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'Scandal' tarnishes Conroy's broadband panel.

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

The controversy surrounding a company with embarrassing links to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's hand-picked National Broadband Network panel of experts should spark a complete overhaul of the panel.

The negative publicity about Allphones has greatly tarnished Senator Conroy's panel. He should turn this into a positive by restructuring the panel to ensure it has the necessary expertise and freedom to vigorously assess broadband proposals and to provide frank and open advice regardless of how politically inconvenient.

Allphones non-executive chairman Tony Mitchell is a member of Senator Conroy's hand-picked panel. The company has attracted a number of recent negative headlines and is subject to an ACCC investigation for alleged breaches of the Trade Practices Act.

• 'Broadband panel must be distanced from the Allphones scandal' (The Australian 3/6/08) • 'ACCC spells out its call on Allphones' (The Australian 31/5/08) • 'Judge slams Allphones over fees' (The Australian 31/5/08) • 'Allphones Retail investigated for alleged deceptive conduct' (CRN Australia

30/3/08) • 'ACCC case link to ALP adviser' (The Australian 28/3/08) • 'Allphones kingpin caught in ACCC rift' (The West Australian) • 'FTTN panel member's company accused of misleading conduct by ACCC'

(CommsDay 27/3/08)

Considering Senator Conroy's attacks on the capability of the broadband experts panel established by the former Government, he should be deeply concerned about how his own panel is now perceived.

The Opposition recently put forward a draft of proposed amendments to the Government's National Broadband Network Bill 2008. These included an assessment and advisory framework that would greatly enhance Labor's shambolic tender process.

Under the amendments the panel would need to include clear roles for the ACCC, Productivity Commission and Labor's much vaunted Infrastructure Australia; a consumer advocate and other expertise in relation to network design, monopoly infrastructure and last mile regulation.

These amendments were passed by the Senate, but the Rudd Labor Government used its numbers in the Lower House to gag debate about them and ultimately reject them for obviously political reasons.

In light of the issues surrounding Allphones I would urge Senator Conroy to re-assess the make-up of his panel, adopt the positive suggestions of the Opposition and get this NBN process on some type of credible track.