news Clive Palmer claimed over the weekend that in 2014, Malcolm Turnbull tried to use the Palmer United Party’s votes in the Senate to get former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy removed from the Senate Select Committee into the NBN, replacing it with a joint committee.
“In 2014 Turnbull asked me to use our votes in the senate to remove Conroy from NBN committee,” the Member for Fairfax said in a Facebook post over the weekend.
“Turnbull offered to appoint me Chairman of a Parliamentary Joint Committee for NBN. Turnbull was worried about the senate committee questioning the chief Executive of the NBN.”
“I think he was worried the Truth would come out about NBN, he wanted me shut it down. He said he wanted to get Conroy. I refused. I have seen the Liberals direct police before. Wink Wink. Nudge Nudge. Say no more promotion on the way.”
It is not clear to what extent Palmer’s comments are accurate.
The Senate Select Committee into the NBN was established in the wake of the 2013 Federal Election. At the time, Labor and the Greens maintained control of the Senate, because the new Senators elected in September 2013 had not yet taken their seats (they would only do so in July 2014).
Consequently, Labor and the Greens used their control of the Senate following the Election to establish a Senate Select Committee into the NBN, with Greens Senator Scott Ludlam holding the balance of power on the Committee.
The Committee has since provided a strong forum for Conroy in particular to criticise and reveal key pieces of information about the NBN project as it is being rolled out by the Coalition.
It is true that after the new crop of Senators took their seats in July 2014, the Government of the day — when Turnbull was Communications Minister — made a motion to dissolve the NBN Senate Select Committee.
However, the motion never made it through the Parliament.
It is believed that at the time, Palmer was approached by both the Government and the Opposition on the issue.
It is believed that Conroy was successful in convincing Palmer to inform the Government that he would use his Senate voting block to vote against any motion to kill off the NBN Senate Select Committee.
Speculation exists that Conroy offered Palmer Labor’s support for a Senate inquiry into the conduct of the Queensland Government in return for Palmer’s continued support for the NBN Senate Select Committee.
Eventually the Government withdrew its motion to abolish the NBN Senate Select Committee. The dissolution of Parliament for this year’s Federal Election did, however, terminate the NBN Senate Select Committee, as it is not a permanent standing committee.
However, it is believed that there is still a desire within the various sides of politics to eventually replace it with a Joint Standing Committee on the NBN, which would allow lower house MPs to participate in the hearings, as well as Senators.
One of the sticking points between the various parties is believed to be the balance of power on any such joint committee between Labor, the Coalition, and the Greens or any other independents.
In any case, it is not clear that even if the Palmer United Party voted with the Government on the issue, that Conroy could have been removed from any reformed NBN Committee. Typically each major side of politics will choose their own members for any particular parliamentary committee.
I am personally in favour of establishing either a Joint Committee on the NBN, which would allow both MPs and Senators to participate in hearings, or a permanent Joint Standing Committee on Technology in general, which could bring all tech-focused MPs together and set up a distinct inquiry into the NBN, as well as having the power to set up inquiries into other technology-related matters.
At the moment the Parliament has Joint Standing Committees on a range of other matters (for example legal issues and national security), but no permanent centre of excellence to bring together MPs interested in technology-related issues.
This will be one of the major issues that I will be pushing for when the new Parliament starts sitting again after 2 July.
As for Palmer … well, I think he is bending the truth here a little. There is no doubt that he did play a role in the 2014 schmozzle over the NBN Senate Select Committee, but I also don’t think he’s giving us the whole story here.
For example … sure, Palmer talked to the Coalition in 2014 on this issue. But he also talked to Labor. Why hasn’t he disclosed the content of those talks?
Image credit: Facebook page of Palmer United Party