news The Opposition has demanded the Federal Government release the Strategic Review report which NBN Co has conducted into its operations and possible future plans. However, the report has not yet been delivered to the Government, even in draft form.
The Strategic Review is being led by NBN Co’s Board and executive management. Its primary objective is to evaluate both the current NBN operational and financial performance as well as the timing, financials and product offers under alternative models of delivering very fast broadband to homes and businesses across Australia. Its recommendations will help shape the Government’s decisions regarding the future of the project.
Last week, NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski told the NBN Senate Select Committee that the company would deliver the Strategic Review to the Federal Government today. This timeframe is in keeping with a pledge by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull that the review would be developed within 60 days of NBN Co having a new management team.
A spokesperson for Turnbull this morning confirmed the report had not yet been delivered. When it was, they said, it was likely to be in draft form. After the Government had time to consider the draft, a final version would be produced. This approach has largely become standard practice for the production of this style of report, under both Labor and the Coalition, although some commentators have criticised the approach for having the potential to undermine the independence of such reports.
In a statement issued this morning, Shadow Minister for Communications Jason Clare said it was “D-Day” for what he described as “the Coalition’s dud broadband policy”.
“The Coalition promised that if elected they would conduct a 60-day strategic review. It is now more than 80 days since the election,” said Clare. “It is time for the Government to release the NBN Strategic Review. The Government now has the Strategic Review, it was delivered to the Minister today, he should release it today.”
Clare said the Strategic Review needed to meet “the test set for it by the Minister himself”. Two weeks ago Turnbull said: “We want hand on heart true, realistic and achievable options prudently costed and scoped on which we can make weighty decisions.”
“If the Government is going to move to a Fibre to the Node model, the Strategic Review needs to provide realistic costs to fix and maintain the copper network they are going to use,” Clare said. “If the Strategic Review doesn’t provide this information it will have failed. If the Strategic Review team hasn’t got this information from Telstra and independently audited it, we will not know how much it will cost to build the Coalition’s second rate network.”
Shadow Assistant Minister for Communications Michelle Rowland added: “We need this information before any ‘weighty decisions’ are made to switch from Fibre to the Premises to Fibre to the Node.”
The two Shadow Minister said the Strategic Review needed to answer the following questions. “If the Strategic Review doesn’t answer these questions it will have failed to deliver,” Clare said.
- How much is it going to cost to for NBN Co to access and use the Telstra copper network that will make its fibre-to-the-node model work?
- What data has Telstra provided about the copper network? Has it been audited?
- How much is it going to cost to fix/upgrade the copper network so that it is of a reliable standard?
- How much is it going to cost to operate and maintain the copper network over the next ten years?
- Does NBN Co plan to buy or lease the copper network from Telstra?
- What plans does NBN Co have to utilise the existing HFC network?
- How does the Government plan to plug the gaps in the HFC network?
- Will the HFC network be made open access?
- Given the Government promised to make the NBN easy to convert to a full fibre-to-the-premises network in the future, exactly how will this be done?
- When does the Government expect this to happen?
- When will agreements with Telstra, power companies, construction partners, and equipment vendors be completed?
- How many nodes will be constructed and what will be the maximum distance between a node and a premise?
What will the node cost to build, operate and maintain?
- How will voice services be delivered in a fibre to the node model?
Although it is demanding the release of the NBN Strategic Review, the Opposition is also withholding documents relating to the NBN project. Last week, for example, the Opposition confirmed it would not consent to key Labor cabinet documents related to the NBN being publicly released, despite the fact that the documents are several years old.
Of high interest is a report 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.
The refusal to release the document let Turnbull off the hook somewhat, as the Minister had pledged to consider asking his department to publicly release his incoming ministerial briefing document if Labor allowed key NBN cabinet documents dating from its administration to be released.
“Cabinet documents are kept confidential by Governments of both persuasions,” said Clare at the time. “If Mr Turnbull wants to change that convention, he probably should run it by the Prime Minister.”
In addition, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy initially refused to release NBN Co’s first business plan delivered in late 2010. At the time, the Greens and Coalition teamed up in the Senate to compel the release of the document, but the then-Labor administration proved reticent to comply. Conroy eventually relented and released the document under intense public pressure to do so.
I note that last week NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski stated that not all of the NBN Strategic Review document may be published. Depending on how much of the document is withheld or redacted, Delimiter may seek access to the full document under Freedom of Information laws. This is important information that must be made public in order to inform the ongoing conversation about this national project. It must not be kept secret.
Image credit: Labor