In the second reading of his National Broadband Network (NBN) Transparency Bill in Parliament this morning, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull alleged that Communications Minister Stephen Conroy told independent MPs it would be unlikely that the Productivity Commission would give the NBN a tick of approval.
Turnbull's private members Bill would require the $43 billion NBN project to be subjected to a "comprehensive cost-benefit analysis" by the Productivity Commission, to be completed before June 2011. Conroy has previously said the Bill is a tactic to delay the roll-out of the project and wouldn't be worthwhile; however, Turnbull said Conroy has other reasons for not agreeing to the scrutiny of the project.
"The case he's putting privately to independent members, mister speaker, is of course a very different one," Turnbull said. "What he's saying there is that the Productivity Commission will not give the NBN a tick. He says he knows the NBN does not stack up economically and it will fail the Productivity Commission's tests.
"There is a vital interest in us having real accountability on this project," he added.
Noting that the McKinsey implementation study had outlined the need for price increases in order for the government to make a return on its investment, Turnbull said that the digital divide wasn't about internet availability in metropolitan versus regional Australia but one based on income.
He quoted the Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that only 43 per cent of homes with an annual income of less than $40,000 had internet connections, while 95 per cent of those on incomes over $120,000 per year had internet connections at home.
"That's the digital divide — it's based on income, it's based on affordability, it's based on poverty," he said.
In making his case for the passing of the Bill, Turnbull also mentioned concerns raised yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) about the anti-competitive nature of the NBN. This was immediately dismissed by Labor.
"The day that I take advice from [the OECD, which] tells us we should increase the GST, will be a long day indeed," Labor MP Michelle Rowland said.
Shadow Regional Communications Minister Luke Hartsuyker and Liberal MP for Bradfield Paul Fletcher — referred to by Conroy as Turnbull's "shadow shadow communications minister" — both gave speeches welcoming the Bill's second reading in parliament today.
Debate is expected to be resumed on the Bill later today.
Conroy's office was contacted for comment but had not responded at the time of writing.