Two key pieces of legislation relating to the National Broadband Network have been approved by both houses of parliament in Canberra, after a week of prolonged debate and negotiation which Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull today described as a “spectacle”.
The bills – the National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 and the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (NBN Measures — Access Arrangements) Bill 2010 set out ownership, governance and sale arrangements for NBN Co, including a government commitment to eventually sell its stake in the company. In addition, they set out the access arrangements for NBN Co – including its mainly wholesale status.
In a statement released this afternoon, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy thanked Greens MP Adam Bandt and the independents with which his Labor Government had been forced to negotiate with to secure their support with the legislation, particularly on the issue of uniform national wholesale pricing for competitive access to NBN Co’s infrastructure.
“With the cooperation of the independents the Government sought to put a Resolution to the House of Representatives confirming our commitment to the principle of uniform wholesale national pricing,” Conroy said.
“With the agreement of independents Rob Oakshott, Tony Windsor, Andrew Wilkie, and Greens MP Adam Bandt, the Government has committed to prepare a Community Impact Statement on all future policy decisions on technology, speed and/or price, with a view to continue the application of uniform wholesale national pricing where possible,” he added.
Conroy last week published several pages of Labor amendments to the NBN legislation at the last minute, meaning Parliament was forced to sit on extra days to get the package of bills through.
In a statement released this afternoon, Turnbull claimed the Government had been engaged in delaying tactics on its own legislation – which he described as “quite a spectacle” – as it hadn’t agreed to a deal on amendments with certain independents.
“However, this should not be blamed on the shortfalls of minority Government but the utter incompetence of Senator Stephen Conroy,” Turnbull said. “To watch him making far-reaching amendments to win single votes on multi-billion dollar projects – which will be felt for many years to come – in the last minutes of debate in Parliament suggests he doesn’t properly respect the workings of this place.”
For his part, Conroy described it as “outrageous” that the Opposition should block consideration of the Government’s resolution on uniform wholesale national pricing. “The Opposition claim they support uniform wholesale national pricing, but they weren’t even willing to consider a Resolution promoting that important principle, when given the chance,” he said.
The passage of the legislation comes at a key time for Australia’s telecommunications industry. Over the next two days (the 28th and 29th of March), key figures such as the chief executives of Telstra, NBN Co, AAPT and Internode will speak at the Communications Day Summit in Sydney, in addition to political figures such as Turnbull.
Conroy is not speaking at the event this year, but it is likely that the passage of the NBN legislation – including several controversial amendments relating to the provision of services to non-telco organisations such as energy utilities – will be a key topic of conversation at the event.