NBN confidentiality limits parliament inquiry

Summary:The National Broadband Network Company, using a cover of commercial confidentiality to not reveal details of agreements made with the industry, has limited the scope of a parliamentary joint committee on the NBN, the committee has said.

The National Broadband Network Company (NBN Co), using a cover of commercial confidentiality to not reveal details of agreements made with the industry, has limited the scope of a parliamentary joint committee on the NBN, the committee has said.

The committee, chaired by Independent MP Rob Oakeshott, today released its first report into the NBN roll-out.

Among the committee's five recommendations is a call for the Minister for Broadband and Communications Stephen Conroy to publish a statement explaining the "productivity, jobs and competitive benefits" that the NBN seeks to deliver.

The committee criticised the lack of transparency of NBN Co to disclose details of a number of the commercial deals, such as the trouble NBN Co encountered in negotiating its construction tender, and its deals with Telstra and Optus. At the committee hearings, NBN Co CEO Mike Quigley repeatedly said that he was not able to disclose commercially confidential material.

The committee told NBN Co in the report that while some information may be commercial-in-confidence, a 2003 Senate resolution states that any claim for commercial-in-confidence must be made by the relevant minister and accompanied by a full ministerial statement outlining what damage would be done if such information was to be revealed. The committee said it would watch NBN Co's responses at further hearings.

"The committee will continue to monitor claims of commercial-in-confidence and may seek to press the issue if it believes its mandate from the parliament and the government is being unduly impeded by such claims without satisfactory explanation."

In his dissenting report, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull echoed these concerns.

"While appreciating that some matters are genuinely commercially sensitive, the Coalition members of the committee do not see why a commercial contract should receive automatic and blanket protection from parliamentary scrutiny simply because it involves a private sector counter-party," Turnbull said.

According to Oakeshott, the government had to sell the NBN better, telling journalists today that all people were seeing was its estimated price tag of $35.9 billion.

"Anecdotally, I'm finding a lot of people think we are building another monopoly, another Telstra Mark 2 and that this is a big spend by government with no return at the end of it," he said.

"When in truth this is no different from building a home, building a business, which if it is done right and done efficiently we will get a significant rate of return later down the line."

The NBN deal has come under renewed criticism from the opposition after the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) announced on Tuesday it was unable to accept a crucial aspect of Telstra's move to structurally split its retail and wholesale arms.

The separation is essential to the Federal Government's plan for the NBN.

Oakeshott said he backed the consumer watchdog's chairman Rod Sims, and he hoped Telstra would take the recommendations on board.

"I would certainly hope that Rod Sims is listened to and that his changes ... are done diligently and swiftly."

It would be "disappointing", he said, if the ACCC's findings derailed Telstra's plans to have its own shareholders approve the deal at its annual meeting on 18 October.

The parliamentary NBN committee will report again at the end of November.

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government : AU, NBN

About

Armed with a degree in Computer Science and a Masters in Journalism, Josh keeps a close eye on the telecommunications industry, the National Broadband Network, and all the goings on in government IT.

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