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Monday, 22 November 2010
Page: 1721


Senator BRANDIS (2:00 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. On what date was the 400-page business plan for the National Broadband Network received by the government?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) —I thank Senator Brandis for his newly acquired interest in this topic. The business plan which we have received was a comprehensive document that examines the whole—


Senator Brandis —What date?


Senator CONROY —So now I am to be interrupted by interjections on how to answer.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, just ignore the interjections.


Senator Brandis —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. In view of the observation Senator Conroy made, I am only interested in the date. That is the only thing the question is about.


Senator Ludwig —Mr President, on the point of order, which apparently is not really a point of order, it would be helpful if the opposition indicated at the outset what point of order they are actually taking. One could not guess from a restatement or at least a short statement about what Senator Brandis thinks his question now is. From the opposition’s perspective, they are entitled to ask a question and a supplementary question and a further supplementary question but not to use a point of order to rephrase the primary question.


The PRESIDENT —Senator, this is not the time for debate on either side. Question time is a time for questions to be asked and answers to be given and not for interjections to override the questions. Interjections do not help question time in any way whatsoever. The minister has been going for 21 seconds. There are two minutes allocated for answering questions. The minister has a minute and 39 seconds remaining to answer the question.


Senator CONROY —Mr President, thank you for again pointing out that the opposition cannot dictate how a question is answered. You can ask the question and I will—


Senator Brandis —What’s the date?


Senator CONROY —If you stop interjecting and hollering across the chamber, I will get to the answer. The business case is a detailed document that, once again I repeat, reinforces the business case that McKinsey presented. It reinforces that the NBN is financially viable and delivers cheap and affordable broadband to all Australians. That is what the business case—


The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, I draw your attention to the question.


Senator CONROY —Thank you, Mr President. I appreciate that you are not directing me on how to answer the question.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, you now have 45 seconds remaining to address the question.


Senator CONROY —Thank you. I am talking about the business case, which is what I have been asked about.

Opposition senators interjecting—


Senator CONROY —Those opposite may want to screech long and loud through this two-minute answer, but the bottom line about the business case is that it delivers an affordable broadband for all Australians.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, I draw your attention to the question.


Senator CONROY —Thank you, Mr President. I appreciate your advice.


Senator Brandis —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The minister, in addressing you in that dismissive and contemptuous way—‘Mr President, I appreciate your advice’—has shown total disregard for your authority in the chair. If ever a president in command of this chamber were to sit a senator down, you ought to do that to this minister now.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Brandis, that is not a point of order. Senator Conroy, you have 14 seconds remaining to answer the question.


Senator CONROY —Thank you, Mr President. I appreciate you are refusing to be bullied by those opposite.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, I do not ask you to comment.


Senator CONROY —You are refusing to be bullied by the continual campaign of those opposite. Let me be clear: the business plan was delivered two weeks ago, which I think makes it 8 November. (Time expired)

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Debating this across the chamber is not helpful during question time. The time to debate is at the end of question time.


Senator BRANDIS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How could it possibly take a competent government 14 days to read a 400-page document so as to identify and, where relevant, redact confidential information?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) —That question is based on an entirely false premise. This is a detailed document that contains—


Senator Brandis —It is only 400 pages long.


Senator CONROY —I know it involves a business plan—something that you, as a lawyer, are not familiar with, Senator Brandis—and this is a detailed business plan which, once again I repeat, confirms that the NBN delivers a financially viable business case with cheap and affordable broadband for all Australians. Eighty-four per cent of people in Willunga have signed up to receive the NBN; 87 per cent in Armidale. Those opposite—


Senator Abetz —How does this relate?


Senator CONROY —Because the question was based on a completely false premise. When you want to stand up and make an argument in the question—(Time expired)


Senator BRANDIS —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that it is beyond the competency of this minister to read a document at a rate of more than 29 pages a day, isn’t it the case that the government has already identified the confidential information in the document and that it is hiding behind this excuse to prevent parliamentary scrutiny and to protect a minister who is fast losing the confidence of the public and the markets?


Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) —I did not actually hear a question there, but I am happy to respond. Yet again, those opposite have got to explain to the people of Australia, because Senator Barnaby Joyce let the cat out of the bag last week. For all the pomposity from those opposite, Senator Joyce let the cat out of the bag when he said, ‘It’s not about the details; it’s about destroying the NBN. That will mean we can destroy the government.’ That is what Senator Joyce said last week. The cant and the hypocrisy which some of those opposite, particularly the questioners, like to display regularly in question time has been exposed—out of the mouth of Senator Joyce. You are not interested in transparency—

Honourable senators interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, resume your seat for a moment. I will ask you to continue when there is silence on both sides.


Senator CONROY —Senator Joyce has exposed the fraud of this question, the fraud of those opposite. They are interested in demolishing the NBN.