Conroy bushwhacks Fifield with NBN transparency reform


news Former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has blindsided the Government in the Senate, successfully passing an amendment to an otherwise innocuous piece of NBN legislation that will enforce a degree of radical transparency on the NBN company.

The Senate this morning debated several pieces of legislation concerned with surface-level telecommunications regulation, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2015 and the Telecommunications (Numbering Charges) Amendment Bill 2015. Both were expected to pass Parliament in relatively short order.

However, Labor Senator Conroy — the author of the original NBN policy in his tenure as Communications Minister in the Rudd and Gillard Governments — unexpectedly ambushed the current Communications Minister, Senator Fifield, by introducing a key amendment to one of the bills this morning.

The amendment — available online — stipulates that the NBN company’s board must prepare a report setting out key financial and deployment forecasts for the rollout of the National Broadband Network, for the period beginning 1 July 2015 and ending 30 June 2022.

Conroy’s amendment calls for the report to contain a large amount of information, some of which the NBN company does not currently provide publicly, such as the number of premises which it anticipates will be ready for service for each access technology as at the stipulated dates, the number of premises activated, the NBN company’s key financial details such as revenue and earnings, the amount of government and private sector funding it has and will take and much more.

The NBN company, under the Coalition Government, has proven more transparent on some measures — such as publishing more regular statistics about its rollout — but in general has withheld much more information about its rollout than it did under Labor.

Conroy’s amendment stipulated that the detailed report he requested must be provided to the Communications Minister of the day, as well as being published on its website and tabled in Parliament.

In the Senate this morning, Conroy said there was no other Government Business Enterprie in Australia that was allowed to hide information about its operations as the NBN company did.

The Senator said NBN chief executive Bill Morrow — who has sought to withhold some information on the basis of a ‘Commercial in Confidence’ argument — was treating the Senate “with contempt”. The Senate does not usually recognise Commercial in Confidence as a reason for withholding information from it, unless there are very specific reasons given by the entity it is seeking information from.

Conroy also slammed what he said were the “fluffy” pieces of content being generated by the NBN company’s public relations team — which he said includes about 60 staff members. He said the NBN company was trying to hide information relating to the veracity of Labor’s original Fibre to the Premises model for the NBN.

“They can tweet and tweet and tweet, but the lie has to be maintained at all costs,” said Conroy. The Labor Senator vowed to pursue the NBN company relentlessly on the issue of transparency.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam also spoke in the Senate this morning, pointing out that the Greens had supported NBN transparency for many years; in fact, Ludlam had teamed up with the previous Coalition Opposition to enforce NBN transparency on Conroy as Communications Minister.

Ludlam slammed the Multi-Technology Mix model applied by the Abbott and Turnbull administrations to the NBN. “We’re stuck with an obsolete copper network … stuck together with gaffer tape and plastic bags,” said Ludlam. “What act of genius put this together?”

“It’s a network that will be obsolete the day it’s switched on,” the Greens Senator and long-time Communications spokesperson told the Senate.

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield rejected the claim that the NBN company was not transparent enough, stating that as Communications Minister, Malcolm Turnbull had drastically increased the company’s transparency and noting his view that transparency had been “an illusion” under the previous Labor Government.

“This is a legislative stunt,” Fifield said of Conroy’s NBN transparency amendment.

Depsite Fifield’s protestations, Senate crossbenchers such as Senators Lazarus, Wang, Xenophon and Madigan combined with the Greens and Labor to pass Conroy’s contentious amendment.

The legislation will now be shuffled back to the House of Representatives for consideration. It is likely that the House — controlled by the Coalition — will knock the amendment back or seek to modify it in a way that would be likely to ensure it passed through the Senate.

Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting


  1. “Hell … it’s about time.”

    No more hiding Morrow and Fifield (and even Turnbull by proxy). You’ll have to publicly own it … crying foul won’t help you, and indeed you shouldn’t have to, if you’d reported on this in the first place.

    • Oh hang on … it’s got to get through the House of Reps (missed that last paragraph).

      Damn … so it’s only going to be an object lesson for Fifield to pay more attention I guess.

  2. “is likely that the House — controlled by the Coalition — will knock the amendment back”
    Likely, more like a certainty. Must cover up dirty laundry at all costs!
    What do you think Fifield said to Ludlam in the corner?

    • Not sure re Fifield and Ludlam, but if I had to guess, I would say it would be something about how Conroy’s amendment was inappropriate … perhaps a bit of discussion about the future of the bill in general. Fifield will have to bring it back to the Senate at some point.

      I wouldn’t say it would be anything particularly substantive, although they did have two separate chats.

  3. Conroy also slammed what he said were the “fluffy” pieces of content being generated by the NBN company’s public relations team

    GimpCo Twatter feed and blog looking more like a show on the Lifestyle channel now.

    • Yeah, that’s pretty apt HC, it’s like the FisherPrice of telecommunications…

  4. In his response, Senator Fifield accused Conroy of taking a theological approach to the NBN. Later in his speech he asks would others have more faith in a plan devised by Senator Conroy or Mr Turnbull?

    Sorry Senator Fifield but isn’t a theological approach built on faith? So you are now asking others to take a theological approach to Turnbull’s plans?

  5. Ludlam slammed the Multi-Technology Mix model applied by the Abbott and Turnbull administrations to the NBN. “We’re stuck with an obsolete copper network … stuck together with gaffer tape and plastic bags,” said Ludlam. “What act of genius put this together?”

    ok sticking the boot in with emotive terminology is the easy bit, so what does the Greens NBN policy contain to fix it?

  6. More information would be welcomed, reasonable forecasts through to FY2022 should be bread-and-butter for the finance team (likely to number significantly less than their media team). Quigley’s 50-ish member media team now grown to 60 (revenue comparison?), advertising budget growing (yet only 15% of network complete).

    The figures requested should be part of the CP anyway, Morrow should proudly provide them with CPP comparisons to the FTTH network performance. NBNCo’s turnaround a great story.

    Politically, however, the release of such projections will destroy NBNCo as a GBE.

    • Not to mention destroy it as a viable candidate for privatization unless the taxpayers take a huge hit. (Thanks Abbott and Turnbull).
      It won’t do Morrow or the Govt any good either.

      • On the other hand estimated funding for FTTP of $74-84B redefines the meaning of ‘take a huge hit’.

        • Actually if left alone to provide a return the taxpayer would have made a 7-8% profit out of that $74-84B for FttP! (using your figures not the correct ones or even the latest LNP ones).

          The ‘take a hit’ comment stems from the fact that if under the IA’s suggestion the MTM is sold in the next five years the MTM will not have made a return on the investment to date and will rely on the parts being sold for more than MTM has spent which isn’t a likely scenario atm.

        • It frustrates me how after all of this time, people still don’t understand the difference between investment funding and spending.

          The fact that the entire argument against a full-fibre solution is that it will ‘cost too much’, even though it would actually stand to make all that money back and more is nothing more than remarkable.

          How do basic arguments like this fall flat? Sure, the FTTN requires a lot less funding. Peak funding is far less – and therefore the interest payments required in the interim period before achieving positive ROI will be greater – but this does not mean that it costs less.

          One way you can compare two plans’ funding requirements and deduce one ‘costs’ more is by comparing both plans before either or one of them has achieved positive ROI. The other is if one of the plans will not achieve a positive ROI, however in that case, the plan would not be able to secure funding by investors (you’d be surprised how little chance you have of getting funding without a guaranteed ROI), therefore would not have proceeded in the first place.

          You can claim all you want that the funding was provided ‘at a risk’ to the creditors, but those creditors are not the government, and that risk lies entirely with the creditors. Any creditor will tell you they’re more than happy to lend ANY amount regardless of the total as long as there will be a return on the investment (ROI). They will NOT be providing a line of credit unless the economics of the project stack up. Economics 101. Adding to this that the line of credit is provided from reserve currency and you can quickly see that there is no sovereign risk to the country unless the project goes tits up and cannot ever achieve a positive ROI, something which has been consistently proven to be false by the ROI projections of the original FTTP plan in ALL reviews taken on it.

          The fact of the matter is that regardless of the technology choice and rollout plan, ROI will be achieved. Therefore it is completely disingenious to say that the FTTP plan ‘costs’ any money at all. We were not purchasing a depreciating asset such as a car with the funding provided – it was entirely off the books as an investment.

          Of course fast forward to now and the nbn(tm) company has actually ‘spent’ money on a depreciating asset (the copper network) – and quite a very large sum indeed – therefore irreversibly changing the economic position of the company and making it harder to achieve a positive ROI no matter which method is ultimately taken.

          It’s really not that complicated.

        • lol reality lol

          It’s not possible to quote figures about the Labor rollout in 2016, it stopped in 2013/14, you are aware of this crucial detail?

        • @ alain.

          “So what’s your well considered detailed financial model say?”

          4 year hold ups and UPTO (LOL…) $27B over the promised $29B..and that’s from the yes men.

          Imagine what it “actually is”

          You’re welcome.

  7. Hopefully when the ALP return to government later this year they will reveal all, including immediately sacking all of Turnbull’s cronies at NBN.

    • Including the Board.

      (Except Simon Hackett because he’s obviously been working really hard behind the scenes and at a board room level to make the best of a bad situation. rofl.)

  8. NBN has 60 PR staff?! Someone teach them how to splice fibre or pull cables, give them some work boots and send them out to do some real work. Hell, it’s not like between all 60 of them that they’ve done a stellar job. NBN’s public reputation and public interface is a train wreck.

    • Remember when the media kicked up a massive stink about NBNCo buying $100m worth of coffee machines?

      I’ll wager that amount wouldn’t even support 2 of these PR people for a year…

      • Remember when the media kicked up a massive stink about NBNCo buying $100k worth of coffee machines?

        Remember when the media didn’t kick up a massive stink about NBNCo spending $700k worth of rebranding to nbn™?

        Australia’s media (present company excepted) is a bad joke.

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