Labor critic appointed to 'independent' NBN review panel

Labor critic appointed to 'independent' NBN review panel

Summary: Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has appointed Labor critic Henry Ergas to the independent expert panel to conduct a cost-benefit analysis into broadband and NBN regulation.


In amongst the news around the release of the NBN Co strategic review, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has quietly announced a four-person panel of experts to conduct a cost-benefit analysis into broadband and the regulatory environment of the National Broadband Network (NBN).

According to the terms of reference, the panel will be tasked to conduct an "independent cost-benefit analysis and review of regulation to analyse the economic and social costs and benefits (including both direct and indirect effects) arising from the availability of broadband of differing properties via various technologies, and to make recommendations on the role of government support and a number of other longer-term industry matters".

The panel will also be asked to assess the regulatory environment of the NBN, the competitive environment for NBN Co, and the product and pricing structure for the NBN.

The announcement confirms some of the information that had been leaked in November, including the controversial appointment of professor Henry Ergas. Ergas is a senior economic advisor at Deloitte, and has served with the Department of Communications in reviewing telecommunications policy in Australia.

The Coalition government believes that Ergas is well qualified for the role, but Ergas has been a long-time critic of Labor's National Broadband Network (NBN) project. When Labor was first considering the NBN, Ergas argued against structural separation of Telstra's wholesale and retail arms. In 2009, he claimed that retail prices on the NBN would have to be AU$215 per month in order to pay for the project.

Ergas was also heavily critical of the cross-subsidy built into the NBN, arguing that consumers in the city should not be forced to subsidise the cost for rolling out the NBN in regional areas.

But in addition to his criticism of the project, it was discovered that Ergas had handed out how-to-vote cards at the federal election in September. When asked about this by Fairfax, Ergas said he is not a Liberal Party member, but thought that the election of Liberal Senator Zed Seselja would be a "good thing" for Australia.

Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare said the appointment of Ergas would lead to a review that confirms Turnbull's existing views.

"This is more evidence of Malcolm Turnbull appointing his mates to give him the answers he wants," he said in a statement.

The panel will be chaired by Dr Michael Vertigan, who has a long history in the public service in Tasmania, and is currently the chair of the Australian Maritime College Board and a director of Aurora Energy and the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation.

Also on the panel will be Insurance Australia Group director and former eBay Australia MD Alison Deans, as well as Tony Shaw, the former chairman of the Australian Communications Authority and an original member of the NBN panel of experts established under the former government to determine the initial NBN proposal.

In a statement, Turnbull said that the panel contains "decades of relevant experience in telecommunications, regulation and competition policy, economics, public policy, and digital business".

"Their work will provide the government with rigorous, robust, and independent advice that will help guide decisions on the future of fast broadband and the National Broadband Network (NBN) in Australia," he said.

The panel will be required to report back to government by June next year.

Topics: NBN, Government, Government AU


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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  • typical

    Anybody who argues against structural separation has absolutely no place on a panel deciding the future of telecommunications in this country, that is the simple fact of the matter. That alone proves beyond doubt that Ergas doesn't have a clue.

    Sadly that's not the only reason not to put him on the panel.
    • You bet

      Ergas has already put a cap of $12b, so without even starting he's ruled it "not worth it". We at least won't have to endure some of his more insane theories, for now, at least.

      This all has the hallmarks of a Three Stooges show.
  • Ergas

    Ergas is the Three Stooges.
    Kevin Cobley
  • it can't be called independant

    if Turnbull appoints the people
  • Precisely

    If the panel is appointed by the Government, it's dependent by definition. The best that can be hoped for in that case is a panel consisting of people with no ties to any political party or perhaps one with some members nominated by the Government and others nominated by the Opposition.

    The Government could ask the Governor General to appoint a commission consisting of her own nominees on the condition that the members have no ties to any political party and that could be called independent, but I'm under the impression that that is not how things normally work in Australia and maybe the Government wouldn't trust her to be impartial.

    I any case, Mr. Turnbull can consult whomever he wants, but he's the one charged with making decisions for which he gets to take full credit, or blame.
    John L. Ries
    • Might not be impartial.

      Considering her son-in-law is the leader of the opposition and her recent political outburst which was considered to be in support of opposition policies, it might be a little difficult to imagine that the Govenor General could be completely impartial.
      Gary O'Connor
      • so...

        The GG making comments on social issues is the equivalent of a cretin who makes a living sprouting right wing economic cant and tech voodoo sitting on a con job mob to tailor more voodoo tech for Turnbull to try to spin?

        Like having Alan Jones and Ray Hadley sitting on an advisory committee on social equity and bullying in the workplace...
      • She did offer to resign

        And the Prime Minister turned her down.
        John L. Ries
  • Capability

    Apart from his Darling of News Ltd Status, let us keep in mind the basic principles of business.Supply and most importantly Demand

    Ergas and his team of like minded ideologically blinded backward focused economic consultants were unable to find paying customers from the business sector and their company went broke.
    Their prospective clients seek guidance to shape their future direction and determined Ergas and Co were incapable of providing such, i.e their advice was valueless to them .

    Yet the Merchant Banker well schooled and Trained by those who brought us the GFC by packaging almost worthless Junk Bonds as AAA securities with the assistance of the "Experts" - The Ratings agencies and the media finance and investment experts, considers him qualified to evaluate a National Communications infrastructure project to facilitate innovation and inventiveness - both incomprehensible concepts along with forward thinking to Ergas and his ilk

    We wuz scammed by the Government pre GFC and the Media Advisors and finance experts with the GFC and we are being scammed again
    Abel Adamski
  • Independent or what!

    It's a sad fact that when the government seeks to get "independent" input into their policy that will impact every Australian that they simply ignore the very people they are impacting. There is no-one in this panel with any background in consumer advocacy. It's the panel of "experts" on how to build it for the cheapest cost i.e. for the Government, deliver it in such a way that private companies can maximise their revenues and we the punters just pay whatever they want to charge us. Then they will trott out graphs comparing our broadband speeds and prices with the third world, saying we are fine!
  • woops

    Josh you missed one relevant point I think. Ergas is also a paid scribbler for Rupert Murdoch. How on earth is this not a conflict of interest? Ergas cannot be considered independent or even unbiased with such a CV.
  • Ergas will say exactely what Tunbull wants.

    By placing the right people in these positions will produce what ever result you want. Put this group in for one result and another group for the opposite result.
    Ergas previously argued that there should be no separation of Telstra's wholesale and retail. He must be joking. What an idiot. Ergas is full of just er gas.
    By having these bias panels and boards the Government will be very open, honest and transparent when publishing their results as they will be exactly what the Government wanted the results to be.