Greens, Libs angered by closed NBN Co

Greens, Libs angered by closed NBN Co

Summary: The Federal Opposition and the Greens have criticised the government for exempting the NBN Co from freedom of information (FOI) laws.


The Federal Opposition and the Greens have criticised the government for exempting the National Broadband Network Company (NBN Co) from freedom of information (FOI) laws.

Rotary dialler

(Rotary phone image by sagriffin305, CC2.0)

NBN Co, tasked with rolling out the national fibre network, will not be subject to the FOI Act because it is an incorporated company.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has stood by the exemption.

"[The system] is one where something like NBN Co is not covered by [FOI laws] and it is ordinary business," Gillard told reporters in Melbourne today.

NBN Co has previously refuted industry accusations that the company keeps its cards close to its chest and has argued that it is "highly transparent".

However, Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said the government is avoiding scrutiny and that the Opposition would challenge NBN Co's exemption in parliament.

"The government, when it came into office, said every major infrastructure project would be subject to a rigorous cost-benefit analysis, [that it would] open up freedom of information laws and it would provide greater scrutiny.

"And yet with this, the greatest infrastructure project in our history, there is no analysis being allowed. There is no Productivity and Inquiry."

The exemption has also angered the Greens, which will push for NBN Co to be subject to the FOI Act when parliament resumes next month.

The party was successful in pushing through a number of amendments to Labor's draft laws, aimed at increasing transparency, in the Senate in late November when the structural separation of Telstra was passed.

Greens Party Communication Spokesperson Scott Ludlam said it was unacceptable for a public enterprise investing about $27.5 billion of taxpayer's money to be exempt from FOI laws, which allow access to government-held information.

"I haven't ruled out government support yet, so the first step from our point of view is to make sure it can be done, which we're pretty confident we can do it with a private senators' Bill and then we'll have the debate," he said.

The Greens will need the support of the government or the Coalition to pass the draft law amendments.

The minor party refused to support the Coalition in its calls for the NBN project to be subject to a full cost-benefit analysis and will rely on the Coalition's support to pass its own amendments to put NBN Co under closer scrutiny.

Ludlam said an incorporated body could be covered by the FOI Act if it was established by a minister or an incorporated company over which the Federal Government was in a position to exercise control. He said NBN Co met both of those criteria.

Government-run corporations, including Australia Post and the ABC, were subject to FOI laws but their commercial dealings could still be protected under commercial in confidence considerations.

"We think those same tests should be applied to the NBN. I don't understand why the government has left them off," Ludlam said.

Topics: Government, Broadband, Government AU, Telcos, NBN

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Hmm, this aint looking good for Labor at all.

    They are giving more and more reasons for people to oppose the NBN

    Its almost as if they want it to fail
  • The NBN will be a great advantage for our country however this type of politics will rub people the wrong way :|
  • Yes it could (and in a lot of instances will) certainly be perceived as being secretive or under-handed...

    But then, the Turnbull's of this world (and those like you deteego) have tried to make the NBN a "business", with commercial ROI's, CBA, etc.

    So you can't have it both ways...

    It's either a transparent and answerable/totally accountable government entity.


    A business, where not only ROI is a factor, but also confidentiality agreements, which protect commercially sensitive information, is also, common place.

    Personally I prefer the former with transparency! What about you?
  • You do realize, that all other (monopolies) or government owned private companies, such as Australia Post, ABC and whatnot are all under scrutiny under FOI, even Telstra is.

    If NBNCo is using government bonds to pay for the rollout, something no buisness can normally do, with the amount of money its borrowing, it should be subject with FOI

    This has nothing to do with ROI, it has to do with the fact that its a GOVERNMENT owned private company using public money to do the rollout. Private companies do not use public money (they use their own or they borrow it themselves from the bank at a much higher rate), and if private companies receive subsidies (for whatever reason) they have to be transparent in costings for that area

    Telstra is subject to FOI as well in regards to how much it costs them to maintain the CAN, it has to show its own finances (in that area) in order to get any subsidies from the government
  • Ah, the business you have when you don't have a business eh? LOL!!!!
  • If you are using or spending GOVERNMENT funds then that process of spending/using GOVERNMENT funds should fall under FOI. It DOESN'T MATTER if you do or don't plan to make a ROI

    That is deal with EVERY currently government owned private company as stated before. It has nothing to do with ROI, and everything to do with accountability of allocation and usage of government funds, whether it be with direct taxpayer funds or government bonds

    The reason behind this is OBVIOUS, the Australian taxpayers are the burden of the bonds.

    If NBNCo didn't use any taxpayer funds/government funds and borrowed all the money themselves, then that is another story
  • The pokie license auctions in VIC and the Electricity privatization deal in NSW shows us what happens when large government initiatives take place without the public getting a look in. Gillard promised open government after the last election but it appears to be empty words.
  • What do you expect from these bungling cretins?
    Of course they do not want to allow scrutiny of anything they do as it would show up how incompetent they are.
    It’s our money! We deserve to see the detail, before they waste any more of it.
  • I agree RS that we can't have it both ways, but the government is the one's trying to have their cake and eat it too. If they want to protect the NBN Co as an incorporated business, then it should be subject to the same rules as any private business, namely a decent return for investors (the current rate is laughable), a real business case and cba.

    Allowing a monopoly to be incorporated with the view to selling it off later, is going to cost Australians far more than they realize in the future.
  • True and pertinent points mwil19 (although I disagree with your last sentence)!

    However, in relation to the NBN being an incorporated business vs. government entity - the governments hands were tied really in relation to a business model...

    NBNCo have taken the NBN to the people, shown it to be viable, productive, affordable, as future-proof as possible (to replace the copper network which can't last forever too) and will pay for itself, even without being sold off.

    All winners imo and justification for the build... But yet many people still bag it incessantly...

    So imagine in these fiscally anal and more and more conservative times - where people matter not, and dollars are more important (even to a lot of these very people, going by the FUDsters we have here) - if the government said, we are going to build a multi $B network, which we don't care if it never makes a cent and don't care whether there's benefits or not, but it needs to be built, so be it!

    Could you imagine (sans justification) the uproar then?
  • Actually the last sentence is the most concrete thing I wrote. If we look at electricity and gas in Victoria, the model we have been left with is a wholesale monopoly with competition only on the retail side. The result is that prices have sky rocketed relative to inflation over the past few years.

    Once the NBN is privatised, the management of NBN will be mandated to raise shareholder value, thus jacking up prices. Government will have no more control on them than they had with Telstra.
  • Don't think so...

    They did/do have power over Telstra fixed (wholesale) monopoly - the ACCC and TPA, as they will over NBN Pty Ltd.

    It was Telstra retail that kept prices high!
  • Whether retail or wholesale, no monopoly ever led to lower prices. As stated before, the model that is being put in is the same as the utilities market in Vic, where prices have gone through the roof.

    No doubt those that can afford it will be better off, but barriers will struggle.
  • "battlers will struggle", stupid iPhone corrections!
  • Sure monopolies generally aren’t good, which is why there are strict regulatory rules/laws which apply to them! But it does matter in this instance... whether it’s a wholesale or retail monopoly…

    Because, Telstra’s (like the NBN) monopoly is/was in wholesale... as Telstra own the PSTN/last mile. Of course Telstra had the monopoly in retail too originally.

    But the wholesaling level wasn’t the problem area, as the ACCC/TPA kept the bast*rds honest, there!

    The problem was at the retailing level; where the incumbent kept their prices way high and their competitors (although they won’t admit it) loved it because they could under-cut and still make a killing.

    This is proved by the fact that wholesale prices have primarily been static for sometime, but regardless, retail prices have plummeted (since the announcement of the NBN – hmmm). So the fact that “retailers” are getting good enough wholesale prices to “now” be able to reduce prices significantly, tells a story, and…

    Disproves your monopoly theory/concerns at the network ownership level, because, with NBNCo the wholesaling scenario will remain, like it is now, with the ACCC/TPA keeping the bast*rds honest!

    Plus the ever important detail... NBNCo won't be retailing. So unlike Telstra monopoly, there won't be a "conflict of interest" with Telstra selling to itself!

    NBNCo have said prices “will be equivalent to or less than they are now (with speed certainty)”! So ACCC, please hold NBNCo to their part of the equation, thus leaving RSP’s, to jostle and compete for our business! This is where competition will flourish and consumers will benefit, as RSP’s will be able to concentrate on their “core business of comms”, not construction (as I said before, how many runways have QANTAS built)!

    Also, surely, you aren’t calling the current scenario - where a small number of ISP’s have installed a few DSLAMs into “Telstra’s exchanges (in populated, profitable areas only)” and “connect to Telstra’s network/last mile” - “actual national competition at network level”, are you? How can it be, when Telstra still own primarily, everything but the DSLAMs?

    Mwil19 you are speaking ideologically, rather than realistically when you criticise the NBN monopoly, because Australia’s comms is simply, a natural monopoly. We will never have multiple companies “willing to” construct competing comms networks throughout our entire nation, nor would we even want it. Should we have multiple electric cables and water pipes, to every house, just so that we have competition for competition’s sake/to eliminate this terrible monopoly? Should QANTAS, Virgin, Tiger all move away from their core businesses of “air travel” and each construct separate airports, all adjacent to each other?

    A. No… that is ludicrous! So why multiple comms networks…!

    So your ideology is flawed imo, because we either have an NBN monopoly or a Telstra monopoly. Either way it can only be a monopoly (nationwide). Difference is again, NBN not retailing, makes it ultimately fairer!
  • I provided a real world example which show prices will rise, I don't see how that is ideological. Having actually worked at in IT and Comms for years (including time at Telstra) I can tell you that the ACCC didn't have much power over the big T and secondly, they influenced the market far more by manipulating the wholesale market than they did on the retail side.

    This won't be as bad with NBN since they aren't retailing, but you are missing my point on the competition front. We don't (and probably never will have) multiple comms networks in Australia, but the threat of competition would be enough (as you yourself lauded over Telstra when their prices came down prior to the NBN starting)

    Instead we legislate away all competition no matter what. If you can show me a single wholesale monopoly (any industry, any where) where prices stayed stable relative to inflation, then your argument would be valid, but the fact is there isn't one.

    Whilst speeds will no doubt be better, the relative price of comms for all Australians will go up.
  • Without knowing exactly I'd say ironically, Telstra ULL/LSS prices would have been under inflation, thanks to the ACCC, but...?

    And had the NBN not started... we'd still be paying $129pm for 50GB/20Mbps - receiving 4Mbps (which negates your whole NBN, no good argument straight off)...and all begging for better, so...

    But you won't see, unless you want to see and I personally prefer to see people innocent until proven guilty, so too with the NBN.

    Sure hang 'em if all your guesswork negativity comes true, but until such time, why not just see the glass half full, not half empty...?
  • As I said prior, If you can show me a single wholesale monopoly (any industry, any where) where prices stayed stable relative to inflation, then your argument would be valid, but the fact is there isn't one.

    It's all well and good to take a glass half full approach but we already have real world examples that this model raises prices for consumers.
  • BS...!
  • Nice retort. If my comment is BS, you should have no trouble finding an example of a wholesale monopoly, where prices have stayed stable relative to inflation.

    If we take the example of electricity in Australia. Wholesale provider, multitude of retailers. In March of 2010, we see is that the Australian Energy Regulator plans a 57% increase in prices in Victoria over the next 5 years. No ACCC in sight.