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Monday, 29 February 2016
Page: 1301

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (15:19): I can perfectly understand how one could be lulled into a sense of deep slumber through Senator McLucas's defence of the NBN. It is wise for us to consider exactly how the NBN came about. The NBN may have been conceived through a determination to bring the benefits of high-speed internet to Australian consumers, but it was a program that was supposed to cost $4 billion—until the giant fingers, the passion fingers, of Senator Conroy and his colleague, his mentor, the man who he admired so much, former Prime Minister Rudd, got on a plane together and got a box of peanuts and a napkin and a pen and the rest is history—on a VIP jet it was determined, over some popcorn and peanuts and a napkin, that tens of billions of dollars would be spent. The NBN was drawn on the back of a napkin, and the Australian people have been paying the price for that lack of planning ever since.

Since that time Senator Conroy has been involved in what can only be politely termed legacy sandbagging, where he has sought to run interference and pile up case after case after case about why his napkin plan was suitable and appropriate for Australia. Let me tell you, right from the word go it has failed the public interest test. It has failed the public interest test not because having a fast broadband network across the country is not in the interest of Australians—it probably is; should the government be doing it, there is a matter of politics in that—but the fact is that it has gone from $4 billion to $8 billion to $16 billion to $32 billion to about $49 billion of taxpayer money being thrust into it. Senator Conroy likes to criticise the fixing that is being been done by this government, but the fixing being done by this government is because of the falsehoods spun out of the previous government. The 2010 corporate plan claimed that the NBN would pass one million premises with its fixed line network by 30 June 2013. We can understand there is a bit of hyperbole around that one million premises, but no-one really thought the then government would have overestimated their own abilities by nearly eightfold.

The fact is that, after three years, it managed to reach 165,000 premises—not the one million that Senator Conroy and his ilk said—and it cost so much more than was scheduled. That is because there was a complete lack of planning, a complete lack of consideration of the national interest, a complete lack of any prudence and any cost-benefit analysis, and that is because the people around it were not grounded in reality.

I know that Senator Conroy seeks to blame former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for the failings of this. Kevin Rudd has many failings on which we could expound for a long time in this chamber, but we are not going to, because Mr Rudd was driven to make these irrational and not sensible decisions by none other than Senator Conroy and his famous napkin. Senator Conroy could have retired and gone into the void of the Kevin Rudd legacy. He could have retired, got out of parliament and hidden away from the poor decisions. Senator Conroy did not want to do that. So he stayed in this place and has tried to monster and bully people into accepting his version of events. Unfortunately, the truth is somewhat departed from where Senator Conroy is locating himself, and this is the point about the NBN. Yes, it has some benefits—

Senator Conroy: Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: I think it is traditional when you have a conflict of interest that you declare your conflict of interest. I think it is very important that Senator Bernardi declares that he has fibre to the home at his home and loves it. I think that is a complete conflict of interest in this debate.

The PRESIDENT: I have had enough, Senator Conroy. Senator Brandis, on the point of order.

Senator Brandis: Mr President, on the point of order: I notice Senator Conroy never takes these standing orders or the procedures of this Senate seriously. Plainly, from the moment he opened his mouth, that was not a point of order and he should have been ruled out of order at once.

The PRESIDENT: Ultimately, that is a conclusion I have come to. I could have ruled him out of order, but I had to give him an opportunity to at least say what his point of order was. There is no point of order.

Senator BERNARDI: The cavalier manner in which Senator Conroy regards the Senate's standing orders does resemble—with less catastrophic consequences, I must say—how he went about designing the NBN. What I think he did is that he drew a map of Australia on his coaster and pointed to Sydney and then drew a line to Adelaide, one to Melbourne and somewhere else and he said: 'There we go! That is $5 billion.' But it was not. It was nearly $50 billion, and he did not even get it to some of the regional centres. He could not maybe draw that many lines all at once, but the point is, Senator Conroy has spent his time in this place tearing down something that we are trying to build and fix. (Time expired.)