Turnbull’s NBN transparency bill hits parliament


Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has tabled in parliament his brief piece of legislation designed to force the Government into disclosing key financial details of its flagship National Broadband Network project and conducting a cost/benefit analysis into its construction.

The bill — dubbed the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill (2010) — is a mere eight pages long and can be downloaded online (PDF). It would mandate — as Turnbull has previously outlined — two key moves by the Government and NBN Co relating to the project.

Firstly, if the bill goes ahead, NBN Co must prepare a business case for the National Broadband Network and publish it by 19 November this year. This point might not be too hard for the Labor Government to comply with, given that NBN Co itself has already put together a business case, which is expected to be delivered to the Government in the next week.

However, Turnbull also stipulated in his legislation that the business case must contain a great deal of detail, some of which NBN Co may not have catered for in its current business case.

10-year forecasts of the NBN’s key financial and operational indicators — including costs, revenues, cash flows, end of year balance sheets and more must be included — as well as internal rates of return on the capital invested in the project.

Secondarily, Turnbull’s bill would require the Productivity Commission to prepare and publish a cost/benefit analysis into the project by 31 May 2011. The commission would be required to analyse the current availability of broadband across Australia (including identifying areas where services are of a lower standard/higher price than in capital cities) and consider the most cost-effective and speediest options by which all Australians could receive fast broadband.

In addition, the commission would need to analyse the economic, productivity and social benefits likely to flow from better broadband, and the applications that would be likely to be used. And a “full and transparent economic and financial assessment” would be conducted into the NBN, as well as a number of other matters, such as the NBN’s likely value if it was privatised after five years.

Speaking in parliament this morning Turnbull said he wanted to stress that the bill was not intended to delay or hold back the NBN’s rollout to test sites, as Labor has repeatedly claimed. “Indeed, the passage of this bill would have no impact on that timing,” he said.

“It is simply an attempt to establish the facts to provide Parliament with an appropriate level of financial understanding of this, the largest expenditure of taxpayers’ funds on an infrastructure asset in our nation’s history.”

Turnbull noted that Labor intended to release much of the financial information discussed in the bill anyway — for example, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has already pledged to release sections of NBN Co’s business case.

“I welcome that,” he said. “Nevertheless, I believe that it will give parliament much greater comfort if that transparency is a statutory requirement rather than simply a promise from the executive.”

With Labor slamming the legislation as a delaying tactic and likely to oppose it, the bill’s fate will rest with the independents and the Australian Greens. This morning Greens Leader Bob Brown was reported to have said the issue would be discussed in the Greens’ party room this morning, while independents Tony Windsor and Bob Katter have said they won’t support the bill.

The views of several others — Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie, for example — are not yet known.

Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull


  1. Yet another nonsense delaying tactic by the coalition. How can you give an accurate cost benefit analysis when the full benefits of the NBN aren’t even known yet. Who knows what sort of profitable ventures could exist when the nation is connected at speeds of up to 1gbps?

    Man, am I sick of arguing these same tired old points. It’s pretty simple really, either you believe in the Government’s bold expensive investment and you have confidence in their ability to roll it out. Or you believe your connection is fast enough, that it’s a waste of money and that the private market is better equipped to handle broadband services than the Government (and you probably secretly don’t care about people in the bush that have been waiting years for a reliable connection that won’t send them broke).

    Socialism vs Capitalism at it’s finest.

  2. This just seems like delaying tactics. I mean really, just read this;

    (a) an analysis of the availability of broadband services across
    Australia, identifying those suburbs and regions where
    current service is of a lesser standard or higher price than the
    best services available in the capital cities

    A report on the state of broadband in every area of Australia in one month amongst a plethora of other crap??

    I think Turnbull just wants something to tear apart, even the best business case will have something that you can spin.

  3. Simon Reidy and Gav,
    So, you agree to invest a huge amount of money and get higher prices, no competition and monopoly in return? You must be insane…

  4. *shrug* he can table what he wants, it wont pass because everyones is sick of his games. And Mike, for gods sake.

  5. Have you guys even read the bill?

    There is nothing there whatsoever that would delay the NBN deploymen. All it asks for is for NBNCo to regularly release details and the productivity commission (separate and informant of NBNCo) to do CBA

    Anyone who says this is a delaying tactic has no clue what they are

    • Oh and you’ve read the bill in it’s entirety have you deteego? And with your vast array of knowledge, I take it you are aware of all parliamentary procedures? And you have exact knowledge about the introduction of all new bills to parliament and the length of time they take to implement?

      And Mike, if you actually believe that Telstra’s continual monopolisation of it’s antiquated copper network, providing insanely high wholesale prices for antiquated ADSL is a good system, then you need to have your head examined. That or you just don’t understand how the internet works.

      Broadband is a service that everyone should have equal inexpensive access to. Not something for inner city rich conservatives to use their iPads on. The NBN has a chance to provide real equality. Do some research, try to think about it positively and you may even release it’s going to be a great thing.

      • As much as I hate Telstra, NBN will be much worse in terms of monopoly. And the prices will be much higher. Now Telstra is now allowed to rise them but with NBN the government will have no obstructions whatsoever to pass the bills for higher and higher prices.
        Plus, don’t forget that people will have to buy new hardware (ADSL modems will not work), ISPs will have to throw out their DSLAM hardware. Who do you think will pay for that?
        Plus, you will have to have an ethernet cable to be laid from the ONU to your router. It is your spend.
        Plus, did you think about power blackouts? Today exchange provide power for the phone and in case of emergency people are able to call 000. With NBN it will be no more.
        These are only small problems related to you and me. More problems are for ISPs and NBN operation.

  6. Yes I have read the bill in its entirety (its only 8 pages, and the actual legislation is only around 2 pages). There is nothing there, whatsoever, that could delay the NBN (apart from the CBA revealing that the NBN would turn out to be such a massive disaster that support would drop for it, and if thats the case then the NBN should have never been done in the first place)

    The productivity commission doing a CBA doesn’t halt NBNCo in any way, they are 2 completely separate entities. The rest of it is forcing NBNCo to reveal figures, which is something they should be doing anyways as a transparent government

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