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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 5667

Senator MINCHIN (2:54 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Conroy. Given Senator Evans’s commitment on behalf of the government in question time yesterday to Labor delivering on all its promises, does the minister stand by his promise that construction of the national broadband network will commence by the end of this year?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —As I have repeatedly said about the timing of the national broadband network, the most critical issue is to ensure that all of the relevant information is available to the proponents who wish to make a bid. Those opposite ran a process when they were in government which included no directions about the content, no directions about the speed and no directions about the technology. They just said, ‘Will someone please build a broadband network?’ That was the extent of the expert panel process that was put in place by those opposite.

On the other hand, we have committed to ensuring that all of the information that is required for the bidders to make a full and comprehensive bid is available. That is why in February we passed legislation to ensure that all bidders had that information. As those opposite are more than aware, not all of that information was actually available despite the best efforts of all of those involved to supply the information that the government required and which the industry had said they needed in order to bid. So we then set out to get that information, unlike the process run by the former minister opposite—who continually interjects—which was a complete farce, a complete rort and delivered nothing.

As a result of our process, all of the information required has now been received. On 3 September, I announced that the last of the network information requested from carriers had now been collected and was available to national broadband network proponents. From this date, proponents had 12 weeks to consider the network information before lodging their proposals on 26 November 2008. The steps that the government has gone through to ensure the information is available demonstrate our commitment to a genuinely competitive process. We recognise that this information is important because you cannot build a broadband network without this information.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! There is time after question time to debate the issue. Senator Conroy, you are entitled to be heard in silence.

Senator CONROY —Let me again remind those opposite that when they were in government their broadband process did not include a mechanism to ensure that proponents had access to crucial network information. The expert taskforce guidelines published by those opposite for their charade of a process said:

... on the basis of clearly articulated assumptions and/or information that is public, commercially available or otherwise available to them.

In other words, they expected proponents to guess what was needed to build a broadband network. They actually had to guess. This just shows the lack of understanding of those opposite in their pathetic attempts on their 18th broadband plan— (Time expired)

Senator MINCHIN —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. Now that the minister has effectively admitted that he will not keep his promise to roll out the broadband network by the end of this year, I ask: is the minister aware of reports that uncertainty about the network rollout is causing a broadband investment freeze in new housing estates such as Springfield in Queensland? What is his response to this broadband investment freeze while he dithers over his network rollout?

Senator CONROY (Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy) —Again, I congratulate the shadow minister on his appointment and thank him for his question. But the former shadow minister initially questioned why the government required network information at all. He put out a press release in which he stated that there were serious questions about what the Rudd government planned to do with the information. By 7 May, however, the former shadow minister agreed the information was now critical. So let us just go through what Mr Billson, the former shadow minister, said.

Government senators interjecting—

Senator CONROY —No, I am sorry, but this is important.

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

Senator CONROY —I accept your admonishment, Mr President. This is what the former shadow minister had to say:

One likely bidder, Telstra, which holds the vast majority of this information, is clearly advantaged where the exchange of information is not facilitated—

Senator Minchin —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The views of the minister on the remarks of the former shadow minister have nothing whatsoever to do with the question I asked. I would ask you to draw his attention to the question, which is about the broadband investment freeze caused by his dithering over his network.

The PRESIDENT —As I have said previously, there is no point of order as I cannot direct to the minister to answer the question in a particular way. I draw the minister’s attention to the issue of relevance, and he has nine seconds left to respond.

Senator CONROY —The former shadow minister stated that Telstra:

… is clearly advantaged where the exchange of information is not facilitated or delayed. This situation places other potential—

(Time expired)

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