news The Opposition has demanded that the Government release a full business plan for its heavily revised version of the National Broadband Network.
In a statement, Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare alleged it had been three years since a “full” business case for the project was last released.
“On 8 August 2012, NBN Co released its 2012-15 Corporate Plan, containing financial and deployment forecasts until 2040,” said Clare. “This followed the release of NBN Co’s initial 2011-14 Corporate Plan in December 2010.”
In comparison, said Clare, all the Abbott Government had released so far was “a heavily redacted Strategic Review” and a “threadbare 2014-17 Corporate Plan which simply repeated the headline assumptions from the Strategic Review”.
Clare alleged that that since the Strategic Review was released in December 2013, finalisation of nbn’s deal with Telstra had been delayed by a year, IT costs to implement the Coalition’s Multi Technology Mix approach had blown out by approximately $1 billion and the scale rollout of Fibre-to-the-Node (which Clare said the Coalition promised would begin by mid-2014), had still not commenced.
“The HFC rollout is severely behind schedule,” Clare added, “with NBN Co to meet only a fraction of its target to connect 2.61 million premises by December 2016. The NBN is rolling out slower than Malcolm Turnbull promised, and it is more expensive than he promised. Yet, nearly two years into Malcolm Turnbull’s tenure as Communications Minister, he has still not released a full business plan.”
Clare pointed out that in Opposition, Turnbull had been a strong voice calling for the Labor Government of the day to be transparent and release business cases relating to the NBN project.
“In 2010, Malcolm Turnbull introduced a private members bill demanding that the Government release NBN Co’s business case,” said Clare. “In 2013, after the previous Government had released NBN Co’s 2011 and 2012 Corporate Plans, the demands kept coming. In 2013, Malcolm Turnbull even criticised the process of submitting draft Corporate Plans to Government.”
“Malcolm Turnbull’s time is up. The Australian public deserve to know how much his second-rate network will cost, and how long it will take to build.”
In June, the Senate passed a motion ordering Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann to release “a complete and unredacted copy” of nbn’s latest corporate plan, as prepared by the company itself, as well as a complete and unredacted copy of the 2014-2017 nbn corporate plan. In addition, the Senate also ordered the Ministers to hand over an unredacted copy of the nbn Strategic Review.
However, Turnbull and Cormann evaded the Senate order — stating, among other arguments — that the most recent corporate plan had not yet been completed and was still in draft form. Turnbull has been considering a draft of nbn’s latest corporate plan since at least April this year.
Delimiter has invited Minister Turnbull to respond to Clare’s statement.
I would make several points in regard to Clare’s statement this morning.
Firstly, yes, of course, Minister Turnbull should release the nbn Corporate Plan — immediately. Not only would it be hypocritical of him to hold onto it indefinitely, given his previous stance on this exact same matter in Opposition, but it’s the right thing to do. The NBN is an important project and the public deserves to know what’s happening with respect to it. Secondly, the Minister has had the plan since April, which is long enough to have gone through it with a fine tooth comb. Enough is enough. It’s time to get this document out there.
However, I would also note that Labor is also being hypocritical about this matter. During the tenure of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, the Coalition and the Greens had to drag this exact same document out of Labor. And there are plenty of NBN-related documents which Labor has never released and is in fact still hanging onto.
Furthermore, Labor appears to believe it will find some kind of ‘smoking gun’ relating to the failure of the Coalition’s MTM vision if it is able to go through the new nbn corporate plan itself. As Senator Conroy and Clare would be aware, it is unlikely that this will happen. The plan will have been massaged to exclude any ‘gotcha’ moments.
What we end up with is a somewhat farcical interchange between the Government and the Opposition. Both are being hypocritical about this matter. Meanwhile the Australian public is not getting — and will not get — the transparency with regard to the NBN project that it deserves. Just another day in Canberra.
In a general sense, many people, including myself, are very uneasy about the ongoing process where government business enterprises such as nbn submit drafts of their corporate plans to their minister, and then incorporate feedback after a lengthy consideration period. This smacks of a lack of independence on the part of GBEs and of political interference, and there are strong arguments that the practice should be stopped. I believe GBE corporate plans should be created by GBEs, independent of the political process — and then published on their websites. If Ministers are concerned, they have many other opportunities — including writing Statements of Expectation — to direct GBEs on how to conduct their operations.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting