Shadow Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull has tabled his brief piece of legislation designed to force the government to disclose key financial details of its flagship National Broadband Network (NBN) project and conduct a cost-benefit analysis into its construction.
The National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill (2010) (PDF) is a mere eight pages long. As Turnbull has previously outlined, the Bill, if passed, will impose two conditions on the NBN project.
Firstly, if the Bill goes ahead, NBN Co must prepare a 10-year business case for the National Broadband Network and publish it by 19 November this year. NBN Co itself has already prepared a business case and this was put to the NBN Co board on Friday. Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has said that parts of this case relating to costing and pricing will be made public in the next few weeks.
Turnbull is asking for 10-year forecasts of the NBN's key financial and operational indicators including costs, revenues, cash flows and end of year balance sheets, as well as internal rates of return on the capital invested in the project.
Secondly, Turnbull's Bill will require the Productivity Commission to prepare and publish a cost-benefit analysis into the project by 31 May 2011. The commission will be required to analyse the current availability of broadband across Australia (including identifying areas where services are of a lower standard or higher price than in capital cities) and consider the most cost-effective and speediest options by which all Australians could receive fast broadband.
In addition, the commission will need to analyse the economic, productivity and social benefits likely to flow from better broadband and applications. The Bill mandates a "full and transparent economic and financial assessment" into the NBN, as well as a number of other matters, such as the NBN's value if it was privatised after five years.
In parliament this morning Turnbull stressed that the Bill was not intended to delay or hold back the NBN's roll-out to test sites, as Labor has claimed. "Indeed, the passage of this Bill would have no impact on that timing," he said.
"It is simply an attempt to establish the facts to provide parliament with an appropriate level of financial understanding of this, the largest expenditure of taxpayers' funds on an infrastructure asset in our nation's history," he said.
Turnbull welcomed the government's plan to release key information from the business case, but said that the Bill would make transparency in the business case a "statutory requirement".
On Sunday, Conroy said that any cost-benefit analysis outlined in the Bill would be a "waste of money" and doubted a positive review from the Productivity Commission would sway Coalition members who seek to "demolish" the $43 billion project.
With Labor unlikely to support the Bill, the Coalition will need to secure at least three additional crossbench votes in the House of Representatives in order for it to pass. Greens Leader Bob Brown told ABC Radio this morning that the party wanted to see the government's costings before deciding whether Greens MP Adam Bandt would vote in favour of the Bill. Independent MPs Bob Katter and Tony Windsor have indicated that they intend to vote against the Bill, meaning that the Coalition needs to secure the Greens vote as well as the votes of Independent MPs Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie.
Josh Taylor contributed to this article