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Brief reprieve for Senate's NBN committee

Liberal senator defers push to replace NBN committee with new government-dominated committee

Liberal Party Senator Cory Bernardi has deferred — for a day — a motion to abolish to the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network and replace it with a government-dominated joint committee.

Bernardi had been due to move two motions. One was a motion to abolish the committee, effective as of tomorrow, and a second to establish a Joint Select Committee on the National Broadband Network.

The current NBN committee was established in November last year "to inquire into and report on the Government's reviews of the National Broadband Network (NBN) and the governance of NBN Co, with interim reports as the committee sees fit and a final report on or before 10 June 2014."

The committee has released an interim report which was unflattering of the new direction the NBN has taken since the Coalition took power in the election in September.

In May the Senate extended the reporting date of the committee until the "the last sitting day of the 44th Parliament", ensuring that, barring a motion to abolish it, it would continue scrutiny of the NBN until the next federal election.

The current committee is chaired by Labor Senator Kate Lundy, and comprises three Labor senators, three Liberal senators and a Greens senator, giving supporters of the fibre-to-the-premises approach of the former government a majority. Bernardi is the deputy chair of the committee.

The committee's meetings are frequently the stage for barbed exchanges between the new management of NBN Co installed and the former Labor communications minister, Stephen Conroy.

Bernardi's joint committee would comprise three Coalition members of the lower house, two MPs nominated by the opposition, two government senators, two opposition senators, and one crossbench senator. The committee would be chaired by a government MP.

Bernardi told the Senate this afternoon he wished to defer the motion until tomorrow.

The motion would require the support of non-government senators, raising questions about whether the Coalition has engaged in negotiations with independent or minor party senators for their support.

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p

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