If Communications Minister Stephen Conroy wants the Senate Select Committee's inquiry into the National Broadband Network to end, he will need to hand it the lead advisor's implementation study, committee chair and Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher said last week.
The government can make it easy or they can make it hard
Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher
"Clearly we'd expect to see the implementation study as soon as possible. We would be disappointed if we did not, but that said, we will get it," said Fisher. "We will find a way. That's the committee's job. There are ways and ways."
While the committee lacks the power to force the government's hand, the committee has the time and support of the independent senators, Fisher told ZDNet.com.au. "He won't want this committee to continue. The government is opposed to an extension and wants us to finish and the best way to get us to finish is to get on with the final bit of the job," she said.
The committee reconvenes in the second week of February as parliament resumes. Last year it recommended the government release the taxpayer-funded report (which has a budget of up to $53 million) and was handed an extension, which pushed out the inquiry's completion date from November 2009 to April 2010, specifically so it could assess the study's findings.
"We got the support of senators [Nick] Xenophon and [Steve] Fielding to extend the committee until April to allow us to inquire into the implementation study itself and the government's response to it," Fisher said.
The government received an "interim report" last August from lead advisers, KMPG and McKinsey; however, Conroy said this would not be released to the public, while it would consider next month whether it would release the final report.
The committee has not yet received word from Conroy or the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy whether it will hand the report over.
The study is expected to cover how to attract private sector investors to the government-owned corporation, NBN Co, governance and operating arrangements for it, and specifications for what and how wholesale services would be sold by it — details which the government said in response to questions by the committee were handed to it in the interim report in August.
There is some question amongst industry stakeholders as to what the study's purpose is, given it has been conducted alongside the NBN Co's own study. At the Realising our Broadband Future conference in Sydney last December, NBN Co chief Mike Quigley said that it was "sensible" for the government to have conducted the study in a "dual-stream approach". Quigley noted that the "NBN Co and McKinsey and KPMG have focused on different aspects of the project".
Several attempts to contact the minister's office by ZDNet.com.au over the issue have not been responded to. Last October the department said it had not considered whether it would release the report publicly.
While the question of public release remains unanswered, Fisher said that if the study is not handed to the committee she would "go back to those who supported the extension of the committee until now to say we haven't been able to do the job because we weren't given the equipment".
"The government can make it easy or they can make it hard," she said. "If they don't give it to us it hands us an opportunity to re-jig the terms of reference if Conroy drags the ball on this. It would be undesirable for the committee to be faced with a situation where we couldn't do the job in an extended time frame because of procrastination over whether they're willing to give us the study."