The cost to the Australian public of the expert panel's advice on the National Broadband Network has been released, with some members receiving almost $400 an hour.
To date the only big winners from the Rudd Government's broadband promises have been lawyers, consultants and specialist advisers.
According to Shadow Communications Minister Nick Minchin, who asked the Department for Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy for information on the panel's meetings and remuneration, the panel had cost more than $702,000 over 10 months, including travel expenses of $89,946.
Yet the costs for the advice did not end with the panel's remuneration. According to Minchin, the department also said that employee expenses for its NBN Taskforce, which supported the panel, came to $3.36 million.
The panel consisted of seven members: Patricia Scott, secretary of the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy; treasury secretary Dr Ken Henry; Tony Shaw, former ACA chairman; Tony Mitchell, chairman of Allphones; business advisor John Wylie, CEO of Lazard Carnegie Wylie; Reg Coutts, Telstra advisor and head of telecommunications advisory firm Coutts Communications; Laureate Professor Rod Tucker of the University of Melbourne.
Aside from Scott and Henry, all were paid the $375 an hour rate, capped at eight chargeable hours a day. Between March 2008 and January 2009 the panel had 12 face-to-face meetings, 24 teleconferences and four site visits. To see the Department responses to Minchin's queries, including a table showing which members attended which meetings, click here (Word document).
Minchin believed the costs made it more important that the expert panel's advice be released. He has accused Communications Minister Stephen Conroy of being in contempt of the Senate for not releasing the NBN expert panel's report after the process was terminated and gave him an ultimatum, now passed, to table it. If the ultimatum was not met, Minchin threatened to block legislation for the government's new NBN plan.
Conroy did not comply with the ultimatum, saying that the government cannot release the documents due to commercially sensitive information it contained, likely relating to network infrastructure belonging to telco giants like Telstra and Optus.
"To date the only big winners from the Rudd Government's broadband promises have been lawyers, consultants and specialist advisers," Minchin said.