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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 983

National Broadband Network


Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital Territory) (14:31): My question is to the Minister for Finance in his capacity as shareholder minister of the NBN, Senator Cormann. I refer the minister to his answer on Tuesday when he refused to commit to the government's pre-election promise of providing every Australian with access to broadband speeds of at least 25 megabits per second by 2016. I again ask the minister: will the government stand by its pre-election promise?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance) (14:32): Senator Lundy is essentially repeating the same question she asked the other day. Given that she is just asking the same question, I am going to give her the same answer. The answer is that the NBN Co project that we inherited from the Labor Party was in an absolute mess. In fact, what we have been doing since the election is exactly what we said before the election—that is, go through a proper, careful and methodical process and go through a strategic review, which is about to be released. If I were Senator Conroy, I would stop Senator Lundy from asking any more questions about this, because he will hang his head in shame when the strategic review is finally released. What it will show—

Senator Conroy: Keep your promise!

The PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, if you wish to debate it, you have another 25 minutes and you can debate it then.

Senator CORMANN: What it will show is what an expensive mess the NBN Co was after six years of Labor. I came across an answer that Mr Turnbull gave in the House of Representatives where he reflected on a visit—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cormann, resume your seat. Senator Cormann, continue.

Senator CORMANN: After six years of Labor and after billions and billions of dollars of taxpayers' money sunk into NBN Co, two per cent of premises were linked to the—

The PRESIDENT: Order! If there were not the noise, it might be easier for the senator to stand on her feet and ask for a point of order, but the noise at her left does not assist.

Senator Moore: Thank you, Mr President. My point of order is on relevance. Again, the question referred to a specific promise, and, with time to go, we have not as yet heard any response to the question.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! There is no point of order at this stage. The minister still has 44 second remaining.

Senator CORMANN: The short answer is that we inherited a mess from the Labor Party and we are setting out to fix it. My favourite of Senator Conroy's performances was him spending $13 million on NBN Co infrastructure in the Northern Territory. Do you know how often he went to launch, open and start it and all of that?

The PRESIDENT: You need to come to the question, Senator Cormann.

Senator CORMANN: More than five times. Do you know how many people are connected to NBN Co in the Northern Territory? Five.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cormann, you need to come to the question.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cormann, you need to come to the question.

Senator CORMANN: This is of course completely relevant to the question, because we are delivering our commitments from the position that we inherited. The position we inherited was Senator Conroy making a visit for every single home that was being connected to fibre to the home.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cormann, resume your seat. Senator Wong.

Senator Wong: Mr President, those opposite may think that this is all fun and games.

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order!

Senator Wong: My point of order is relevance. The minister was asked a very specific question as to whether or not the government stood by its pre-election promise. He has not even referenced the promise—the policy commitment that was made. Whilst I understand that there are times when ministers in the chamber will want to add context and make a political point, he has not even referenced the promise.

The PRESIDENT: Order! That is debating the issue. I have already called on the minister to address the question before the point of order was taken. The minister has eight seconds remaining to address the question.

Senator CORMANN: The coalition government will deliver on our promise of faster and better broadband sooner than Labor would have, more affordably for taxpayers and more affordably for— (Time expired)






















Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital Territory) (14:37): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, did the NBN Co corporate plan submitted to the government in September include cost savings worth billions of dollars? Or, as you seem to be alluding, is the government refusing to release the corporate plan because it contradicts the strategic review prepared by the communications minister's mates?


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance) (14:38): Just to put some context around this question again: we inherited a project where more than $6 billion of taxpayers' money had been spent, but less than two per cent of Australian premises had been connected to fibre to the home. Of course we had a special ministerial visit for just about every single connection in the Northern Territory. No wonder Senator Wong was not able to balance the books when you have ministers going to switch on every single connection in the Northern Territory! Give us a break.

Mr Turnbull and I have done what we said we would do: we have initiated—

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order!

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cormann, resume your seat. It is both sides. I think those senators wishing to have a discussion would be better off going outside to do so, so question time can proceed. Order!

Senator CORMANN: The government have done what we said we would do: we have initiated a strategic review which will determine how best to provide access to very fast broadband to all Australians as soon, as cost effectively and as affordably as possible. (Time expired)





Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital Territory) (14:40): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister confirm evidence to the Senate estimates that, despite weekly meetings between the minister's department and NBN Co, there is no evidence that the costs of Labor's NBN plan are materially higher than those set out in the draft corporate plan for 2013-16? And I suggest you think very carefully before you answer.


Senator CORMANN (Western AustraliaMinister for Finance) (14:41): The strategic review is being put together by highly reputable organisations like Deloittes, KordaMentha and the Boston Consulting Group, which are helping NBN Co's board to conduct the review. What it will show is what a costly mess you left behind—how much taxpayers' money you wasted on delivering hardly anything at all, failing to meet every single one of your targets and wasting lots of taxpayers' money along the way. That is what it will show. You already know this because, of course, Senator Conroy had in front of him a report by Lazard which found that the NBN Co project would have a negative value to taxpayers of $31 billion. That is after you had sunk billions and billions of taxpayers' dollars into it. How recklessly and irresponsibly have you treated taxpayers' dollars!