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Thursday, 10 November 2011
Page: 8857

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (15:01): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Jobs and Workplace Relations (Senator Evans) and the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (Senator Conroy) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today relating to the Australian Labor Party and to the Australia Network tender process.

In regard to the Australia Network contract, what we are witnessing at present is a textbook cover-up of a corrupted process by a government mired in a dodgy and dirty deal. What we have seen is a three-step move to conceal the facts behind the scandal that is plaguing this $223 million corrupted tender for the Australia Network. Chapter 1 of the textbook cover-up that the government is engaged in is to claim that everything associated with the tender—the now extinguished tender—remains confidential, not simply the purely commercially confidential material of the tenderers. Chapter 2 of the cover-up is to seek legal advice, to selectively quote from that legal advice and to justify their changed position as a result of that legal advice but to refuse to release the full legal advice for proper public and parliamentary scrutiny. Chapter 3 of this cover-up has been to refer certain allegations to the Australian Federal Police but to refuse to detail what those allegations are and to refuse to answer any further questions on the matter because of the police investigation and referral. This is a trifecta of cover-up tactics by this government over this dodgy contract deal. Firstly, they are hiding behind the tender; secondly, they are hiding behind the legal advice; and, thirdly, they are hiding behind the police investigation. Clearly, they have a lot to hide.

Despite the textbook cover-up, the more Senator Conroy talks about this Australia Network contract, the bigger the hole he digs for himself. On Tuesday, he told the Senate that the advice from the Australian Government Solicitor was that 'it was open to the government to decide' the way forward on the basis of the advice and how the tender may or may not proceed from there. Yet today in response to questions he said that as a result of the Australian Government Solicitor's advice it was 'completely untenable' to proceed with the tender. Which is it? Was it completely untenable or was it open to the government to decide a way forward? If what he said on Tuesday is correct and truthful then in fact the government had the opportunity to find a pathway to finalise this tender process rather than, as he is claiming now, it being completely untenable to do so.

Despite this textbook cover-up, the more Senator Conroy talks the more he exposes how it is the dysfunctionality of this government that has corrupted this tender process to the core. Today what he has revealed is that, in referring these allegations—whatever they may be; he has failed to detail them—to the Australian Federal Police, he informed two offices. He informed the office of the Prime Minister, Ms Gillard; and the office of the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Swan. What is notable is who he did not inform or advise. He did not inform the minister responsible for the first half of the period of this tender process. He did not inform the minister responsible for the department that has managed this tender process throughout its entire existence and has always managed the funding. Who would it be that he did not inform? Of course it would be the former Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Rudd—the foreign minister, who was stripped of responsibility for this tender by Prime Minister Gillard because she did not trust him or did not like the result that he was trying to engineer. The foreign minister, who should rightly have oversight of a tender for a diplomatic service such as this, has instead been kept in the dark and fed you-know-what by the government, by Senator Conroy and by the Prime Minister because they do not trust him.

The result has been that a $230 million tender has gone off the rails. The result is wasted expenses for the taxpayer money and wasted time for the tendering parties—the ABC and Sky News—and, of course, the many staff at the ABC who have now been hanging in limbo for 12 months trying to get finalisation of this. There is only one way for the government to remove the stench hovering over it in regard to this Australia Network contract. Today, Senator Conroy should write to the Auditor-General and invite him to thoroughly scrutinise every aspect of this corrupted process.