Shadow Communications Minister Nick Minchin has demanded the government prove that Treasury Secretary Dr Ken Henry advised it to go ahead with the $43 billion National Broadband Network project.
It seems very hard to believe that the likes of Dr Henry would advise the government to proceed with a high-risk $43 billion project.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy have said that they were acting on advice from the expert panel, of which Henry was a member, when it made its decision to roll out fibre-to-the-home.
"It seems very hard to believe that the likes of Dr Henry would advise the government to proceed with a high-risk $43 billion project, funded by billions of dollars of debt, without any evidence that the venture will be commercially viable," Minchin said in a statement.
"Despite the claims of Senator Conroy and Mr Rudd, there is nothing in the public domain that confirms this is in fact the advice the expert panel provided. If such advice exists, taxpayers have every right to see it, considering they will carry the bulk of the risk," he said.
Minchin reminded Conroy of his obligation to release the expert panel's advice and that of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) as the Senate had ordered in February.
Although an extract of the expert panel's advice has been released, the full document has been withheld. None of the ACCC's report has been aired. Conroy has said that the documents contained commercial-in-confidence information.
Yet Minchin believed Conroy would only withhold the documents if he had something to hide.
With a Senate Estimates session coming up after the budget is released in May, Minchin will have the opportunity to probe Conroy and Henry on the advice. Neither Conroy nor Henry were able to comment at the time of publication.
Henry is no stranger to intense questioning at Senate Estimates, having faced Liberal senators grilling him over the bank deposit guarantee, even questioning him about his integrity. The Liberals had been trying to ascertain the truth behind reports which had said that Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens had not been comfortable with the unlimited bank guarantee. Henry strongly denied the reports.