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Thursday, 19 March 2015
Page: 1974

Senator RUSTON (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (15:39): Before I make some remarks on the second interim report of the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network, I acknowledge the work of Senator Lundy, who has been the chair of the committee since I have been on it—since the coalition took government. I wish her all the best in her retirement from this place. I also acknowledge the extraordinarily hard work of the committee secretariat. This has not been an easy committee to work for, so I acknowledge the way they have managed to manage a committee that has met on so many occasions. It has met so often that I have started to dream about the NBN committee during my sleep!

The National Broadband Network is an amazing concept and something I think all Australians look forward to being part of in due course. However, I have to make the comment that we, through this committee, have to stop looking backwards. We have to start looking forward.

Senator Conroy: We can't because you won't give us the numbers!

Senator RUSTON: I will get to that, Senator Conroy. We need to start looking at how we can best roll this project out so that the people of Australia can benefit from what is a huge infrastructure project, a project that is going to cost Australian taxpayers billions and billions of dollars. Regardless of what the final multitechnology mix looks like, it is still going to be one of Australia's largest infrastructure projects ever. It was quite interesting listening to Senator Ludwig earlier. He referred to something as 'looking like a dropped pie.' We need to remember, Senator Conroy, that what we inherited when we picked up this project upon coming into government resembled that dropped pie that Senator Ludwig was referring to.

This was a committee that was established using the numbers in the Senate, so it does not reflect the government. It is a select committee that can meet without any government members being present—and did so on a number of occasions before government senators were appointed to it. Beyond that, it is appropriate and timely to put on the record that, since November 2013 when this committee was first established, it has called 22 hearings. The committee has demanded that NBN executives appear before it for a total of not less than 272 hours. Consider what the cost of attendance at these the hearings has been, not to mention the cost in lost hours—including the hours these executives have had to spend travelling to and from the hearings, because of course they are not Canberra based—the lost productivity, the airfares et cetera. Over a space of about 15 months, this has been an extraordinary amount of time to be demanded of the executives of any government business enterprise. They have turned up time and time again and have often been asked the same questions over and over. This is despite the fact that sometimes committee members have already known the answers to their questions—they have just been attempting to be mischievous.

In contrast, the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network, which was a committee of the previous parliament—a committee of both houses of parliament and a committee that reflected the make-up of that parliament—met for a combined total of 39 hours through eight hearings. I wanted to put that on the record so that anyone who was seeking to hear or read the contributions in relation to this report can understand that this committee has degenerated into little more than a witch-hunt. I hope that, now that this report is out of the way, we can settle down and start doing something positive. I hope we can start doing the real job of the select committee, which is to monitor the rollout of this extraordinarily important project for Australia.

We need to set the agenda to go forward in a way that will allow us to get some productive outcomes from this committee. To achieve that, this committee needs to be a properly constituted committee—and preferably, because of the importance of the NBN project, not just a Senate committee but a joint standing committee of both houses of this parliament. The sooner we get back to that, and the sooner we start focusing on the future rollout of this very important project, the better. I stand today to say that I do not believe that this report of the NBN select committee reflects the sentiments of everybody who attended nor the evidence of the witnesses.