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Conroy: I'll spend $4.7b of your money but I have no idea what you'll get.



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Fri, 22nd February 2008 CONROY: I'LL SPEND $4.7B OF YOUR MONEY BUT I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT YOU'LL GET

The Hon Bruce Billson MP Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

In an extraordinary concession, Minister for Broadband Stephen Conroy has made it perfectly clear that he plans to spend $4.7 billion of taxpayers money on a broadband plan, yet still has no idea on what the money will buy.

During Senate Estimates on Monday, Senator Fiona Nash reminded Senator Conroy that $4.7 billion ''is an awful lot of money'' and asked him what the money would be spent on.

Senator Conroy: ''The network.''

Senator Nash: ''I am just asking you as minister what range of things, what type of things, has this money been allocated?''

Senator Conroy then replied with shallow rhetoric: ''It will be spent on the national fibre to the node network, which is designed to reach 98 per cent of Australia's homes and businesses and guarantee a minimum - not an 'up to' but a minimum - speed of 12 meg.''

Senator Nash: ''Is that the most detail you can give the committee about what $4.7 billion is going to be spent on?''

Senator Conroy: ''The specifications are fairly simple and straightforward ... The final shape of the network ... is as yet unclear.''

It is deeply disturbing that the minister remains unable to provide any additional clarity whatsoever on Labor's city-centric fibre proposal, yet is crystal clear that taxpayers will be forking out $4.7 billion for whatever it is.

Senator Conroy's broadband muddle sees him talking about fibre to the node one minute, then the possibility of fibre to the home the next. First he said the network was going to be built under a public-private equity consortium - Telstra ridiculed the proposal - and now Senator Conroy has ''an open mind''.

The vagueness of Senator Conroy's plans were further exposed yesterday when Telstra chief Sol Trujillo said fibre to the home was not economically viable on a broad scale, despite the minister talking up its prospects.

''If you take it to the home from the node, or to the kerb, the costs go up orders of magnitude,'' Mr Trujillo is quoted as saying.