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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2404

Mrs MIRABELLA (6:59 PM) —The National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 is a bill that we should not even need to debate, because it is a matter that one would have thought would be standard practice in any democracy, a simple matter of transparency in decision making and integrity of government—nothing more and nothing less. In October 2008 the now deposed Prime Minister made a speech about transparency in decision making. Ironically, the speech was named ‘Bringing transparency to nation building’. Mr Rudd announced guidelines about how his government would make key decisions on approving and financing infrastructure projects. He raved about the guidelines, saying it was critically important that decisions must be based on ‘objective analysis and evidence’. He insisted that there must be a serious cost-benefit analysis and warned that guidelines are not much use if they are not implemented.

People actually took the Prime Minister of the day at his word when he made those promises, but we all know what has happened since. The Secretary of Treasury, Dr Ken Henry, summed up the importance of transparency when he said:

Any major infrastructure project must be subject to a rigorous cost benefit analysis and if it does not pass a rigorous cost benefit analysis then it necessarily detracts from Australia’s wellbeing.

…           …           …

That is, when taxpayer funds are not put to their best use, Australia’s wellbeing is not as high as it otherwise could be.

So here we have the government’s key economic adviser spelling out in no uncertain terms that any major infrastructure project must be subject to a cost-benefit analysis. Given that the NBN is by far the single largest commitment of taxpayers’ dollars to an infrastructure project in Australian history, you would think that it would be an obvious candidate for this sort of scrutiny. In September this year, upon forming government with Independent assistance, the Prime Minister said:

So let’s draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in, let our Parliament be more open than it was before.

…           …           …

We will be held to higher standards of transparency and reform and it’s in that spirit I approach the task of forming a government.

What a load of codswallop! The Prime Minister again is all words and no substance—the grandstanding, the words and the sunshine. Well, the clouds have been blocking that sunlight for a very long time as far as this Prime Minister is concerned.

The National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010, would ensure that all these grand principles as espoused, but not adhered to, would actually be part of government decision making. It would assure Australian taxpayers that the government is spending their money appropriately. That is a very simple demand, and it is what my constituents and industry groups across Australia tell me they want—just some basic accountability to give faith back to them in the political process and decision making. But the Labor Party are afraid of scrutiny. Those opposite do not like to be questioned and they do not like to be challenged. They certainly do not like to admit mistakes. But, if they did actually admit mistakes, they would show the courage of leadership that has been so sorely lacking.

Deep down, every member of the government knows that a cost-benefit analysis would expose the NBN for what it is—a giant, monopolistic white elephant that will plunge generations of Australians into enormous debt. In order to illustrate this, it is worth noting that, as we speak, Labor are desperately trying to pass legislation that would exempt the NBN from the scrutiny of the ACCC. So not only do they refuse to conduct a cost-benefit analysis; they also want to hide the NBN from the independent competition watchdog.

What do we know about the NBN so far? We know it is the most expensive piece of infrastructure in Australia’s history. We know it will create a giant government-owned monopoly. We know it will destroy competition. And we know Treasury’s red book advice to the incoming government said that the NBN ‘carries significant risks, including financial risks for the public balance sheet and risk around competition and efficiency’. If those opposite want to dispute these facts, they can do so by supporting this bill and proving to the Australian people whether the numbers stack up. But, as I said, Labor know the numbers do not stack up. They know Labor’s plan is fatally flawed and they know that they will not be the ones who will have to fix up the mess.