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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2406

Mr MATHESON (7:09 PM) —The National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 is simply a bill that seeks to give the parliament confidence in the unprecedented investment that is the National Broadband Network. As my colleagues have already made clear, the National Broadband Network represents the biggest investment of taxpayers’ funds into an infrastructure asset this nation has ever seen. Indeed the National Broadband Network represents a per capita expenditure for broadband infrastructure that is 100 times higher than the US has forecast for their own version of the NBN.

It would seem reasonable, if not even sensible, or, dare I say it, financially responsible, for an infrastructure investment of any significant cost to the taxpayer to undergo a thorough cost-benefit analysis process. Indeed the government agrees on this point, having created Infrastructure Australia to do just this—but apparently the government does not want to be held to account to even their own standards. They have refused to allow Infrastructure Australia to look into the National Broadband Network. It is almost unfathomable that an infrastructure investment of this size has commenced without the parliament being privy to the basic financial data of the project.

The National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 will ensure that the rollout and operation of a National Broadband Network process is transparent and that taxpayers’ money is used wisely and efficiently. The bill requires the NBN Co. to produce and publish a detailed 10-year business case, including key financial and operational indicators. This is nothing out of the ordinary. One would expect this document to have been produced before the plan was rolled out. It astounds me that one has not yet been made. In addition to this standard financial data, this bill calls the NBN Co. to report on expected numbers of premises passed by the NBN, provide estimated residential and business subscribers and projected average retail and wholesale revenues per user and to advise on the internal rates of return on invested capital.

The second part of the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 refers the National Broadband Network project to the Productivity Commission to prepare and publish a cost-benefit analysis. This analysis will include a study of current broadband services across Australia, consider different options by which particular broadband speeds could be made available to regional and remote areas, examine the economy-wide benefits likely to flow from enhanced broadband services around Australia and give a full and transparent costing of the pros of the NBN project, including all financial and economic projections underpinning the estimates.

The analysis will also examine reasonable commercial rates of return and cashflows for the NBN Co. and give consideration of what the likely realisable value of the NBN Co. would be if it were to be privatised after five years as current legislation assumes. Other aspects to be examined are the design, construction and operating arrangements for the proposed NBN project so direct and indirect outcomes from its construction and operation can be identified and evaluated, and provide analysis of the effects of a proposed NBN on the competition for Australian fixed-line broadband. The Productivity Commission will provide independent and expert analysis of this project.

The government has previously stated that it will release much of the financial information highlighted by this bill in the near future; however, as my colleague the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull has stated, creating a statutory requirement for transparency will give parliament much greater confidence in the delivery of this information.

The National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010 will not disrupt the rollout and implementation of the National Broadband Network project. This bill simply places a requirement on the NBN Co. to produce a business case for the next 10 years. This bill does not ask for anything beyond what the ordinary taxpayer would expect would be carried out for such a massive investment of taxpayers’ funds. This bill will provide the parliament the long-awaited transparency it expects of such an infrastructure project. The coalition has taken a common-sense approach to the NBN rollout. I urge members to support this bill.