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Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Page: 1885

Senator BERNARDI (1:53 PM) —In rising to make a contribution to the debate on the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010 I note that the bill we are discussing is the very same bill that the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy maintains has absolutely nothing to do with the NBN. He said that on national television. It is hard to find a more humiliating moment for any individual minister of the Crown. Clearly, he was not across his brief, because this bill mentions the NBN 62 times—that is, 62 times more than the minister had read this bill. The only conclusion people can draw from his embarrassing humiliation on Sky News—at the hands of Senator Barnaby Joyce, I acknowledge—is that he had not even glanced at it.

This bill reminds us that, in spending money, our primary obligation is to the taxpayers of Australia. It is incumbent upon us to spend their money wisely, judiciously and to ensure that we are getting value for money. These are all things we cannot do because of the obfuscation by this minister and this government—a government that, as Senator Ferguson reminded us, said, ‘Let sunlight shine upon all the activities of government, so it is open and transparent.’ Clearly, that only applies to things it wants you to see. Repeatedly, the coalition and others have said, ‘We would like to see the business case for the NBN.’ We have not yet seen it. We have asked for a cost-benefit analysis. The government is refusing to do one, even though its own organisation, Infrastructure Australia, said, ‘All initiatives proposed to Infrastructure Australia should include a thorough and detailed economic cost-benefit analysis.’ And further:

In order to demonstrate that the Benefit Cost Analysis is indeed robust, full transparency of the assumptions, parameters and values which are used in each Benefit Cost Analysis is required.

So the government’s own infrastructure arm that has been set up has requested that this be done for major projects. The government are refusing to do it. It makes you ask the question: why would they set it up in the first place if they are not going to listen to the advice and the requirements of it? This project, I remind you, is the single biggest piece of infrastructure rolled out in this country, at a cost of $43 billion. And the government will not allow it to be examined critically. Repeatedly, we have asked the minister questions in question time about this. We get all sorts of stumbles and obfuscations. I asked a simple question: ‘When someone using the NBN rings emergency, and dials triple 0, will their location be readily identifiable?’ We could not get an answer to that. If the humiliation of this minister, his project and his plan needs any further example, let us just have a look at what the government are doing with Telstra.

They are paying Telstra $11 billion—$9 billion in cash to basically rip out their copper line network. They are then going to pay a further $2 billion to acquit them of their universal service obligation. That is so the NBN Co. can achieve some form of legitimacy. We know that it cannot survive in a competitive environment. It will only survive as a government monopoly, something that we in this place have spent decades fighting against. Even the Labor Party acknowledge that, when Telstra was sold, that it was a good idea to have sold it. That was one of their belated gifts to the nation that cost us billions of dollars. But one of the most humiliating things for this minister is when he was asked at estimates hearings—

Senator Cormann interjecting—

Senator BERNARDI —He is swimming naked, Senator Cormann! When the minister was asked who was going to maintain the copper lines he was forced, begrudgingly, to acknowledge that the government will have to pay $100 million, per year, for the next eight years to Telstra, on a subcontract basis, to manage the copper network that they are paying Telstra to pull out. This would be an absolute joke if it were not so serious, because the taxpayers’ money is involved. We have a $43 billion spend, with $11 billion in cash going to Telstra, and ongoing costs, as I just said, of $100 million a year—with no cost-benefit analysis, no business case and no transparency. This is a cobbled-together plan that cannot be sustained under any close examination. It was cobbled together, because we know—and I reminded the Senate of this yesterday—that the mark 1 broadband plan of the government did not engender any support out there in the market. It did not receive appropriate tenders. Importantly, Senator Conroy came in here with a one-page document from Telstra and said, ‘That is a tender,’ and then a few weeks later said that it was not a tender. So he hopped on Kevin 747’s plane—because that was the only time he was able to see His Majesty Kevin Rudd at the time—he sat with him, they got out an envelope and they both scribbled on the back of it. One wrote ‘broadband’ and the other one wrote ‘$43 billion’. This is what we have been shown up with today. It is an embarrassment; it is a humiliation. Senator Conroy is nodding. It has been caught on the camera, because he has been humiliated and embarrassed by this. It is quite extraordinary.

The coalition will be moving a number of amendments. Whether the bill will be supported will be subject to whether these amendments can get up. Without them, we have the monstrosity of a government monopoly that is taking taxpayers’ funds, scattering them around like confetti, which this government has a huge history of, and we have a list of failed ministers and programs on that side to prove it. But all of us on this side have an obligation and it is incumbent on us, whether or not the taxpayers like our politics, to ensure that the government is spending their money appropriately.

Government senators interjecting—

Senator BERNARDI —I can hear the groans from the zombies on the other side. Senator Cameron is groaning, because he is the original lobotomised zombie. He is grinning as well; it is nice that he still has a smiling gene in him. It is extraordinary that the government will not open up the NBN to transparency and scrutiny. And it is a shame.

Debate interrupted.