Xenophon deal secures NBN business plan summary


After a week of fiery debate in the Senate and facing the prospect of its telecommunications industry restructuring bill being delayed, the Federal Government has agreed to release a summary of the business plan delivered to it several weeks ago by the National Broadband Network Company to clear its legislative path.

Labor had reportedly been locked in negotiations with independent senator Nick Xenophon last night and this morning, whose vote it would need to pass its Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009, which provides for the separation of Telstra’s retail and wholesale arms, among other matters.

Xenophon, as well as others such as Greens Senators, had demanded the Government release NBN Co’s business case delivered several weeks ago.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard told parliament this afternoon that the Government had been prepared to work with independent MPs and senators on the legislation and had released a summary of the document. The Prime Minister commended the document to members of the House of Representatives, except for the Opposition.

“There’s no point them wasting their time reading it, because they won’t care what it says,” she said. “We would have been willing to work with the Opposition, but they made it clear they wanted to demolish the NBN. they are on — once again — a completely negative wrecking path.”

The news will likely mean that the Government’s telecommunications legislation will pass the Senate (where it passed its second reading today) as the Greens, whose votes Labor will also need, struck a deal earlier this week to support the legislation on the basis that provisions be included to make it difficult to privatise NBN Co.

However, it remains unclear whether Family First Senator Steve Fielding will support the bill.

The Greens also, had demanded the release of NBN Co’s business case, although its lack was not expected to stop the party voting in favour of Labor’s telecommunications legislation.

The document’s release represents the second time this year that a minor party or parliamentarian has forced the Federal Government to release a controversial document associated with the National Broadband Network.

In May it was the Greens who forced Labor to release the NBN Implementation Study compiled by consulting firms KPMG and McKinsey, accompanied by a similar degree of parliamentary debate.

At the time, it was again the Government’s telecommunications reform legislation that was at the heart of the debate, with Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam threatening to withdraw his party’s support for the legislation without the document. And, as with the NBN Co business case, Conroy had defied a Senate order requiring its release.

Image credit: MystifyMe Concert Photography, Creative Commons