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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 4896

Senator BARNETT (2:55 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. I refer to the minister’s recent claims that the National Broadband Network rollout has actually commenced in Tasmania. What is the status of the Tasmanian NBN Co? Is it true that an application for registration of the Tasmanian NBN Co. as a public company was made only today?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I thank Senator Barnett for his continuing endorsement of the National Broadband Network, commencing in Tasmania, as I so publicly repeated a couple of days ago. We appreciate your support.

The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Conroy, address your comments to the chair.

Senator CONROY —My apologies, Mr President. Yes, it is correct that today the NBN board had its first constituted meeting of the recently appointed members. One of the first items on its agenda was to formally confirm the application. So the NBN board has today confirmed it. But the work that has commenced in Tasmania was commenced by our partner in Tasmania, Aurora. They have already put ducts up on bridges. As I indicated for you earlier in the week, we will be digging trenches by October, we will be connecting fibre to homes by December and we will be switching on services by July of next year, as we have consistently said.

I look forward to your supplementary question, Senator Barnett, but let me be clear: the rollout in Tasmania has commenced. There is fibre currently being put in the ground by Aurora to a number of institutions—hospitals and the like—which will be rolled into the National Broadband Network. They are currently assets of Aurora and negotiations are taking place. We welcome your ongoing support, Senator Barnett. We welcome your ongoing interest and we look forward to more of your press releases supporting the Tasmanian NBN Co.

Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister referred to a board meeting today. Apart from the naming of Doug Campbell as chairman of the Tasmanian company, why has the minister failed to appoint remaining board members? Isn’t this further evidence that he is simply making it up as he goes along—policy on the run? When will these board members be appointed, if they have not already been appointed?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —The mysteries of incorporation: when you register, you have to appoint the directors. So, following the decision of the NBN Co. board today, there will be directors on the application forms this afternoon. I am not sure whether the board meeting has actually finished yet, so I do not want to pre-empt—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator CONROY —At least I have got my hands on the wheel.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Conroy, ignore the interjections. Just address the chair.

Senator CONROY —Sorry, Mr President. I appreciate your advice. I should ignore all of those interjections. I am not sure whether the board meeting has finished yet, Senator Barnett, but the first tranche of directors will be announced when the board meeting is complete. I know you are excited and look forward to finding out who those directors are. The first tranche will be announced this afternoon and the second tranche will be announced next week. So I am very relaxed about the progress under Mr Doug Campbell. (Time expired)

Senator BARNETT —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. The minister is refusing to advise the Senate of the names and identity of the board members.

The PRESIDENT —The question?

Senator BARNETT —I ask you to direct the minister to advise of the names and identity of the board members. If he cannot do that, could he advise of the number of board members who have been appointed today? If, as the minister contends, work has commenced in Tasmania, is he able to say how much federal funding has been allocated to the project and, if not, why not?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —I think this afternoon there will be four names. As I said, I would rather leave it up to the board to put those names out. That is properly their role. There will be a second tranche next week. In total I think there will be seven. I am comfortable to leave both the Tasmanian government to appoint and the board to announce them this afternoon. (Time expired)

Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.