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Conroy's expert broadband panel must not be nobbled.



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Tue, 11th March 2008 CONROY'S EXPERT BROADBAND PANEL MUST NOT BE NOBBLED

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

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's belatedly announced National Broadband Network Panel of Experts must have the freedom to advise him that displacing private investment with taxpayer funds is poor public policy and not the actions of 'fiscal conservatives'.

Hopefully the expert panel hasn't been simply instructed to shape a response to fit Labor's broadband rhetoric, regardless of sound public policy considerations, or how unnecessarily costly it will be to the taxpayer.

It makes no sense to use $4.7 billion of taxpayers funds to bump out the private sector from commercially viable investment as Labor plans to do and the expert panel must not be nobbled by the Rudd Government from speaking this plain truth.

The time has well passed when the Minister should confess that the Labor Government has no idea how to turn its 'fibre-to-the-node' sound bites into sound public policy.

At last, the Minister has finally responded to my call to examine the competition, access and pricing regulatory framework of its vague, ever changing idea that risks damaging the very competition and choice that has driven investment, improved services and savings to users.

However, the ACCC and Productivity Commission must not be sidelined just to suit Labor's political ambitions in the same way the Minister has sidelined his own Department as simply a source of advice in a 'put in a submission and the panel will make up its own mind' mode.

A lot of time and effort could have been saved by simply carrying forward the comprehensive and principled work of the previous government in relation to advancing high speed broadband services for all Australians. Instead Senator Conroy recklessly abandoned the expert taskforce established by the Coalition, purely for the political optics, in the hope that Labor could brand the work of others as its own.

I welcome the appointment of Communications Department secretary Patricia Scott as chair of the panel, but I am disturbed by reports (Daily Telegraph on March 10 Malcolm Farr) that Senator Conroy has quickly resorted to blaming his department for the difficulties he is now facing of his own making.

Treasury Secretary Dr Ken Henry and Tony Shaw, former Australian Communications Authority Chairman, who along with Ms Scott were also members of the previous government's expert taskforce and have been appointed to Senator Conroy's panel.