Defying the Senate: Turnbull to release NBN Review by end of 2013


Question Time

news Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has signalled he will defy a Senate order to publish by next Monday the full Strategic Review which will guide the future of the NBN project, stating instead that he expects the document to be released by the end of 2013.

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 on Monday this week. 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.

Subsequently, Greens Senator and Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam signalled he would file a motion in the Senate that the Coalition table the Strategic Review document no later than noon on Monday 9 December. It is believed that Labor’s Senators supported the motion to assist it to pass in the Senate.

Despite this motion, however, Turnbull stated yesterday that he only expected to release the document by the end of the year.

“The Government received the working draft of the strategic review at the close of business yesterday,” a statement issued by Turnbull’s office said. “The report still needs to be approved by the NBN Co board next week. The Government expects that the report will be released by the end of the year.”
“The NBN Co has many sensitive commercial relationships and negotiations ahead of it, not least of which with Telstra, Optus and the various construction partners. Accordingly the Strategic Review of necessity contains material which is commercial in confidence and which the NBN Co would earnestly request not be published.”
“On the other hand, the Government wishes to make as much of the review publicly available as possible in the interests of transparency.”
“Accordingly, the Government has asked NBN Co for its advice as to what material it believes should be redacted and will then make a judgement as to how much of the Strategic Review can be released without materially damaging the commercial interests of the NBN Co.”

This approach of providing the Government of the day with a draft of pending reports 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.

Like the Greens, Labor has also previously demanded Turnbull release the full NBN report. However, Labor 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.

Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull


  1. Can’t say i’m surprised, but then, they need to have time to make sure the document contains everything they want to hear and nothing they don’t want to.

  2. It’s going to take them ages to release this because they will need to ‘find & replace’ FTTP with FTTN so the report says what Turnbull wants us to hear :-))

  3. “The refusal to release the document let Turnbull off the hook somewhat..”

    This hasn’t let him off the hook – he’s held a document hostage to demands. Hardly a mature approach.

    “Despite this motion, however, Turnbull stated yesterday that he only expected to release the document by the end of the year.”

    Defying the Senate, might have worked for Palpatine, but then he lived in a fictional universe. And ended up being tossed down a hole by an angry, aging asthmatic.

    This isn’t smart. Not if you want to pass policy in future.

    This report was going to validate Turnbull’s approach to the NBN; prove that NBNco had it wrong and he was right – now it’s being buried, to be released at ‘some point late December’.

    Disappointed. But not surprised. “Sooner. Faster”. Yep.

  4. Released at the end of the year suits them well, I don’t expect them to miss it. This time of year is good for controversial content sure to Christmas time attention span of the MSM.

    Even if it is not controversial content wise the whole debate isn’t particularly helpful for the coalition.

    The only thing they can really say in the whole debate is cheaper and sooner, they can’t claim better, they can’t claim more future proof. The policy still has a huge government funding commitment so they can’t appeal to small government conservatives.

    The less press this and any future report gets the better for them, release on December 23 anyone?

    • Actually it’s a lot simpler.

      The press will have moved on to the next ‘crisis’ and any NBN report consternation will be long since forgotten. Turnbull is simply ‘time-shifting’ the debate into irrelevance.

      Clever, if not just a little deceitful. It’s now down to whether the Senate Committee will call him to account and push for the report’s release.

  5. Can we get some comments from LNP supporters? Even LNP supporters can’t condone the the current LNP “policy” of hiding the truth from the Australian public.
    I am politically agnostic and find it appalling how we are now excluded from the information stream to which we are entitled. I want the public to see this NBN report and a whole lot more that Tony has decided: “We just can’t reveal.”

    • “Even LNP supporters can’t condone the the current LNP “policy” of hiding the truth from the Australian public.”
      They can and they will.

      It will probably sound something like this: “Labor blah blah blah”

      • As one whos vote is earned, never a given to any party, I find this blind hatred of one side and complete subservience to the other (either way) pitiful…

        I have noticed however, that those who oppose the real NBN (and yes,we know why) tend to swamp feel good NBN articles with their special brand of argumentativeness and avoid articles such as this :/

        • That was simply an expansion of your comment and certainly wasn’t directed at you whatsoever Harimau.

          Apolgies if it came across that way, at all :)

    • You are confused. LNP supporters aren’t going to express contrary opinions. They have no opinions that haven’t been prepared and authorised by the LNP leadership.

      We make jokes about the zombie apocalypse, but it’s actually happening and has been happening for some time. As long as people subjugate their own free will to the will of The Party, we will have zombies. These are people who move and make noises just like real people, but they have no brains and wish to remove brains from anyone who chooses to use their own.

  6. Turnbull, defying the Senate? Speaks for itself. Arrogance, self importance, agendas, and many more traits writ large.

  7. Only two reviews to go. Malcolm can only hide behind reviews for so long. Eventually, he will have to get going. Can’t wait to see how it will evolve (unravel?). The fascinating parts will be how the rental/acquisition of Telstra materialises and how the condition of the network is assessed.

  8. I’m wondering how we’re expected to accept this report as a valid and accurate assessment when Turnbull’s own posturing around the ‘six month old’ report recently obtained suggests that a report produced for the use of the sitting government is somehow tainted and inaccurate.

    The position he’s taken on that previous documents validity is not only based on false assumptions, but can be every bit equally applied to undermine the credibility of his own upcoming release.

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