Minchin to lodge NBN FOI

The Federal Opposition has revealed it will file a freedom of information request Monday to attempt to retrieve the National Broadband Network expert panel and ACCC reports, as cross-bench senators consider whether they will support the Coalition's bid to stall NBN legislation.

The Federal Opposition has revealed it will file a freedom of information request Monday to attempt to retrieve the National Broadband Network expert panel and ACCC reports, as cross-bench senators consider whether they will support the Coalition's bid to stall NBN legislation.

Shadow Communications
Minister Nick Minchin

(Credit: AUSPIC)

A spokesperson for Minchin told ZDNet.com.au he intended to lodge the FOI request on Monday, the second relating to the reports, which Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has refused to publish on the grounds they contain commercial in confidence information.

Minchin earlier this week said he would refuse to "consider" any legislation relating to the $43 billion NBN proposal unless the expert panel documents were made available to the public. Minchin's refusal could stall key legislation required for the NBN rollout, if supported by cross-bench senators Stephen Fielding, Nick Xenophon and/or the Greens.

The FOI request is the latest of several efforts Minchin has commenced to have the documents revealed. In addition, a previous iiNet-backed FOI request lodged by Tech Wired Australia was earlier this month rejected on the grounds that it was not in the public's interest.

The documents contain advice from the expert panel and Australian Competition and Consumer Commission relating to the Government's initial $4.7 billion National Broadband Network tender process, which was terminated in early April due to a lack of suitable proposals. The Government is subsequently pursuing a much larger fibre to the home project.

Minchin's spokesperson said he would not necessarily block any NBN legislation, but simply wouldn't "consider" it if the documents remained secret.

Whichever position Minchin takes, he would still need the support of the Greens, which hold five seats in the Senate, or both Family First senator Stephen Fielding and independent senator, Nick Xenophon.

The issue of release of the documents has divided the cross-bench parties. Spokespeople for Greens Senator Scott Ludlum told ZDNet.com.au that he wanted the documents released, but that the Greens would not obstruct legislation to progress the NBN.

The Greens had initially supported Minchin on March 19 when he put forward a motion for the release of the documents, however Family First Senator Stephen Fielding amended the motion to require disclosure only once the planned subsequent request for proposal had been issued.

Spokespeople for Xenophon said that whether or not he decided to block key NBN legislation would depend on what was contained in the documents. "As a matter of principle we're for disclosure," the spokesperson said.

Fielding's spokesperson did not respond to ZDNet.com.au's request for comment.