Privatisation of NBN will need Parliamentary vote after Greens strike deal on Telstra bill

The Federal Government has struck a deal with the Greens over the National Broadband Network, with the minority party dictating that any move to privatise the network be subject to a Parliamentary vote in exchange for a vote on the Tesltra structural separation bill.

But the Government is still one vote away, with the legislation still requiring the approval of independent senators Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon, both of whom have expressed dissatisfaction with the fact no business case has been revealed yet.

Xenophon has been particularly vocal regarding his criticism of the Government’s lack of transparency, saying he has rejected a confidential briefing of the Government’s business plan due to the required non-disclosure agreement.

Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlum has said the introduction of a clause mandating Parliamentary scrutiny for the sale of the NBN means the party can now support structural separation legislation.

That legislation will allow the Government to split Telstra, a process it says is critical for constructing the NBN.

“That was the last issue that was a sticking point for us,” he told the ABC. “It won’t be automatically privatised, it will need to be subjected to a full and comprehensive public interest test done partly by the Productivity Commission and partly through a joint Parliamentary committee.”

Ludlum says that if after this process the Government still wants to privatise the network, the motion will be subject to Parliamentary approval.

Conroy has welcomed the agreement, saying that “the Government has always been mindful to ensure that the lessons from the privatisation of Telstra are not repeated”.

“The Government has had robust and productive discussions with senator Ludlam about this matter. The Government supports the amendments and welcomes input from the Greens in reaching this outcome.”

Meanwhile, the Government still requires the support of either Nick Xenophon or Steve Fielding to pass the structural separation legislation.

Conroy has offered individual senators private briefings of the NBN business plan, but both have said they are unhappy with the fact they will have to sign disclosure agreements.

“I’m not going to enter into secret squirrel deals,” Xenophon told The Advertiser this morning. “It’s unreasonable to expect members of Parliament to make a decision on such a significant piece of legislation and not be able to explain why because it’s ‘a secret’.”

The senator’s office was contacted for comment this morning but no reply was received before publication.

However, Conroy says he is positive of the bill being passed before Thursday.

“The Greens have always been largely supportive of the bill, Senator Xenophon has also been largely supportive of the bill,” he told the ABC. “He’s said that many times we’re in negotiations with all of the minor parties but also with Senator Fielding, he’s also given some positive indications towards the bill in the last few days.”

Last week the Government ignored a Senate order demanding the release of the NBN business plan, with Conroy and Prime Minister Julia Gillard saying the report would be released publically in December.

Meanwhile, the Government is expected to attack Communications spokesperson Malcolm Turnbull over a potential of conflict of interest over the NBN.

Turnbull and his wife Lucy own $10 million worth of shares in Melbourne IT, which says it stands to benefit from the building of the NBN.

However, Turnbull has dismissed the concerns, saying his criticism of the NBN shows his investments are not colouring his views.

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