Senators Nick Minchin and Helen Coonan today opened fire in the Senate on communications minister Stephen Conroy in a joint attack marking the commencement of Minchin's term as shadow minister.
(Credit: Conroy's office)
Referring to an article by business commentator Alan Kohler, Minchin questioned Conroy on whether he had sought advice from his department on whether wireless broadband speeds could exceed fibre-optic speeds within two years, and what the impact could be on the government's planned $4.7 billion national broadband network (NBN).
"Could the minister make an attempt at crafting an answer that has at least some relevance to the question," asked Minchin, according to Hansard records sent to ZDNet.com.au this afternoon by Conroy's office.
Noting it was "almost" the first Senate question he had to answer as communications minister (former Shadow Minister Bruce Billson is a member of the House of Representatives), Conroy said ABS statistics released this week demonstrated Australian consumers wanted faster broadband connections.
"That is why the Rudd Government has committed up to $4.7 billion and will consider regulatory changes to facilitate the roll-out of the national broadband network that will boost Australia's productivity," he said, referring to notes from his laptop.
However, a number of senators immediately called a point of order on Conroy, pointing out senators were not allowed to read speeches in response to questions.
"Most if not all of us use a combination of referring to notes and also making extemporaneous comments," said Coonan. "The point here is that Senator Conroy, consistently for many months now, has in every question time read verbatim from an electronic document holder."
New Shadow Communications
Minister Nick Minchin
Senator Conroy responded by saying it was "embarrassing" that the opposition call the communications minister to order for using a laptop rather than paper notes.
Conroy added Minchin's question actually related to the laws of physics.
"Unless wireless technologies have suddenly become faster than the speed of light: the question is an embarrassing nonsense," he said, highlighting the fact that former Howard ministers and National Party senators had labelled fibre-optic cable as the best option for future broadband in Australia.
In response to further questioning, Conroy had this to say about wireless broadband:
"It does not actually fly through the air all the way from computer to computer. This may come as a shock to you, Senator Minchin. What actually happens is that it gets as close as it can to its destination, gets sucked down into the ground, and guess how it travels once it goes underground? Via a fibre-optic cable!"