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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 2010

Senator CORMANN (9:36 AM) —We are dealing here with the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2010, a piece of legislation which is directly related to the government’s plan to see $43 billion spent on a National Broadband Network which could well become the most ginormous white elephant in the history of Australia. The government wants to see $43 billion spent on a National Broadband Network without doing any sort of cost-benefit analysis, without going through any proper process to ensure the best way to deliver fast and affordable broadband to the Australian people. We are all in favour of fast and affordable broadband for the Australian people, but we are also very respectful of the value of taxpayers’ money. Taxpayers have to work hard to pay the taxes the government collects from them, and if you have a government that is trying, willy-nilly, to throw money up against the wall, there is a job to be done by the Australian Senate to properly scrutinise the activities of that government.

Over the last three years we have seen an enormous amount of government secrecy. It was pretty bad when Kevin Rudd was Prime Minister but, after this most recent election when Labor nearly lost, we were promised by the new Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, that things would change. We were promised a new era of openness and transparency, but nothing of the sort has happened. Things have gone from bad to worse when it comes to government secrecy, and this government is desperately trying to cover up stuff-up after stuff-up after stuff-up. But one thing has changed: in the last parliament the then Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner, was bragging that they would not be pursuing a cost-benefit analysis before committing $43 billion worth of taxpayers’ dollars. The new Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Senator Wong, quite appropriately has come to the view that there ought to be a bit of scrutiny of the activities of the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy. Very appropriately, she has taken the view that some scrutiny, some audit activities and an independent review need to take place before going ahead. If the government is having second thoughts, if the minister for finance is having second thoughts, on the process related to the NBN so far, then the parliament is entitled to have second thoughts and we should delay further consideration of this legislation until the independent review report and the business case for the NBN have been shared with the Senate and the Australian people.