Conroy stonewalls on FTTN bid debate

Senator Stephen Conroy has stonewalled the Opposition today by limiting his responses to questions regarding the tender process for the national fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network at a parliamentary hearing.

Senator Stephen Conroy has stonewalled the Opposition today, limiting his responses to questions regarding the tender process for the national fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) network at a parliamentary hearing.

Federal Minister for Communications, Senator Stephen Conroy, faced a barrage of questions regarding the tender process for the network from the Liberal Opposition at a Senate Estimates hearing this morning.

While the hearing covered a number of areas, including the telecommunications Consumer Protection Code, discussion was focused on recent developments in the bid procedure for the network.

At the hearing, Conroy deferred the majority of the Opposition's questions on the issue, saying he was unable to answer them due to "probity concerns" and the fact that the bid for the national network was at this stage "still a live commercial process".

"Certain companies involved in this process could be adversely affected by any comments I make ... I don't intend to add to any further speculation," said the Minister when asked by South Australian Liberal Senator, Simon Birmingham, why he would not confirm the details of which companies had lodged an AU$5 million bond and confidentiality deed with the government to bid for the network.

"Probity advice is clear that I should avoid commenting on the [bond] process," said Conroy.

"It will be a lengthy, live process and you won't find me going out and giving speeches about this at a conference or debating it on television," he told the hearing.

The Opposition then shifted its questioning to the release of the Commonwealth Auditor-General's preliminary report into the bid process, and asked Conroy whether it was just "coincidence" that he extended the deadline for tender submissions for the network on the day of its release.

Conroy again declined to answer the question, saying he would "take it on notice" and let the committee know if he had "anything further to add", a response which followed almost 10 consecutive questions, prompting Opposition Communications spokesperson, Bruce Billson, to accuse the Minister of attempting to "gag" the inquiry.

"In a clear strategy to avoid scrutiny, [Senator Conroy] made it clear he would not answer any tough questions," said Billson in a statement, describing Conroy's actions as an "attack on the parliamentary process".

The Communications Minister fired back at similar claims in the hearing and accused the Opposition of asking him questions he was unable to answer, in an attempt to draw him into making an "inadvertent comment" on the tender process.