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Tuesday, 06 April 2010 20:03

NBN Tassie: Conroy and the missing $100m


A $100 million "equity injection" into the NBN Tasmania Company earmarked to fund its Stage Three roll-out of fibre to major metropolitan areas has still not reached the company, nearly six weeks after it was announced by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Senator Conroy issued a press release on March 1 - less than three weeks out from the Tasmanian state election - heralding the Australian Government's $100 million "equity injection" as the harbinger of jobs and improved services.

But the company's Australian Securities and Exchange Commission filings show NBN Tasmania remains a wholly-owned subsidiary of the NBN Company.

And its chief executive Doug Campbell conceded no equity investment has been made, although any funding requirements can be met through a draw-down facility the parent company.

Tasmanian Liberal senator Guy Barnett has accused Senator Conroy of playing fast and loose with his language in the run up to the Tasmanian election to score political points ahead of the poll.

"It's either (Senator Conroy) playing very fast and loose with language, or its an on-the-fly, back of envelope accounting of NBN Tasmania, and that's a real concern," Senator Barnett said.

Late last month, Senator Barnett called on the Minister in the Senate to either retract the media release or 'come clean' about where the $100 million is.

"I would like the minister, Senator Conroy, to come clean and say where that $100 million is," Senator Barnett told the Senate. "It has not been invested. It has not been injected. He should retract his media release of 1 March and stand up, come clean and apologise if that statement is incorrect."

Senator Conroy's office said in a statement to iTWire that Government was "in the process of providing a $100 million equity injection into NBN Tasmania as it was announced on 1 March."

"This equity injection is being implemented under the National Building Funds Act 2008 and will appear in ASIC records in due course," the statement said.

A complicating factor is thought to be the on-going negotiation between the Australian Government, the Tasmanian Government and the state-owned utility Aurora Energy over the ownership composition of NBN Tasmania - an enterprise that was to have been a joint-venture.

Last month, NBN Tasmania's Campbell said the joint-venture talks had been put on hold to ensure its network construction targets were met. It is thought that the joint-venture talks have been resumed.

In the meantime, Campbell says the NBN Tasmania Company has funded its network design and construction through funding facilities provided through the parent. If the Australian Government takes equity in the company, then the changes in ownership would be reflected though ASIC filings.

"The accounting requires that the money be paid through the parent, through the NBN Company. And then as and when we need it, NBN Tasmania will request the funds and draw it down. So it is actually paid down through the NBN Company," Campbell said.

"If they do give (money) to us in equity - and that is unclear - of course we would then have to issue shares to the parent company and they would acquire holdings in NBN Tasmania."

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