‘I’ll show you mine if you’ll show me yours’: Turnbull to open Blue Book if Labor opens NBN docs



news Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has stated that he will seek to publicly release his ‘Blue Book’ incoming ministerial briefing if the Opposition will consent to release a number of NBN-related documents which were considered as part of the previous Labor administration’s cabinet.

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 this 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 appears to especially be referring to a reporyt 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.

Said Turnbull in Parliament. “On the weekend we learnt that the Labor government had been advised by its investment banker, Lazard, that the NBN, on the government’s plan, was going to result in a $31 billion loss—a negative net present value. And they did not share that with anyone. The NBN has been the characteristically reckless Labor undertaking from the very start—from the moment it was conceived by Senator Conroy and Kevin Rudd on the back of a beer coaster on a VIP flight.”

“And that beer coaster should be elevated. It should be an exhibit in Labor’s pool room of horrors, it really should. It should be there with other historic artefacts, such as the fridge at the Lodge on which Prime Minister Gough Whitlam approved the Khemlani loans arrangements, to bypass the loans council. And, of course, the Labor pool room of horrors should not be without the lazy susan from the Hong Ho Vietnamese restaurant where the Leader of the Opposition plotted the downfall of Kevin Rudd!”

Separately, Turnbull said in a statement on Monday: “The former Finance Minister, Senator Penny Wong, appearing on Meet the Press yesterday, did not dispute that advice had been given but complained it was a “selective leak” by which I understand her to mean that there was other advice which supported the Labor Government’s claim that the proposed investment in the NBN would generate a positive rate of return of 7.1% and thereby realise a profit for the Commonwealth as opposed to the gigantic loss Lazard had warned against.”

“She and Bill Shorten can put this matter to rest very quickly. A new Government does not have access to the cabinet papers of its predecessor. However the Leader of the Opposition can agree to access being granted (see Cabinet Handbook p. 46).”

“Mr Shorten should agree that all advice given to the previous Government relating to the establishment of the NBN be released. That way, the Australian people will be able to judge for themselves whether this extraordinary project, undertaken without any cost benefit analysis, was grounded in economics or politics.”

Delimiter has contacted the office of Bill Shorten to seek comment on whether the Opposition Leader will release the document Turnbull is seeking. Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare, who posted the ‘Blue Book’ question in Parliament to start with, has stated it is up to Shorten to decide whether the Labor documents are released.

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: Parliamentary broadcasting


  1. Labor’s is short on substance and full of hairy assumptions…. whereas the Lib’s consists of well-formed opinions built on clean analysis. I know which one is more embarrassing to its progenitor.

    • You do realise that the Blue Book you refer to that “consists of well-formed opinions built on clean analysis” is merely the departmental summary of what Turnbull is commited to doing, dont you? In other words, the outgoing Labor Governments policies in action.

      Even when you troll you get it wrong. Standard Liberal problem though, no need to be embarassed.

    • And your evidence for stating this about reports you have never seen?

      Oh, it’s simply because of your bias, fair enough, more than adequate reasoning, QED

    • Well informed opinion, and clean analysis? Of what?

      The policy is even less defined that Labor’s was. And Labor’s started out in pretty poor shape. We now have reviews, delays and the Minister is even quietly letting his own dates slip.

      This limbo-land crap will result in huge delays, costly expense in retooling and induce all manner of knock-on effects.

      I would very much prefer Turnbull just shut-up already and get on doing the job he was sworn in to do. He’s still operating from opposition, despite being elected.

    • Your comment is based on selective information, unsubstantiated hopeful conjecture, bald-faced assertions and strong political bias. Is your comment not embarrassing to its progenitor?

    • Renai this is blatant trolling. Whether he is right or not, the way haha yeah has framed this is ridiculously biased.

    • You’re right guys, I could have done better. Here’s my second go:

      Labor’s is short on substance, full of hairy assumptions and barely limps across the line… whereas the Lib’s consists of well-formed opinions built on clean analysis which is long in detail and holds stiff against any attempted rebuttal.

      • Still bordering on irrational. Try again.

        Labor’s plan had plenty of substance, which is part of its downfall. People keep asking for transparency, with a project that’s provided more transparency than any infrastructure project in recent memory. To say there is no substance is ridiculous. Its very clear what the project was, how it would operate, and what its end goals were.

        An important portion of which is currently unavailable for the FttN rollout – how the rollout will happen. Until that information is available (by Ziggy and Turnbulls own words, the end of 2014), there is exactly zero substance to the FttN plan.

        The Liberal plan is a) built on clean analysis, and b) stands up to attempted rebuttal? Sorry, one eyed at best, delibrate distortion of reality at worst. Its based on an analysis, purely intended to come to one conclusion – that FttN is the only option. This is fundamentaly wrong, when every person in the industry recognises that its only a stepping stone to FttH. For that one reason, it doesnt stand up to rebuttal.

        Numerous times its been asked of you without a response – how is $29.5b value for money for FttN?

        Both you and fibroid never answer the basic questions of longevity about the project. Call it $30b for both plans, which is near enough to the Government commitment that it doesnt matter. One plan finishes 2 years before the other plan, and will be outdated either at the time its finished, or only two to four years after, depending on who you talk to.

        How is that value for money?


        why arent you warning haha yeah about irrationality? Smallest detour by the rest of us and you jump down our throats, but this guy gets away with it time after time.

  2. Now we know where MT’s faithful messengers here at Delimiter get it from…

    Every aspect of this issue is reduced by them to the schoolboy argument/mentality of ‘what about them’ or ‘only if they’…

    Seriously :/

    You kept telling us how superior your lot are to the others, so prove it instead of relying upon adolescent excuses and dares to the (inferior) other mob, Mal.

  3. Turnbull really is disconnected from reality.

    Labor releasing anything (that isn’t already on record within the department, which would be near zero) won’t pressure Turnbull to do anything.

    Indeed there’s so little pressure, Turnbull is happy to let dates slip and badmouth NBNco at every turn.

  4. I’m not entirely sure what releasing documents from the previous administration has to do with the current FOI request and its validity.

    Surely the decision to release the ‘blue book’ can and should stand on its own without being contingent on anything the ALP does.

    Why MT can’t “to encourage my secretary to release that incoming ministers brief” because he is committed to transparency, open government and value to the shareholders?

    (Please Note: I can see why he might not *want* to do so if hypothetically he were not committed to the above values)

    • He’s in a novel situation, and trying to gain some advantage out of it. He wants to see those previous papers, so is using this situation to try and get to them. Cant say I blame him, it doesnt hurt him any.

      If Labor says no, it gives him ammo (what are they hiding?) and if they say yes he can either just “request” his secretary consider the review (and come to the same conclusion; national security, blah blah blah) or release it anyway, knowing there’s nothing significant that hasnt been reported elsewhere.

      I dont think he can lose out of this one. It certainly isnt going to change the opinions of those that have made them, and potentially gives him more to throw at Labor as he continues to obfuscate things.

    • Some might say, Deal with it. But I’m more diplomatic, so I’ll say, Your expectations are much too high.

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