It seems the NBN will always be a political plaything. The ALP and Greens, not happy with NBN Co executive chairman Ziggy Switkowski’s answers to the Senate Estimates Committee last week (CommsWire, 20 November 2013) have now summonsed him to appear before their own committee.
ALP Senator Kate Lundy and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam formed the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network last month (CommsWire, 18 November 2013) to replace the joint committee of both houses that existed in the previous Parliament, chaired by independent Rob Oakeshott.
They were roundly criticised for doing so by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who said that if there was to have been another parliamentary committee on the NBN, it should have been a joint committee comprising members from both the House of Representatives and the Senate, which would have allowed both him and his ALP opposite number Jason Clare to participate.
Ludlam said he wrote to Turnbull about forming a joint committee but received no response, and accused Turnbull of not wanting a new joint committee. He said the committee was necessary to police the NBN.
“It is absolutely essential for an investment of this scale, given the privatisation mentality that this government seems to be bringing to the debate, that we salvage whatever we can from the wreckage that Mr Turnbull is now presiding over.”
The Senate Committee also includes former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and Tasmanian ALP Senator Lin Thorp. The Coalition has refused to nominate any members, though they entitled to do so. He said, she said.
The committee ‘invited’ Switkowski, NBN Co head of strategy JB Rousselot, COO Greg Adcock, CTO Gary McLaren and CFO Robin Payne to attend the hearings. They did not take up the invitation.
“The committee is disappointed that NBN Co has taken this position,” said Lundy. The committee has now issued an order for NBN Co personnel to appear in person at the committee's hearing today.
“It is with regret that we have had to issue this summons, given the public commitment the Government has made to openness and transparency in all matters relating to the NBN.”
Predictably, Malcolm Turnbull has criticised the summonsing of the NBN Co executives. He told ABC Radio, with typical hyperbole, that he had never experienced such arrogance.
Stephen Conroy says the Committee has already accommodated Switkowski and the other executives by switching their appearance away from NBN Co’s planned board meeting.
Turnbull criticised Conroy for not appearing at the Senate Estimates Committee last week, saying he was “on holidays in Buenos Aires.” Jason Clare pointed out that he was attending an ICANN meeting.
The committee’s first day yesterday was largely predictable. Communications, Electrical and Plumbing Union official Shane Murphy repeated his recent comments to the Senate Estimates Committee that Telstra’s copper network is a “disgrace”, with Telstra cutting maintenance to save money.
The Committee’s terms of reference are, as you might expect, very broad:
“… inquire into and report on the Government's reviews of the NBN and the governance of NBN Co, with interim reports as the committee sees fit and a final report on or before 10 June 2014, with particular reference to:
(a) the establishment of the Government's strategic review of the NBN.
(b) the outcome of the strategic review of the NBN.
(c) the establishment and findings of the Government's cost benefit analysis.
(d) the conduct and findings of the Government survey of the availability of broadband in Australia.
The Committee will report by June of next year. With no Coalition members (and that is the Coalition’s decision), its findings are likely to add little to what is already an extremely politicised debate.