news Communications Minister Mitch Fifield has labelled Stephen Conroy’s successful amendments to force a radical degree of transparency on the NBN company as being a “legislative stunt” from the Labor Senator he said was still serving as the defacto Shadow Communications Minister.
Yesterday morning Conroy — a former Communications Minister and creator of the NBN policy — successfully moved Senate amendments to an otherwise innocuous piece of NBN legislation that would force the company to release a substantial new swathe of information about its current operations and future plans.
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 amendments back or seek to modify them in a way that would be likely to ensure the overall bill still passed through the Senate.
In a statement yesterday, Fifield — also the Manager of Government Business in the Senate — slammed what he said was a “stunt” from Conroy, stating that Labor was “fast running out of ideas” on how to tackle the Turnbull Government on the issue, with the rollout of the Coalition’s Multi-Technology Mix accelerating.
“Today, Labor derailed the progress of a significant communications deregulation package by presenting an unrelated amendment calling for the publication of detailed commercial forecasts for the nbn over the next seven years,” said Fifield.
The Liberal Senator said the level of commercial forecasting Labor was calling for — over a seven year period to 2022 — goes “far beyond” what is required of a publicly listed company, demanding the NBN company disclose minute details of its financial and business models out to 2022 which are presently kept confidential to protect the company in its commercial negotiations with suppliers, contractors and retailers.
Fifield pointed out that the Communications Legislation Amendment (Deregulation and Other Measures) Bill 2015 was considered uncontroversial and was supported by Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare when it passed through the House of Representatives.
“The NBN under Labor was one of the most poorly managed projects in the history of the Commonwealth,” said Fifield. “Between 2009 and 2013, NBN Co failed to meet every rollout target it set itself.”
“Labor’s stunt in the Senate today highlights what many around the Parliament already know – Jason Clare has been sidelined in favour of Senator Stephen Conroy who still runs the show when it comes to the Communications portfolio under Labor.”
Earlier in the Senate, Fifield also said that the current Coalition Government had already enforced a degree of transparency on the NBN company not seen under the previous Labor administration. Conroy had been Communications Minister during most of the period of the previous Rudd and Gillard Governments.
“There is an unprecedented amount of information available about the NBN rollout today, including weekly progress reports, quarterly financial updates and a detailed and regularly updated three-year rollout plan which extends to 2018 and, which was released for the first time towards the end of last year,” said Fifield.
“There is the corporate plan which covers the next three years. There is the annual report. There is the statement of intent. There is an unprecedented amount of information available, and it really is in dramatic contrast to the period of Senator Conroy’s stewardship.”
Fifield said he did have “a degree of fondness” for Conroy, but noted that he did get “a little tired” of the Labor Senator moving amendments to “completely unrelated pieces of legislation.
“No doubt this will not be the last time that we will see Senator Conroy do this and will not be the last time we see him do it in relation to the NBN. This is essentially an attempt at a legislative stunt,” said Fifield.