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Thursday, 18 November 2010 13:58

Conroy survives gag; Mr X, Fielding on side

By

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has survived a gag order in the Senate that would have halted any consideration of NBN-related matters - and stopped the Minister even addressing the issue - until he tabled a series of documents related to the fibre roll-out.


The Greens, Family First's Steve Fielding and South Australian independent Nick Xenophon voted with Government to defeat a motion brought by Coalition leader in the Senate Eric Abetz that would have stymied any chance of the Senate considering the crucial industry reform bill that is expected to be debated next week.

The Senate had demanded Senator Conroy table NBN documents including a complete version of the 'Red Book' departmental advice to the incoming government relating to the project as well as all documentation related to the selection of the NBN Co's first release and second release sites.

It also wanted the Minister to table copies of the set of principles around the enterprise bargaining agreements that the NBN Co has signed with unions on wages.

And through a motion passed yesterday it had also sought - by today - the tabling of the NBN Company business plan, as well as the Government's formal response to the $25 million KPMG-McKinsey Implementation Study.

The Abetz motion was defeated by the slimmest of margins, 36 -34.

Although voting against the motion - which will enable the Government's crucial telecommunications reform bill to be debated - the Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam said the party was frustrated at the drip-feed of information on the NBN roll-out being put into the public domain.

The Greens and indpendents had been unhappy that they would have been forced to consider the reform legislation in the absence of an NBN business plan - which Government says it will not release until next month.

They are understood to have been placated by an offer of private briefings on the NBN Co's business plan ahead of the debate over the telco reforms, which includes measures to structurally separate Telstra.

Regardless of their support in defeating the motion,  both Senator Ludlam and Senator Xenophon said Government was making it difficult for supporters of the NBN to maintain that support by keeping information about the project so tightly controlled.

In supporting Government, Senator Fielding also gave the strongest indication yet that he will vote in favour of the industry reforms when they are put to the Senate next week.

Senator Abetz had said the Government was already in defiance of the Ludlam/Birmingham motion passed yesterday calling for Senator Conroy to table the Government's formal response to the KPMG-McKinsey Implementation Study, as well as the NBN Co business plan.

"If that is not provided to the senate as required by a motion from Senator Ludlam and Senator Birmingham, then we as a Senate should be saying that we don't want to hear any further about the NBN until those foundational documents are provided to us," he said.

Arguing against the motion, Senator Conroy told the Senate the motion was designed only to delay the roll-out of the national fibre network.

"We've had to debate this exact content before," Senator Conroy . "We were told you can't debate any bill related to the National Broadband Network unless you give us the expert panel's report."

"Then it was you can't debate any NBN bills unless you give us the ACCC report. Then it was you can't debate any of the bills unless you give us the McKinsey report. And on and on and on," he said.

"How many times can you run the same line and still pretend you support better broadband?"

 

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