The Federal Government has advanced its Telstra separation bill, achieving a second reading of the bill in the Senate, despite strong criticism of the bill by the Opposition.
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In Senate debate prior to the 33-30 vote in favour of the Government’s Competition and Consumer Safeguards Bill 2010, communications minister Stephen Conroy claimed the Coalition’s recent campaign to block the bill unless the NBN business case was made available to Parliament was a ruse.
“You have been opposed to the bill for 12 months; you didn’t know a business plan existed before you opposed it,” Conroy said.
“Don’t come in here and pretend that your position on this bill has anything to do with the business plan. You only knew about the business plan two months ago. This is just the latest excuse [to block the bill].”
According to Conroy the arguments around producing the business case were a distraction from the need to separate Telstra.
“[The Opposition] have failed to acknowledge that this bill was a standalone legislation almost entirely relating to Telstra which does not go in anyway… to the role of the National Broadband Network company and its commercial structure,” he said.
“A cost-benefit analysis has nothing to do with this bill.”
Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Eric Abetz, said the bill did indeed relate to the NBN, mentioning it some 62 times.
“Either the minister sought to deceive the Australian people, or he simply had no idea the NBN was referred to in the legislation,” he said.
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Opposition deputy leader in the Senate, George Brandis, claimed the Australian public would will “never be told” whether the NBN business case stacked up.
“This claim of commercial confidentiality is a ruse, it is a pretext, it is a lie,” he said. “It is not merely the business plan, which this minister and this government, for fraudulent reasons, seek to withhold from the scrutiny of the Parliament…
“Even more incomprehensible is that [Senator Conroy] has told the Senate that the appraisal of the business plan… will not be released to the public.
“If Greenhill Caliburn comes back with a report that says we have serious concerns… the Australian people will never be told whether or not a business case which itself has been withheld from the Parliament passes independent scrutiny.”
Last night Opposition communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, claimed the Federal Government’s arguments for not releasing the National Broadband Network (NBN) business case this week amounted to “pathetic excuses”.
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