news The Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network has resolved to hold hearings in Parliament House in Canberra next Friday 4 March, but has opted to hear from a diverse range of witnesses in academia and industry, without the presence of its usual target, the NBN company.
The Committee was established in November 2013 in order to provide a mechanism for the Parliament to keep the NBN project accountable. At the time, Labor teamed up with the Greens to establish the Committee, using the pair’s combined dominance of the Senate which ended in July 2014. The Committee features a mix of Coalition and Labor Senators, with Greens Senator Scott Ludlam holding the balance of power.
At times, the Committee’s hearings and reports been seen as broadly partisan towards Labor’s view of the National Broadband Network due to the presence on the Committee of former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who continues to be a strong critic of the Coalition’s approach to the NBN.
Conroy has at times taken an adversarial approach to questioning the NBN company at hearings held by the Committee, mimicking his approach during similar NBN hearings held by the Senate Environment and Communications Committee during the Senate Estimates process.
In addition, the NBN Committee has only rarely called witnesses that were not from the NBN company itself.
However, Delimiter has confirmed that the Committee will hold a fresh set of hearings next Friday 4 March featuring a more diverse set of witnesses.
For this hearing, the Committee has chosen to instead invite a roundtable of academics to take questions from the attending Senators, as well as Internet Australia, a non-profit organisation representing all Australian Internet users.
Also called to present at the hearings next week will be representatives from New Zealand, to discuss that country’s own national broadband plan, and likely figures from the healthcare sector, to provide evidence on how the NBN will affect that area of the economy.
The NBN Senate Select Committee has yet to publish the full program, but the hearings are likely to take up much of the day, starting at 9AM.
Since the last set of hearings by the Committee, the leadership of the Committee has changed, with Labor Senator Jan McLucas now chairing and deputy chair to be Liberal Senator David Johnston. The former chair of the committee, Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, has shifted to chair the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Publication Administration (References).
During Senate Estimates several weeks ago, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy warned the NBN company that it was likely to face a fresh set of hearings from the NBN Senate Select Committee, and it looks like he was right — the NBN Committee has again become active.
However, it also appears that either the Greens or the Coalition have requested a more diverse attendance at the NBN Senate Select Committee hearings. This is a good thing. There are some amongst us who had grown a little tired of hearing after hearing dominated by witnesses from the NBN company itself, with the inevitable confrontation with Conroy.
I am sure the NBN company will still be called to testify to the Committee and the inevitable showdowns with Conroy will still take place at other hearings. Those are still worthwhile parts of the NBN Committee process, and I wouldn’t want them to disappear completely.
But it’s also true that a little diversity in the national NBN discussion will only be to its benefit, and I believe Friday’s set of fresh witnesses will certainly provide that.
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting