news The Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network has resolved to hold another full day of hearings in Canberra, with the date to be 15 March and the only witness to be called being 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.
The Committee has somewhat addressed this criticism through calling a day of hearings this Friday 4 March. At the hearings, it will hear from a panel of academics including established NBN commentators such as University of Melbourne Professor Rod Tucker, the University of WA’s David Glance, and RMIT University’s Mark Gregory.
It will also hear from executives from Chorus New Zealand via videoconference, as well as Professor Len gray from the Centre for Online Health at the University of Queensland, and executives from the Stan and Presto (Foxtel) online streaming services.
However, it appears that Senator Conroy has also gotten his way with the Committee in seeking additional hearings directly questioning the NBN company.
Conroy flagged in the last round of Senate Estimates hearings in early February that it was likely the NBN company would be called to hearings of the NBN Senate Select Committee shortly, and over the past several days the Committee has confirmed on its website that it would call the NBN company for a full day of hearings (9:30AM to 5PM) on Tuesday 15 March in Parliament House in Canberra.
The date is also a Sitting Day for the Senate, meaning the hearings may be broken up regularly as Senators are called into the Senate Chamber for votes.
One of the topics likely to be discussed at the hearings, which has arisen since the last Senate Estimates hearings, is a set of leaked documents published by Delimiter and other media outlets this week, which appears to show that the NBN company is not anywhere close to meeting its Fibre to the Node rollout targets.
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).
Image credit: Parliamentary Broadcasting