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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 785

Broadband


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (14:37): My question is to the diplomatic Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy! Was the decision to embark on a $43 billion fibre-to-the-home national broadband network an example of the 'contempt for the cabinet process' the minister recently said was endemic in the Rudd Labor government and the 'dysfunctional decision-making' that the Treasurer recently said marked the Rudd era?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:38): I thank Senator Birmingham for his ongoing interest, albeit extremely superficial. Let me be very clear about this. I have answered questions like this before at some considerable length so I am happy to repeat them. The popularisation, by those opposite, that this was done on the back of an envelope on a plane could not be more wrong. It could not be more wrong.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! When there is silence we will proceed.

Senator CONROY: Yes, the early discussions took place with Mr Rudd on a plane, as has been reported. But what is ignored by every one of those opposite is that there was then three months of extensive cabinet committee process.

Senator Brandis: Three months!

Senator CONROY: Three months. I lost count of—I could not even tell you off the top of my head—how many committee meetings we went to and how many times we discussed it. I lost count of the number of meetings. For those opposite to continue to perpetuate this myth just shows you how lazy they are and how they have no alternative policy.

We then commissioned the McKinsey report—$25 million—to demonstrate that the NBN could be a viable proposition. We then considered the McKinsey report at length and released it. This was a program that went through extensive consultation, extensive research and extensive reports to ensure that we got it right. Those opposite continue to cry crocodile tears for process when they do not have a policy. Mr Turnbull spoke six months ago—

Senator Brandis: I think Mr Turnbull knows a lot more about this than you do.

Senator CONROY: In your dreams! (Time expired)








Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (14:43): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given the minister's defence of the NBN process, does he agree with the former Prime Minister Mr Rudd that the decisions on the NBN were examples of good cabinet processes under the Rudd government? If proper processes were followed for the biggest initiative in the minister's portfolio, how can the minister justify being so scathing of cabinet processes under Mr Rudd? Is the minister actually at one with Mr Rudd on this issue?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:43): As I said, I lost count. Report after report after report was commissioned during those three months. Extensive consultation with a range of different government departments was sought. All of this information was sought and considered over many, many months. This process ensured the National Broadband Network could be delivered within the plans that we put forward.

Those opposite continue to have a $70 billion black hole, which does not even include their NBN commitments. You have a $16 billion NBN commitment before you have to compensate Telstra for taking over their copper under the fibre-to-the-node proposal that you currently have. You have $30 billion to add to your $70 billion before you can even stand up here with any credibility. (Time expired)


Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia) (14:43): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Will the minister tell the Senate on which instance he is telling the truth. Is he telling the truth that cabinet decision making was dysfunctional and contemptuous under the Rudd government and that the NBN was dreamt up on the back of, or on both sides of, an envelope on a VIP plane? Or is he now telling us the truth—that he lost count of the number of meetings of the cabinet to decide on the NBN? Which one is it, Minister—contempt and dysfunction or meeting after meeting and that you and Mr Rudd are at one on this?


Senator CONROY (VictoriaMinister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:43): One of the problems you get when you let Senator Birmingham write his own questions on the run is that he actually then begins to verbal the minister across the chamber. He completely misrepresented my answer. He has completely tried to conflate two different statements and claim they are contradictory. Senator Birmingham should stick to doing what he is good at—detailed policy work.

You should not be trying to make up questions on the run, because you are just not any good at it. Stick to the detailed policy work in estimates, which you are pretty good at. You are much better than some of these clowns here. Some day you will get on the front bench and you will get a chance to have your own policy area.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, address your comments through the chair.

Senator CONROY: Sorry, Mr President. Senator Birmingham deserves to be on the front bench, over there. When Mr Abbott does the next reshuffle—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, resume your seat. When there is silence on both sides we will resume.

Senator CONROY: As I was saying, when the next reshuffle comes on that side, Senator Birmingham, you deserve a better chance than you are currently getting. Just because you supported Malcolm Turnbull is no reason for you to languish over there. (Time expired)