Parliament cannot discharge its duty: Turnbull

No NBN business case until after Parliament rises stifling public debate

Labor’s decision to withhold the release of the National Broadband Network (NBN) business case until December is resulting in the Parliament being unable to discharge its duty, according to Opposition communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull.

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In a doorstop interview, Turnbull claimed the government’s decision to not provide the business plan until after the Parliament had risen, demonstrated that it wanted to resist any scrutiny.

“… I ask this to all members of the Parliament: How can we, any of us – Coalition, Labor, crossbenchers – how can any of us discharge our duty to the Australian people by approving such a massive project without any financial information about it?” he said.

“…I do not see how the House or the Senate, members of any chamber, can responsibly deal with this project without really understanding the financial consequences, the economics of the project. It is incredible.”

Turnbull added that news, detailed by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, this morning, on the NBN business plan would be offered to key Senators, was an “insult.”

“The idea of private briefings is just an insult," he said. "The Government should publish the business plan, full stop. They should have published it the moment it was completed.

“They shouldn’t have embarked on the project without a business plan. Anybody in the business world will be shaking their heads and have been shaking their heads in horror for months with the way the Government has gone on with this project.”

The government’s decision has also raised the ire of Greens Senator, Scott Ludlum, who yesterday moved a motion in the Senate demanding that communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, table the business plan and the Government's response to the McKinsey and Company and KPMG Implementation Study.

"We keep hearing the business plan is overflowing with good news, but the Parliament hasn't seen it,” Ludlum said in a statement.

"The Prime Minister now says it will be released in December, long after Parliament has risen. I strongly suggest the Prime Minister reconsider this decision, so that Parliament can do its job - particularly with so many telco-related issues in play during this sitting fortnight."

The Australian Senate has resolved that the Government should immediately provide the National Broadband Network business plan to the parliament and the public.

Greens communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, successfully moved a motion demanding that communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, table the business plan and the Government's response to the McKinsey and Company and KPMG Implementation Study, effective immediately.

"We keep hearing the business plan is overflowing with good news, but the Parliament hasn't seen it.

"The Prime Minister now says it will be released in December, long after Parliament has risen. I strongly suggest the Prime Minister reconsider this decision, so that Parliament can do its job - particularly with so many telco-related issues in play during this sitting fortnight."

According to independent Senator, Nick Xenophon, with who’s help the motion passed the Senate, said the Government was picking a fight with people that were sympathetic to an NBN.

“Look to put it pretty inelegantly, the Government is doing a pretty good job pissing off the people that are supporters of the NBN and I would have thought the Government could do a lot better than this,” Xenophon told ABC radio.

“I agree with some of my colleagues that the Government is burning off a lot of good will with the way they're carrying on.”

Despite this, Xenophon continued to reject the idea of the NBN being taken to the Productivity Commission for assessment — something Turnbull has strongly pushed for.

“I've always taken the view that with a $43 billion piece of infrastructure it's important for the Productivity Commission to look at it, but I think the Coalition's terms of reference to the Productivity Commission are too narrow; you need to look at the social benefits involved with an NBN, you need to look at issues of regional communities missing out because of market failures in the past and if the terms of reference were broader, if it looked at the nation building implications of an NBN, then I think that would be a much better terms of reference for the Productivity Commission,” he said.

Follow Tim Lohman on Twitter: @tlohman

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAu

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