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Thursday, 25 November 2010
Page: 2243


Senator JOHNSTON (3:23 PM) —Prior to question time I was addressing Senator Ludlam’s amendments, and I was saying why the opposition had no confidence in this minister, particularly in the face of what has gone before with virtually all other ministers: mining resource rent tax, climate change, health, asylum seekers, water in the Murray-Darling, pink batts and school halls, just to name a few. And when I turn to this minister, it is impossible to have any confidence in him. This is the minister who single-handedly has vaporised $30 million. The Australian National Audit Office put a $30 million price tag on the failed National Broadband Network tender process, blaming the department and the minister for that loss. Very few ministers in our Federation’s history have been able to achieve the vaporisation of $30 million of taxpayers’ money. But this minister has an outstanding and infamous track record in that regard. No wonder the opposition is taking every opportunity to scrutinise every walking, living, breathing movement of this particular minister. The fact is we simply do not have any confidence in him. He has not even read his own legislation. He was caught out by Senator Joyce last night saying things that are not accurate. I want to get to the bottom of this costing.

These amendments that have been put forward by Senator Ludlam all relate to ministerial discretion and to strengthening accountability of the government. But the point that I am very interested in is these new numbers that we now have. The $43 billion has gone back to $36 billion with an implementation tag of $13 billion. Does that mean that once upon a time the actual cost of this project in, maybe, 2010 dollars or 2009 dollars was $56 billion? My question to the minister is: was, at some point, the total cost of the capital and implementation of this project $56 billion? I think that is a legitimate question that he needs to answer.

When this government released the guidelines for Infrastructure Australia in 2009, it said:

… all initiatives proposed to Infrastructure Australia …should include a thorough and detailed economic cost-benefit analysis … In order to demonstrate that the Benefit Cost Analysis is indeed robust, full transparency of the assumptions, parameters and values which are used in each Benefit Cost Analysis is required.

That is in their own guidelines. But for some reason this minister clearly is outside those guidelines. He thumbs his nose at them and at the same time thumbs his nose at this parliament. Why so secret? Why is this minister so secretive? What is this all about? Could it be that the CEO of NBN Co. is on $1.95 million annually as a salary? Could it be that reason? Could it be that Mr Mike Kaiser, a former Queensland Labor MP who had to resign after his involvement in vote rigging, has been appointed by this minister to NBN Co.? All of these things are reasons the opposition is so concerned. Indeed, when there are so many amendments then that sends a very, very clear signal.

In closing, the parliament must be the first port of call in a project of this magnitude. If this project is so good and has such a robust analysis, then the parliament needs to be engaged and the parliament needs to see where the government is going. All we have here so far from a very incompetent minister has been obfuscation and secrecy. This has been simply and utterly unprecedented for the amount of money involved and is an absolute disgrace.