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Aust NBN bill worries infrastructure players

Critical infrastructure providers express concern amended National Broadband Network legislation could be costly and conflicts with anti-terrorism rules.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Representatives of Australian critical infrastructure providers have expressed concern that delivering information to the government under its amended National Broadband Network legislation could be costly and conflict with anti-terrorism rules.

Australia's critical infrastructure providers are clamouring to meet with the Department of Broadband Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) to discuss the practical implications of its amended telecommunications bill, introduced into parliament last week.

Utilities are concerned that delivering information to the government under its amended telecommunications bill, which expanded the government's information gathering powers to all utilities, could be costly and conflict with anti-terrorism efforts.

Of particular concern to the water sector is the requirement under the legislation to provide information within three days. "That could be a big ask, when you think about the thousands of kilometres of water mains across Australian cities and towns. And getting it together is not without cost," Ross Young, executive director of the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA) told ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet Australia yesterday.

Young said the water industry had, since the September 11 bombings, been forced to restrict what information on assets it provided. It also had concerns over the confidentiality of the information it provides the government.

"We'd be looking for some assurance that the information we provided is confidential given that urban water infrastructure is nationally critical infrastructure," he said.

Young said state legislators had typically brought in new laws in a consultative manner, but that in this case the Federal Government had not. The WSAA is now in the process of setting up a meeting with DBCDE.

It is not the first time critical infrastructure operators have complained about the ability of government bureaucrats to maintain confidentiality agreements.

Last year Bill Forbes, general manager of security and emergency management for Woodside Petroleum, noted at a conference that information shared with the government under the Attorney General's Department Trusted Information Sharing Network (TISN) initiative — aimed at protecting Australia's infrastructure — had been leaked to Woodside's competitors.

The association representing the energy sector, including the interests of ACT utility ACTEW and Tasmania's NBN deployment arm, state-owned utility Aurora Energy, is also concerned the government's information requests could "overreach" and add to the burden of requests by the Australian Energy Regulator.

"We have to ensure that we don't need to go through a fishing expedition. My sector requires certainty for it to function effectively. We need to be clear as to what's expected. But there are confidentiality issues at play and this is part of national critical infrastructure," Andrew Blyth chief of the Energy Networks Association told ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet Australia.

The ENA is set to meet with department officials next week to discuss the government's energy efficiency initiative it announced in the budget and its role in the government's smart meter plans.

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