Shadow Communications Minister Senator Nick Minchin today said he thought it unlikely a builder for the Federal Government's $4.7 billion national broadband network would be locked in for another 12 months.
Minister Nick Minchin
Although he said a preferred bidder would likely be nominated earlier, he told ZDNet.com.au that there would likely be no signature on a contract for another 12 months. "No bidder is going to sign off on a contract until they know what the changes to the regulatory environment will be," he said.
The Labor Government has set the expert panel, responsible for giving advice to the Government on the matter, a deadline of eight weeks after the proposal deadline of 26 November to hand in its recommendations. In order to make an informed decision, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) also needs to have considered the tender documents and formed written recommendations on regulatory issues.
Minchin raised the timeline yesterday at a Senate committee on the national broadband network hearing. "It seemed to the committee quite ludicrous," he said.
Even if the ACCC and the expert panel met the deadline, if regulatory change is necessary, the alterations would have to go through the draft legislation channels, which would take a considerable amount of time, Minchin said. There was also no guarantee that any legislation would pass the Senate, which Labor does not control.
"We in the opposition, of course, will be closely scrutinising any reform package that goes up," Minchin said, adding that with $4.7 billion of taxpayer funds on the line, scrutiny was important.
Minchin's scrutiny has already come to bear on the network. He said he questioned the Government on where the $4.7 billion figure had come from, as well as why it had chosen to roll out to 98 per cent of the population, not 99 or 97, with no answer forthcoming as yet. "The whole thing is extraordinarily vague", he said.
The whole thing is extraordinarily vague
Senator Nick Minchin
"The thing we've been frustrated about was the Labor party creating the impression in their campaign that this'd all be rolled out in a flash," Minchin said. "Clearly what came out yesterday was that this is going to be a much more drawn out process."
Minchin wouldn't suggest how the broadband process could be steered into safer waters. "It's not our job to fix up the mess they've got themselves into," he said.
ACCC general manager, communications, Michael Cosgrave said the ACCC's segment of the timeline was do-able, but would not comment further. Communication Minister Senator Stephen Conroy's office did not respond to requests for comment.