New chair takes reins as NBN Committee sits this Friday


news The Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network will hold its first public hearing under the control of its new chair, Senator Jenny McAllister, this Friday morning, with nbn’s recent hiring spree and progress around its deployment of Fibre to the Node technology likely to be on the agenda.

The hearing has not been advertised on the Committee’s website, but its Secretariat today confirmed a hearing would take place in Canberra this Friday 14 August. It is believed likely that the Committee will formalise the hearing’s agenda at a private meeting later this week, with it not currently being clear whether the hearings will feature nbn executives or representatives from other organisations.

The committee has been chaired by long-serving Labor Senator Kate Lundy since its formation in November 2013. However, Lundy retired from the Senate in March, being replaced by Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, a former President of the Australian Labor Party and Senator for NSW who replaced long-serving Senator John Faulkner in the Senate in May.

The Committee was established by Labor and the Greens during the period after the September 2013 Federal Election where the two parties controlled the Senate before newly elected Senators took their seats in mid-2014. Labor and the Coalition each have three seats on the Committee, with the balance of power held by Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

Senator Lundy has appeared to largely take a hands-off approach to running the committee hearings, giving former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy a relatively free rein to question nbn executives in lengthy sessions that have, at times, run extremely late into the evening.

Senator Conroy’s forensic approach to examining the NBN project has resulted in a substantial amount of information about the ongoing deployment of the NBN being released to the public.

However, the detailed approach taken by the former Communications Minister and the frequency of the hearings held by the Committee — typically only involving executives from the nbn company itself — has led to concerns that the committee has become overly politicised.

The Government has unsuccessfully sought to have the Committee abolished, with the stated aim of replacing it with a joint Parliamentary Committee which would allow lower-house MPs such as Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare and tech-focused MPs Michelle Rowland and Ed Husic to take part. However, the Government eventually withdrew a Senate motion on the matter after it became apparent it did not have the numbers to push the move through.

Friday’s hearing will be the first time Senator McAllister has chaired a public hearing of the Committee, giving the public a chance to find out whether she will seek to make efforts to bolster the Committee’s perceived independence on the fraught NBN matter.

Labor has not yet given any indication of its potential line of questioning towards nbn executives at Friday’s hearing. However, it is likely that one of the topics of discussion will be nbn’s plans unveiled last week to train a further 4,500 workers to join the ranks of its construction partners and the company itself.

It is also likely that the company’s ongoing rollout efforts involving the Coalition’s preferred Fibre to the Node and HFC cable technologies will be examined, as well as the Government’s failure to publish the most recent nbn corporate plan.

What do I think should happen with the NBN Senate Select Committee? What should the future of Parliamentary oversight of the NBN project be? I will outline my thoughts in detail on this issue in a future article.

For now, however, I will note that anyone interested in the NBN should watch this Friday’s hearings closely, if time permits. Not only has NBN itself made several major announcements over the past few months, but the political dynamic between Labor Senators Conroy and McAllister will no doubt tell us much about how the NBN Senate Select Committee will operate in future. Balance of power Senator Scott Ludlam appears to have hinted on Twitter that he may also be at the hearings.

The Committee has long been viewed as a vehicle for Senator Conroy to protect his NBN legacy, as well as perhaps extracting a slight touch of revenge upon Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Readers may recall the Liberal MP made a number of very sharp attacks on the then Labor Government and NBN executives in the previous joint NBN Committee.

Senator Lundy — who joined the Senate with Conroy back in 1996 and has long worked with him — appeared happy to facilitate this. But Senator McAllister may prove more likely to keep Senator Conroy on a tighter leash.

It’s worth remembering that the new Senator is not precisely an ally of Senator Conroy. Senator McAllister hails from Labor’s left in NSW, Senator Conroy from Labor’s right in Victoria. Senator Conroy may be a seasoned Parliamentary performer, while Senator McAllister is a novice Senator. However, Senator McAllister is also a party heavyweight, having led Labor as its national president for several years. She’s also nine years younger, presumably with a long Senate career ahead of her.

Without going into my thoughts too deeply here, it is time that the NBN project became depoliticised and became a stable, ongoing project that the Australian public can have confidence in. One wonders whether normalising the NBN Senate Select Committee a bit might be a place to start.

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


  1. Why would Sen McAllister try to limit Sen Conroy. He’s been asking all the right questions. Would you tell me people in the tech industry support MTM? No.

    MTM is a product of business & political motives. It’s rotten and disgusting.

    • I agree with you about the MTM.

      However, the only way we’re going to fix this over the long term is to achieve a bipartisan vision. We can’t switch from FTTP to MTM every three to six years as the electoral cycle goes back and forth. We need a joint agreement between the parties for the long-term development of the NBN to full fibre. I think step 1 in that process is depoliticising the issue.

      I wouldn’t say Conroy’s asking the wrong questions, but I do think the NBN Committee structure is being pushed to its limits right now … personally I think it needs to head back towards normalisation.

  2. Renai you mention updates about HFC and FTTN but don’t mention FTTB. 21 buildings in over a year when TPG is approaching 500 in the same period demands further scrutiny.

  3. “personally I think it needs to head back towards normalisation.”

    Normalisation… hmm

    Labor and the Greens are expected to forgive and forget so the libs can continue with ‘raping and pillaging’ with their business buddies?
    I think this is the reason why Sen Conroy’s is given such latitude in his efforts to hold MT and MTMco accountable for past, present and future.
    As long as the Libs have Turnbull to lie and distort, Morrow to obfuscate and News Corp to support, it will not end and there is no way to depoliticise. If left totally unchecked they’ll have even less caution about consequences than they already have.

    If Malcom and NBNco released real numbers for costs, then everyone could hold hands and run towards the sunset.

  4. (NBN project became depoliticised and became a stable, ongoing project that the Australian public can have confidence in.)
    Sure, I can just see Turnbull, the NBN Executives, McAllister, Conroy and Ludlum sitting around the NBN Committee campfire joining hands and singing Kumbaya, in your dreams.

    • I’d love to see the debate reframed to be one about the national interest. I can’t see that happening any time soon. That would require some sadly lacking long term vision. Everything the Abbott Government does is political and designed for the 24 hour news cycle. That is what sets the tone. The ALP opposition haven’t been particularly active on the debate either.

    • “Sure, I can just see Turnbull, the NBN Executives, McAllister, Conroy and Ludlum sitting around the NBN Committee campfire joining hands and singing Kumbaya, in your dreams.”

      This is precisely the kind of negative thinking which will stop a bipartisan from becoming a reality.

      • I don’t understand how you can still believe it’s possible to achieve bipartisan vision when one half of that division has demonstrated comprehensive disdain for logic, facts or even honesty on the subject. Is it sane to insist a reasonable outcome can be achieved with a party so fundamentally opposed to collaboration rooted in a foundation of recalcitrance for the sake of it? Remember Abbott always wanted to destroy the project. Their position is not going to shift further towards logic and reason – they’re already doing everything they want, regardless of their gestapo-like removal of NBN Co’s core staff and replacement with Telstra puppets, because there has essentially been no public outcry and nothing to hold them to account. You can claim ‘middle ground consensus’ is needed as much as you like, but what you really seem to be saying is Labor and the supporters of FTTP need to come around to the LNP point of view, because they don’t have any option,and we should consider that a progressive, bipartisan direction. I’m sorry, but I and many others would consider it a retrograde effort in anti-reason.

  5. I find it rather interesting that there is a Senate Select committee sitting on the day when a large number of copper connections are due to be disconnected as a result of the fibre rollout. Should be worth watching Dalek Conroy warm up the death ray.

  6. If you want consensus Renai, lets all agree to vote the useless bastards out at the next election.

Comments are closed.