I have told you all along, Labor or Coalition they are simply politicians, just with different ideological pay masters.

      Welcome to reality, thanks for finally joining us…

        • The answer was “none”, pay attention please.

          Are you still with us, or going to contradictorily flip-flop…on this statement…

          “No change it seems no matter who is in Government.”

    • Thank you, for pointing out the obvious and answering your own question. Well done.

      This is, quite frankly, political theatre. Nothing more.

      Turnbull is aware there’s zero political or (frankly) logical reason to release documents that will, now, have no real impact on NBNco or any future change. It’s an entirely safe challenge to make – a review is underway, decisions will be made – regardless of any strutting upon the stage.

  17. Shorten had the ability to trade old info that is now irrelevant for public knowledge of the dept’s recommendations.

    He demurred.

    So now his calls for transparency are pointless because he won’t adhere to the same standards.

    Sure, criticise MT all you like, but the opportunity was given to force MT to fess up or face a shellacking if he refused to honour his bargain. It’s an opportunity with a laughable cost unless the Lazard report demonstrations prescience in to the ALP’s failure to deliver. Imo, refusing to release it demonstrates that the ALP thinks it needs to hide and does the cause of transparency in general no good.

    • Although slanted, it is a somewhat valid point…

      But how about ‘you’ criticise MT as you did the others?

      Or are you all the same?

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