Gillard defies Senate order on NBN and refuses to deliver business case

Senate MPs have rebuked Prime Minister Julia Gillard after she deliberately ignored a Senate order mandating the Government turn over the business case for the National Broadband Network before Parliament votes on critical telco legislation.

The attack comes as the opposition, independent senators and minority parties have attacked a new proposal from communications minister Stephen Conroy to offer private briefings of the business case, saying the material must be released to the public immediately.

But Gillard remains adamant the document won’t be released before next month. “The minister’s been very clear and that will be in December,” she told ABC this morning.

“I believe it’s absolutely proper and absolutely appropriate for the government to be there with that fine-tooth comb,” she said, referring to the 400-page report.

The move also comes after the House of Representatives passed the Government’s telco reform bill and rejected a bill from opposition spokesman Malcolm Turnbull that mandate a cost-benefits analysis be conducted.

But now, the Senate looks unlikely to work on any legislation given that both Gillard and Conroy are adamant they will not release the business case until December. While the Government has offered independents private briefings on the document, key players in the Senate have approached that proposal with trepidation.

This morning, Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlum told the ABC that it is unacceptable for the Government to be holding onto critical material while debating two pieces of legislation: the Telstra Separation Bill and the NBN legislation.

Ludlum says he will accept a personal briefing but is unhappy the Government wants the information kept secret.

“I don’t understand why they seem to have quite deliberately burnt the goodwill of the people who they will rely on in the Senate and in the House of Reps to pass their Bill,” Ludlum said.

But Conroy remains adamant that private briefings for independent members and minority parties will be sufficient.

“There is information in this document that is potentially market sensitive and it would be illegal to brief an individual ahead of releasing it to the market place, unless there are those confidentiality clauses in place,” he said this morning.

“We’re happy to release this information as the Prime Minister has said, we will release this information shortly in December, but we’re simply going through a proper process and it is unreasonable to demand that it be released publicly before the Cabinet have even had a chance to consider it.”

Turnbull has remained adamant in his rejection of the NBN, accusing the Government of continuing to hide critical information from the public.

“It is increasingly plain how desperate Labor has become to shield the NBN from appropriate scrutiny – the Government will say or do anything to obstruct transparency and avert independent analysis of the most expensive public infrastructure project in Australian history,” he said.

But despite support for Turnbull’s bill calling for a Productivity Commission cost-benefits analysis for the NBN, the proposed legislation has failed. It received support from independent MP Rob Oakeshott, other independents Andrew Wilkie, Tony Windsor and Bob Katter all sided with Labor alongside Greens MP Adam Bandt.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon encapsulated the anger directed towards Gillard in the Parliament this morning, saying the Government is doing a “pretty good job” of annoying even the supporters of the NBN.

“It’s pretty poor form on the part of the Government not to release this,” he says. “It’s clear that the Senate does have the power to call for the production of documents, there’s now a process of an information commissioner and I think it’s important that that process be tested.”

“The easy thing to do, the right thing to do for the Government is to release business plan which they already have which is in the public interest to release.”


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