news Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has written to Opposition Leader Bill Shorten requesting the Labor leader release cabinet documents from the previous Labor administration relating to the National Broadband Network, despite the fact that Turnbull himself is holding back similar material from the Coalition’s period in power.
In a letter sent to the Opposition Leader over the weekend and seen by Delimiter, Turnbull noted that the Government intended this week to publish the Strategic Review of the NBN which is currently being prepared by NBN Co and its external advisors.
“The Government has made it very clear that we are committed to keeping the Parliament and the Australian public fully informed about the NBN,” wrote Turnbull in the letter. “We believe it is critical that this important project is managed, constructed and operated as transparently as possible. The NBN Co should be at least as accountable as a public listed company.”
For these reasons, Turnbull added, the Strategic Review would be published in full, subject only to limited redactions arising from legal restraints and commercial sensitivities connected with current and prospective agreements and negotiations with third parties.
“Against this background, I’m writing to you to again request that you agree to the release of the financial and technical advice the former Government relied upon in making the decision to shift its policy from a fibre to the node NBN constructed by the private sector and supported by a Government subsidy, to a fibre to the premise NBN entirely funded and constructed by a Government-owned business enterprise,” wrote Turnbull.
Turnbull noted that he was making the request because of the convention that Cabinet documents were confidential to the Government which created them, with access to them by succeeding governments not being granted without the approval of the current parliamentary leader of the appropriate political party.
“I note that some of the advice of the previous Government, such as that from Lazard, has been referred to in the press and that your colleagues have indicated that it was not representative of the totality of advice received,” added Turnbull. “The best and most transparent way to put this matter to rest is to enable all the advice to be made public so that the full context of the previous Government’s decision is made clear.”
Turnbull’s letter comes after the Opposition confirmed several weeks ago that it would not consent to key Labor Cabinet documents relating to the NBN being released.
“This is not the Government that they promised to be. In Opposition Malcolm Turnbull said NBN Co was more secretive than the Kremlin,” said Shadow Communication Minister Jason Clare at the time. “Now he is in Government he is refusing to release the brief he was given when he became a Minister. Previous Ministers have done this and so should he.”
“Cabinet documents are kept confidential by Governments of both persuasions. If Mr Turnbull wants to change that convention, he probably should run it by the Prime Minister.”
It also comes despite the fact that Turnbull himself is withholding significant documents relating to the NBN. The Minister has refused to release his incoming ministerial briefing, known as the ‘Blue Book’, which is currently the subject of a number of Freedom of Information requests.
In addition, The Sydney Morning Herald and ZDNet have published extensive extracts from a pre-election analysis put together by NBN Co relating to the Coalition’s NBN policy. The document, which Labor has described as “devastating” for the Coalition’s Fibre to the Node model, is heavily critical of the policy. It has not been released publicly.
I see this situation as a Mexican standoff. The Government won’t release key documents, such as the Blue Book or NBN Co’s evaluation of its policy. The Opposition won’t release key documents, such as the Lazard report or other key NBN documents which went to cabinet.
When is either side going to blink? The Australian public, whose side I am on, would like both sides to be more transparent, regardless of what the other side does. That would appear to be the high road which both sides are refusing to take. But then, that’s hardly surprising, given the state of Australian democracy at the moment.
In other news, why the hell did we elect these people, who seem to believe one of their primary tasks is to criticise the other side for not being transparent, while they won’t be transparent themselves? What a joke. Can’t they see the inherent hypocrisy in their comments?
Image credit: Office of Malcolm Turnbull