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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7680

Senator MINCHIN (2:11 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. I refer the minister to his failure to answer a question from Senator Birmingham last Thursday on the NBN tender process. I ask: did the minister at any stage amend the RFP for the national broadband network to enable non-compliant bids to be accepted, as the Australian National Audit Office has clearly stated would be required?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Minchin for that question. As I have repeatedly stated, consideration of proposals against the RFP will be undertaken by the panel of experts. It is up to the panel of experts—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting—

Senator CONROY —Perhaps if you chose to read the RFP, Senator Macdonald, you would not need to make a moronic interjection. It is up to the panel to consider all the proposals received. Its consideration will be informed by legal advice. The panel will consider all of the proposals received under the government’s NBN process. In its consideration of proposals the panel will take into account a number of factors as set out in the RFP. I again invite those opposite to actually read the RFP, so you can gain some understanding—as opposed to the ill-informed comment that those opposite have continued to make. Read the RFP and understand what the minimum legal obligations to comply with the documents are.

The panel will inform me at key stages in its process as decisions or recommendations are made. I will not be having day-to-day discussions with the panel about its progress. I will not be providing a running commentary on the evaluation process. Nor am I in a position to speculate on the panel’s decision making. I am aware that some proponents have discussed the potential to take legal action depending on the outcome of the panel’s review of the proposals— (Time expired)

Senator MINCHIN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the minister has again refused to say whether or not he amended the request for proposals, as recommended by the ANAO. So I ask the minister: how can the government’s expert panel formally consider and accept Telstra’s non-compliant bid—which Telstra itself has said is not a bid—if the RFP was not amended, as advised by the ANAO?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Thank you, Senator Minchin. As I have repeated, I can only invite you, or perhaps your staff, to read the RFP. It is a lengthy document. They should go to the section which sets out quite clearly the minimum legal requirements to comply with the process. Given the process that we have been following, on legal advice and following probity advice, any amendments to the process are required to be notified to all proponents and listed on the department’s website. There are no amendments that have been recently put up. There have been a string of clarifications that have been put up, but none— (Time expired)

Senator MINCHIN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. I note that the minister has finally confessed that the RFP was not amended and I ask him: why is he acting in complete defiance of the clearly stated position set out by the Australian National Audit Office that for any non-compliant bids to be accepted the RFP would need to be amended?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Again, the lack of understanding of the legal requirements in the RFP being demonstrated by those opposite should not come as a surprise. The question is based on a false premise, because the requirements are clearly stated in the RFP. There has been no notification because there has been no change. Those who seek to continually pre-empt the work of the expert panel should understand that this has been set down clearly. Unlike your government, Senator Minchin—through you, Mr President—we are not going to change the goalposts midway through the process, like Senator Coonan did when she changed the entire bidding process halfway through the process, put 50 per cent more money on the table and told only one company. Surprisingly, that company won the bid. (Time expired)