The Senate today voted down a motion by Opposition Senator Nick Minchin to further delay debate on the Bill that would enable the break-up of Telstra until after the introduction of legislation surrounding the National Broadband Network.
(Credit: Suzanne Tindal/ZDNet.com.au)
Minchin's motion failed — by the close margin of 31 votes to 32 — meaning the Senate will likely continue to debate the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill.
The Opposition senator claimed that the Telstra legislation was "related entirely to the National Broadband Network" and so the Telstra Bill should not be debated first.
He claimed Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was using the legislation to blackmail Telstra into cooperating with the government during the negotiation process currently underway on how the telco could move assets and customers across to the NBN Co's planned fibre-optic platform.
The Greens did not support the delay, with Greens Senator Scott Ludlam saying the debate about the legislation should have happened in October last year, and the Opposition was simply attempting to block any further debate on the Telstra break-up legislation.
Ludlam feared the government would present parliament with a "fait accompli" deal with Telstra, and pointed out the negotiations were taking place "behind the scenes, with no checks and balances" and no role for third parties.
In a fiery speech, Conroy accused the Opposition of obstructionism over blocking legislation. "How many bites of the cherry can you have?" he asked. "Get over it, you lost the last election, you're not in government."
The minister said the Opposition had spent the last two-and-a-half years avoiding having a telecommunications policy, and claimed Minchin would just do whatever Telstra asked — including when former Telstra chief executive Sol Trujillo was in power.
He claimed many Coalition members did support the structural separation of Telstra, but were being led by the "dinosaur" front benchers.
The Opposition said yesterday that it would vote down the Bill.
Minchin also touched today on the National Broadband Network implementation study, which was due to be completed by the end of last month. He noted that it had cost $25 million, much less than the $53.2 million the government had allocated for the study in last year's budget.
The study (being put together by consulting firms KPMG and McKinsey) will determine the operating arrangements for the NBN Company, as well as detailing network design and financial details — for example, attracting private sector investment.
Conroy said at the start of this month that he was still waiting on the study; however, today Ludlam claimed Communications Minister Stephen Conroy had received the study and backed Opposition calls for it to be produced.
"My understanding is that they've received it, they're reading it, they're making their minds up to whether that will be provided to the parliament," said Ludlam in the Senate today.
Since NBN Co chief executive Mike Quigley came on board last year, the company has already taken action on a number of fronts, which the tender documents mentioned would be covered by the implementation study — such as key decisions on network design. The NBN Co has also kick-started various procurement processes associated with the NBN build.
Ludlam said the Greens would this afternoon move an order to ensure the implementation study was tabled in the Senate so that parliamentarians could "get an idea of what they're assessing" in terms of the Telstra and NBN debates.
He pointed out the Parliament had also been denied access to the full tender documents around the Federal Government's previous, failed, $4.7 billion NBN process.