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Thursday, 18 November 2010
Page: 1585

Senator ABETZ (Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (11:04 AM) —I move:

That the Senate:

(a)   notes the government’s refusal to produce the following documents relating to the National Broadband Network (NBN):

(i)   the National Broadband Network Business plan; and

(ii)   the Government’s response to the McKinsey and Company and KPMG Implementation plan.

(b)   resolves that consideration of any bill relating to the National Broadband Network, including the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards Bill) 2010, be postponed and made an order of the day for the next day of sitting after the documents described in paragraphs (a)(i) and (ii) are laid on the table.

(c)   resolves that, until the documents described in paragraphs (a)(i) and (ii) are laid on the table:

(i)   a senator may, at the conclusion of question time on each and any day, ask the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy for an explanation of why the order of 17 November 2010 requiring the production of the documents has not been complied with; and

(ii)   the senator may, at the conclusion of the explanation, move without notice—That the Senate take note of the explanation; or

(iii)   in the event that the minister does not provide an explanation, the senator may, without notice, move a motion in relation to the minister’s failure to provide either an answer or an explanation.

(d)   resolves that, until the documents described in paragraphs (a)(i) and (ii) are laid on the table, the Senate shall not:

(i)   receive any statement related to the NBN by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, or by any other minister, except in answer to questions asked of the minister at question time; or

(ii)   consider any other business related to the NBN proposed by any minister.

(e)   Further resolves that, until the documents described in paragraphs (a)(i) and (ii) are laid on the table, so much of the standing orders which provide for ministers to present documents be suspended, so that a minister may not present any other document related to the NBN, except by leave of the Senate.

The Senate has been treated with unparalleled contempt by Senator Conroy and the Labor-Green alliance in not allowing this documentation which we are seeking from being brought to our attention. What we are seeking with this motion is the National Broadband Network business plan and the government’s response to the McKinsey and Co. and KPMG implementation plan. If that is not provided to the Senate, as required by a motion from Senator Ludlam and Senator Birmingham, we as a Senate should be saying that we do not want to hear any further about the NBN until those foundation documents are provided to us.

On 7 September 2010 the Prime Minister said this:

So, let’s draw back the curtains and let the sun shine in; let our parliament be more open than it ever was before.

She said:

We will be held to higher standards of transparency and reform, and it’s in that spirit that I approach the task of forming a government.

Those words can come true today if Labor’s alliance partners, the Greens, support this particular motion.

The Labor Party, of course, have form on this; they are serial offenders. The Gillard government failed to release the key documentation and economic and financial modell-ing underpinning the recommendations of the Henry tax review. This government refuses to release the proceedings of its climate change committee. This government fails to be upfront about its plans to expand or open several onshore detention centres. This is a government that did a mining tax backdown followed by secret negotiations. This is a government that has failed to be upfront about its plans to introduce a carbon tax, despite an election promise not to introduce a carbon tax. This is a government that has refused to reveal the results of its home insulation safety checks. And now on top of all of that we have a government not prepared to release these foundational documents in relation to the NBN.

In relation to their motion to suspend standing orders, we had the hapless Senator Collins tell us that this legislation, which might not be allowed to be debated if this motion gets through, has nothing to do with the NBN. Well, as Senator Joyce pointed out, the bill in fact refers to the NBN 62 times. But what would have been even more instructive for Senator Collins and the even more hapless minister in charge would have been to read the second reading speech of Mr Albanese in the House of Representatives on 20 October. The very second paragraph of that second reading speech says:

The National Broadband Network will fundamentally transform the competitive dynamics of the communications sector in this country. NBN Co. is a wholesale only telecommunications provider with open access arrangements. The new network represents a nationally significant and long overdue micro-economic reform.

On that basis, why should Australian citizens all and, in particular, this representative chamber of the Australian people not be entitled to see the business plan which, if we are to adopt Mr Albanese’s language, is to ‘fundamentally transform the competitive dynamics’, something which is so ‘nationally significant’ and ‘long overdue’? Why are they not releasing these documents? We know they have got the documents, we know they have read the documents, we know they are going to release the documents, but they will only release them after the parliament has risen and after they have demanded that we vote on this legislation. What have they got to hide—or is this just hubris gone mad under this minister and this Prime Minister knowing, I suspect, that they have got the support of the Australian Greens? And that would be a matter of grave concern.

Senator Ludlum said the government’s refusal was a matter of grave concern and they might take this further in the Senate and my good friend Senator Xenophon said something similar. I simply say to those on the crossbench that the time for action is now. You can be the circuit breakers to require this documentation to be provided. Otherwise, you will allow the minister to come in here after question time and humiliate this place with his ministerial speech knowing that he is in contempt of the Senate. A motion was moved by an Australian Green, ably supported by a coalition senator, requiring the government to produce the documents. The minister is in contempt of that motion. We say that if that motion were to mean anything, if this Senate were to uphold that which it has voted on, it has to say to this arrogant minister and the arrogant government: ‘Enough is enough. We will not hear further from you until this documentation, which can so readily be made available, is provided to this chamber.’

Instead, if the numbers are not here in this place on this motion, we will have the arrogant minister coming in here making a ministerial speech without having the foundation and fundamental documents before us. That would be insulting to every individual senator in this place, especially those that have not been lobotomised. I can understand that Labor senators would not mind not having the document placed before them, but I would have thought that every other self-respecting senator in this place would need to have this fundamental documentation placed before them. Indeed, the legislation which we are saying should be held up until such time as this document is provided refers to the National Broadband Network 62 times. The minister in the other place, Minister Albanese, opened his second reading speech talking about the fundamental importance and national significance of the National Broadband Network and how everything would change under this legislation. But we still do not have the business plan, we still do not have the implementation plan, so how can we know that it is going to be so nationally significant? Unless, of course, the national significance is that the Australian people will be burdened with a $43,000 million debt for a white elephant—something which the Australian people are not to be told about until after the parliament rises.

I heard Senator Xenophon say to us that new information should be provided. Well, can I suggest to my good friend that new information is available and it is this: the reports are available and they will be released but not for us to consider before the legislation. If that is acceptable to the Independents and the crossbenchers then so be it but can I say with great respect that I fundamentally disagree. It would be a dereliction of our fundamental duty to the Australian people to vote on the legislation that is currently on the Notice Paper without having those foundation documents. To say to the Australian people that we are willing to go down the National Broadband Network road and start passing legislation for it to occur, without knowing that vital information, would be a fundamental dereliction of our duty. We as a coalition will not stand idly by.

Senator Brown told us that the NBN is highly popular. I say to Senator Brown and the Greens: be very careful. President Obama had a wonderful health program on which he won an election in 2008. But once people saw the actual plan unravel, when they saw the details of that health concept, the Democrats in the United States got a hiding like history has not seen for a long, long time. The same is starting to happen with the National Broadband Network. At the 2010 election it was highly popular as a concept, but now that people are starting to see what it actually means, they are starting to have doubts.

Senator Conroy interjecting—

Senator ABETZ —Senator Conroy foolishly interjects and says that people are signing up fast. A huge 11 per cent uptake in Tasmania, where it is being given away for nothing—11 per cent only! So you cannot even give it away to 89 per cent. That is how good it is! I say to this chamber: let us have a look at the business plan. Why is it that 89 per cent of Tasmanians who are being offered this for free are not joining up?

Senator Polley —Come to Scottsdale and talk to people, Eric.

Senator ABETZ —I have indeed. Senator Polley also foolishly interjects and says to go to Scottsdale. I have spoken to many Tasmanians who are, in fact, only signing up for the 25, not the 100, because there is no need for it in their consideration.

Senator Conroy —Oh my goodness—you are a rocket scientist!

Senator Lundy —You are so out of your depth it is embarrassing!

Senator ABETZ —Of course, that is why the sign-up rate is so low. But I will not continue to answer the foolish interjections of the Labor Party, because they are designed to distract from the fundamental proposition that is before this chamber.

The fundamental proposition is this: that this information is readily available. There is no excuse for not tabling it right now in this chamber. There is no excuse for why it cannot be provided to this chamber other than the gross cynicism of this government and the gross cynicism of this minister in only delivering it after the parliament has risen so that we cannot analyse it and we cannot look through it to see how it matches up with this considerable piece of legislation.

Of course, this morning Senator Joyce did an absolute demolition derby on the minister. In the media the minister tried to say that this legislation did not refer to the NBN. Of course it does—62 times. Minister Albanese refers to the NBN already in the second paragraph of his second reading speech. But the minister who is actually responsible does not even know what is in his own legislation, what his colleague in the other place has said and the consequences of that. The government has claimed, along with the Green alliance and Messrs Windsor and Oakeshott, that this would be a transparent government and that we are now in a new paradigm. I will tell you what is new about this paradigm: that no other government in the history of Australia has treated the Senate with such gross and blatant contempt in withholding information about a $43,000 million infrastructure project.

To think that it has got this far without a business plan and without an implementation plan is spooky enough in itself. But—

Senator Lundy —It’s got an implementation plan.

Senator ABETZ —A Labor senator tells us there is an implementation plan, but only Labor senators are allowed to see it. The coalition are not entitled to see it. If it is available, Senator Lundy, table it now. Go to Senator Conroy and tell him to table it. Make it available so we can digest it over the weekend and we may well then be in a position to genuinely consider the legislation that Labor wants us to debate as the first item of government business today.

This is a matter of fundamental principle of this chamber, and might I add that it is a fundamental matter of principle for our friends in the Australian Greens and Family First and for Senator Xenophon. If they allow this government to get away with this gross act of arrogance, they will do it to them again and again and again. I might say that it is good to see that Senator Lundy has moved across to Senator Conroy. I hope she is asking the minister to table the documentation as I requested of her.

This is now the acid test for the Australian Greens in the Labor-Green alliance: whether their media statements and all their joining in with Senator Birmingham in asking for these reports were just media posturing so that they can say, ‘Look how we are pushing this government.’ They have come some of the way, but today is their time for reckoning. Are they actually going to live up to all their hyperbole and rhetoric or, when they come to the first hurdle of actually saying, ‘This Senate should not be treated with contempt,’ will they say, ‘Oh, well, we are in alliance with Labor; yeah, we had better let them get away with it’? Because once you let them get away with it once, they will know that the Greens have become Labor’s doormat. They will know that whatever they want to hide they can hide with the concurrence of the Australian Greens, despite the hyperbole and despite all the rhetoric to which we have been subjected.

Make no mistake: if this is such a vitally important piece of infrastructure, as we have been told, and we are being asked to consider legislation that will deal with the implementation of the NBN and its relationship with Telstra, surely we are entitled to the business plan and to the implementation plan. It is only a 400-page document.

Senator Conroy —You have no idea what you are talking about.

Senator Fifield —Give it to us and we will know!

Senator ABETZ —Thank you very much—I say it is a 400-page document, and he says I do not know what I am talking about. Tell that to your very own Prime Minister, who told us that!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Boyce)—Order! Senator Abetz, address your remarks through the chair.

Senator ABETZ —You are quite right, Madam Acting Deputy President. But it is nearly sad to see such an accident-prone and hapless minister foolishly interject when I rely on that which the Prime Minister deigned to put into the public domain—that it was a 400-page document—and tell me that I do not know what I am talking about. In that case, having adopted the Prime Minister’s language, it follows that she herself does not know what she is talking about. Do you know what? On this occasion, I fear the minister may well be correct.

So I withdraw the statement that it is a 400-page document, and we will wait and see how long the document is. If it is not 400 pages then possibly the minister can actually tell us how many pages it is and—

Senator Conroy —It is 400.

Senator ABETZ —It is now 400! I think the Prime Minister has been on the phone to him saying, ‘You had better correct that.’ So the record is now corrected, yet again, and it is a 400-page document. A 400-page document which has been in the possession of the government now for days on end could surely have been read, considered, digested and provided to this place.

What the government need to tell Senator Xenophon, the Greens and Senator Fielding is this: what is the importance of delaying the release of these documents by what I fear will be only seven days? Why can’t it be released whilst the parliament is still sitting? They said they are going to release it, but why can’t they release those documents now or early next week? What is the work that needs to be done that cannot be done over the next few days? That is the threshold question to which we have not been given an answer and, until we have been given a cogent answer as to the reason why it cannot be tabled late in November but can be tabled early in December, we should demand that no further consideration of this legislation be had until we have that documentation.

We would be derelict in our duty if we were to allow this legislation that is before us to pass and to be subjected to an insulting ministerial statement this afternoon without knowing what the documentation reveals. It is documentation that clearly has been revealed to Labor senators such as Senator Lundy but not to the coalition or to the crossbenchers. It is contemptuous of this place. The minister stands in breach and in contempt of orders of this Senate. The time has come for the Senate to stand up. The time has come to see whether or not the Greens, Senator Xenophon and Senator Fielding are willing to match their rhetoric with real action and, to borrow a term, direct action or whether it will simply be the rhetoric and the Labor-Greens alliance protecting the minister. (Time expired)