Conroy loses Greens over NBN study

Summary:Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has refused to debate legislation regarding the split of Telstra after Communications Minister Stephen Conroy failed to hand over the National Broadband Network implementation study today.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam has refused to debate legislation regarding the split of Telstra after Communications Minister Stephen Conroy failed to hand over the National Broadband Network implementation study today.

Stephen Conroy

Stephen Conroy
(Credit: Liam Tung and Ed Tran/ZDNet.com.au )

Ludlam successfully moved a motion in the upper house last week calling on Senator Conroy to release the report by 17 March. Almost three hours after the deadline lapsed, the minister announced the Federal Government had received the report — on 5 March — but would not be handing it over.

"The government is currently considering the implementation study [and is] accordingly not in a position to comply with the Senate order," Senator Conroy told parliament.

The comprehensive document, hundreds of pages long, deals with the ownership and structure of NBN Co, the company that will build and operate the proposed broadband network.

Senator Conroy said the study also explores network design issues and makes a "significant number" of recommendations.

"It is not uncommon, and in fact is sensible, responsible and appropriate, for governments to take some time to consider reports they receive before decisions are made about release and next steps," he said.

Senator Ludlam said the Greens would not support any future debate on telecommunications legislation until the government released the study.

"Quite frankly, there's $43 billion on the table, that's a blank cheque and the minister's asking the parliament and the public to simply trust him.

"On an infrastructure project of this scale that is just not appropriate."

Earlier in the week, Family First Senator Steve Fielding said he believed a deal between the government and Telstra on the telco's assets was "imminent".

But Senator Ludlam said he doubted there would soon be a deal and that it was unlikely there would even be a vote on the legislation.

"This is a very, very important piece of information on the NBN which obviously has quite major consequences for the Telstra legislation," he said.

"The support of the Australian Greens is essential for the government's telecommunications agenda to progress. That support can no longer be taken for granted.

"To be honest, I don't think we're going to come to vote."

Conroy did not directly address the Greens' criticism but instead said the "hypocrisy" of the Opposition was "on full display" regarding the matter.

"The Howard Government on many occasions either failed to release reports or studies they were provided, or did so after a significant period of time," Conroy said. "I am advised that between 1 July 2005 and 2007 only one motion for the production of documents in the Senate was agreed to."

"For them to now criticise the government for a lack of transparency and for not releasing the implementation study after having received it on 5 March, less than two weeks ago, is the height of hypocrisy."

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government : AU, NBN, Telcos, Telstra

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