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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Page: 1902


Senator FORSHAW (3:06 PM) —I have to say that I am surprised at one of the comments that Senator Troeth just made. I have a great deal of respect for Senator Troeth; I have worked with her on committees over many years. I regard her as one of the more sensible, rational and reasonable people in the opposition. But Senator Troeth said that the Senate will be asked to vote on the NBN without any information. That is not true. That is an absolutely outrageous distortion. I could use an unparliamentary word but I would be called to order. That is absolutely incorrect, and you know it is incorrect.

Let me very briefly touch upon some of the things I can recall from the previous government, which suggest that you are speaking with forked tongues when you mount those arguments on the NBN. I was around when proposals were put up by the then Howard government to sell Telstra and I can remember the refusal of the Howard government to release information about their proposals to privatise an existing government enterprise. The initial position of the Howard government was to seek approval to sell 100 per cent of Telstra. They said, ‘We’re not actually going to sell 100 per cent; we are actually going to sell maybe 33 or 49 per cent, but give us the power to sell the lot’—in other words, they wanted to bypass proper parliamentary scrutiny by getting approval in advance to sell down Telstra at whatever percentage the government decided. Fortunately the Senate on that occasion took steps to frustrate and stop that process.


Senator Abetz —Frustrate!


Senator FORSHAW —It was frustration because you were asking for a blank cheque for the sale of Telstra. And the proof came when you eventually got the ability to sell Telstra 2—the T2 shares. The record shows that the then government privatised the second tranche of Telstra and it went on to the market and thousands upon thousands of Australians lost a lot of money by purchasing shares which subsequently dived in value under the Howard government. The shares dived in value by up to 50 per cent. So the opposition should not lecture us about public accountability and taking proper due diligence on government expenditure.

The Minister representing the Treasurer, the minister in charge of broadband, has made it clear, time and time again, that this is a critical microeconomic reform. The NBN has a three-year corporate plan and is de-veloping its 30-year business plan. The current government is currently dealing with those elements. It is inappropriate, until that process is properly completed, for the sorts of questions that are being put up constantly by the opposition to be put out into the public arena.

You want to destroy the roll-out of this very important project—probably the most significant project in the history of this country in terms of its importance to the population in the future. Your intention is to wreck this, and to do it as early as you can. That is why you are pursuing the course you are on. It is as plain as day: it will become very clear to you, and to the Australian public, just how important this project is when, in proper time, the information is made available.

I can recall being in this parliament in opposition, when I chaired an inquiry. A contract had been let by ANSTO—a government enterprise—but we could never ever get access to that contract after it had been entered into. Not before the contract had been entered into, when there were commercial-in-confidence considerations to be taken into account, but after the contract had been signed by ANSTO and an Argentinean company, INVAP. We asked for the contract in this Senate time and time again. Do you know what we were told? ‘We can’t give it to you.’ Why? It was commercial-in-confidence after the decision. You are now trying to jump before the appropriate time and ask for the same sort of information. That is your approach.