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Review of necessity contains material which is commercial in confidence and which the NBN Co would earnestly request not be published.”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