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Monday, 25 October 2010 14:58

Turnbull seeks to force full NBN plan


The private members bill introduced by opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull includes a mandatory requirement that the NBN Company publish a full ten-year business plan, with all financial and operational details for the roll-out and running of the network.

His "National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill 2010" demands that the full 10-year financial disclosure - including explanations of all operational assumptions on which the commercial case is based - be published by November 19.

Mr Turnbull's bill also says the Productivity Commission investigation of the National Broadband Network project should go beyond a strict cost-benefit analysis of the project and include the broader economy-wide benefits of broadband investment.

But its terms of reference fall short of a 'social-benefit' analysis some commentators say would underpin the value of the NBN.

Mr Turnbull acknowledged Communications Minister Stephen Conory's commitment to publishing details from the NBN Co business case, but said the Parliament would get "much greater comfort if that transparency is a statutory requirement rather than simply a promise."

The requirement would force NBN Co to release details that go beyond usual financial reporting requirements of business to include full details of all assumptions it uses to make its financial forecasts. Mr Turnbull wants the NBN business case published by November 19, the start of the next sitting session.

"In addition to the normal financial information that one would expect to find in a business plan, (the bill) also requires the NBN Co to make explicit its assumptions about how many premises it will pass each year, how many households and businesses it anticipates will purchase communication services carried over its networks and what average retail and wholesale prices it anticipates that they will pay," Mr Turnbull told the Parliament in his first reading speech.

"All of this is critical information for the parliament to understand given our role as custodians of taxpayers' money."

Mr Turnbull said he would introduce a separate bill that would create a joint committee with representation from both houses to oversee the NBN roll-out. He proposes that the committee be composed of four members from Government, four from the Opposition and two independents.

On the proposed Productivity Commission investigation, Mr Turnbull told Parliament his terms of reference were broad enough to allow benefits to be included from outside of a strict commercial return definition.

"The breadth of the terms of reference that I have proposed should satisfy those who, with some legitimacy, point out that the economic costs and benefits of the NBN will extend beyond the revenues, expenses and rate of return for the NBN Co," he said.

"The Productivity Commission will be able to explore the positive externalities such as productivity gains from faster broadband and negative externalities such as the economic losses and vastly diminished competitive environment in fixed line telecommunications that will result if the government is successful in preventing Telstra and Optus '¦ from offering broadband over their HFC pay television cables in the future," Mr Turnbull said.

"But it is also important for us to understand the core financial viability of the NBN Co., given that the government has grounded its support for this project in the claim that while it will not generate a commercial return it will nonetheless produce a return in excess of the bond rate for taxpayers."

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