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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2164

Mr HARTSUYKER (11:16 AM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010. It is necessary for the coalition to introduce this private member’s bill because the government is refusing to subject the National Broadband Network project to independent scrutiny and parliamentary oversight. One would have to ask the members opposite why they fear scrutiny so much. If this project is going to stand up they should be welcoming scrutiny and they should be welcoming oversight but, in fact, we get the members opposite carping about the technological benefits without reference to the actual cost and the return that would be made.

It was interesting to see the member for Greenway talking about the required contribution by the government and the presumed contribution that was going to be made by the private sector. That certainly anticipates that there will be substantial revenues generated sufficiently to warrant private sector investment. Well, let me tell you that the private sector is not going to invest unless the project stacks up. If I were a major private sector investor, I would want to have the comfort of a Productivity Commission inquiry, of a proper analysis of the revenues that this project would deliver and the risks that it would subject my investment to. But this government rejects that notion.

The legislation is not an attempt to delay the NBN. Faster and more reliable broadband has the support of both sides of parliament. It is clear in my electorate and others across regional Australia that better broadband services are needed to improve investment and to lower the digital divide between cities and regional areas. This bill is an attempt by the coalition to ensure that the scheme is financially accountable and targeted to those areas desperately in need of improved broadband. In its first term, the Rudd-Gillard government wasted record amounts of taxpayers’ money. For the home insulation debacle and the BER scheme they have a gold medal in waste and we want to ensure that they do not go for a further gold medal in relation to the NBN project. These programs followed a common theme. They were rushed through without scrutiny and without ongoing oversight of spending.

The recent Australian National Audit Office report into the home insulation scheme issued a warning about how this government spends money and certainly cast very great aspersions on the government’s ability to manage programs. It is vitally important that the NBN program be appropriately managed. But the Rudd-Gillard government has form in mismanagement and has form in waste. Despite the project’s budget and despite the importance of broadband services, the government is refusing to release a business plan, is refusing to do a cost-benefit analysis and is refusing to allow parliamentary scrutiny. In fact, the government has expressly sought to avoid any inquiries into the NBN through the Public Works Committee. Through regulations registered in July, no aspect of the NBN can come before this committee. The explanatory memorandum to those regulations suggests that an inquiry would place NBN Co. at a competitive disadvantage because its plans would be publicly scrutinised. This excuse is nothing more than a smokescreen. NBN Co. is constructing a wholesale monopoly and is systematically removing any competitive threats. There are no competition reasons preventing the government from conducting the NBN rollout transparently and with full scrutiny. In contrast, competition in the industry would benefit from more details of the NBN to ensure regulatory certainty on the telecommunications playing field. The only possible reason for avoiding scrutiny must be, quite clearly, that Labor has something to hide. Perhaps this is why the government is removing potential competition to the NBN, because it knows that the business plan is unviable in a competitive environment.

The OECD reported yesterday, in their economic surveys of Australia, that ‘such a monopolistic incumbent’—that is, NBN Co.—‘could forestall the development of, as yet unknown, superior technological alternatives’. The report went on to say that, given the cost and impact on competition, ‘additional efforts for rigour and transparency would be welcome’. That is the OECD being very concerned about the restrictions that this government is placing on competition in the market. We know that competition will be a major driver of lower prices and improved services, not the creation of a protected government monopoly delivered at great cost to the taxpayer with benefits yet to be determined. (Time expired)