Yesterday in parliament, Communications Minister Helen Coonan was questioned by Senator Kim Carr on the necessity for government to examine maps of 40 key marginal seats in order to assess the political impact of Australia's landmark bush broadband announcement.
"I ask: why did the minister deem it necessary for cabinet to examine maps showing the impact of the broadband policy on the government's 40 most marginal seats, when it was discussed? Wasn't it because the minister thought the cabinet would be more interested in the political impact of the announcement than it would be in what it actually delivered? Isn't the government's focus more about the next election than about the next generation?" Carr asked.
Coonan told the Senate that the broadband maps were all released to MPs, regardless of affiliation, on the day the government announced it had chosen Optus and Elders to build a 12Mbps rural broadband network.
"If you have an arrangement for the preparation of paper and paperwork, that in no way differentiates the way in which you release the maps and release the information to everyone who is entitled to it. This is public information. It was all released at the same time. Despite the invitation from Senator Carr, I do not feel inclined to tell him what the maps are that are discussed in Cabinet," Coonan said.
Coonan was questioned over whether the leaked e-mail pertaining to the broadband maps showed that not all of the maps would be completed by the time of the Cabinet meeting and the Coalition only wanted to see those covering sensitive areas. Carr went on to ask: "[Is it true] the minister actually walked into cabinet with a copy of Malcolm Mackerras's electoral pendulum and the maps of the 40 most marginal coalition seats and got the endorsement of her package on that basis?"
The Communications Minister denied the suggestion, saying the government "does not need a focus group to tell it which side of bed to get out of".
The Opposition also yesterday took the opportunity to attack the government's position on broadband in the Lower House. Labor's Lindsay Tanner told parliament: "The Prime Minister's view of broadband is still back 20 or 30 years ago, back in the old world. He's come up with his own version of the bush telegraph but unfortunately it's not quite as efficient or effective as the traditional bush telegraph."
AAP contributed to this article