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Conroy: I'll axe OPEL , who cares what my expert broadband panel thinks.

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The Hon Bruce Billson MP Shadow Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has rendered his National Broadband Network Panel of Experts irrelevant before it's even had a chance to report back to him by killing off the OPEL broadband project for the bush.

In reporting the OPEL termination to the ASX Futuris-Elders stated that a reason given by Senator Conroy for contract termination was: ''the joint venturers' identification in the prescribed risk management plan that the fibre to the node broadband network subsequently proposed by the new Government, if built, represented a material risk of duplication''.

The other key reason for not proceeding was because Senator Conroy's department determined the network would cover only 72 per cent of underserved premises.

A view furiously contested by the proponents, who insist this advice is ''flawed'' and not only could they honour all contractual conditions, but would have delivered broadband coverage to almost 900,000 underserved households in rural and remote Australia.

Senator Conroy must release all advice and data in relation to his OPEL decision for independent expert audit and verification.

It's also rather puzzling how he talks of possible service duplication through OPEL, yet has no qualms replicating services in metro areas through his planned fibre-to-the-node roll out

One has to ask why he even bothered naming his expert panel when it's clear he has no intention of following its advice and is guided more by his penchant for political payback. It seems the expert panel may be nothing more than political cover for Senator Conroy and the Rudd Government to do whatever it thinks is politically advantageous.

His expert panel is not even expected to report back to him about broadband proposals for at least another month, yet OPEL's possible contribution has already been arrogantly dismissed.

There is a worrying trend emerging of Senator Conroy making rash and reckless decisions before receiving guidance or advice from expert panels and taskforces he has established.

Another example was when he set a 2013 digital television switchover date before receiving detailed advice from his Digital Switchover Taskforce.

Without the OPEL Network Senator Conroy must explain to the people of rural, regional and remote Australia, who are expecting enhanced broadband services by the middle of 2009, what he is going to deliver and when.

He must also allocate substantial new funding for broadband subsidies to ensure all Australians have access to affordable broadband until Senator Conroy's promise of providing broadband of at least 12 megabits per second, through fibre to the node to at least 98 per cent of the population is honoured.

That means new money, not just $95 million in underspend under the Australian Broadband Guarantee for 2008-09, but a forward commitment until at least 2014 for the people of rural and remote Australia.