The Rudd Labor Government today revealed none of its election policy statements on the proposed National Broadband Network (NBN) are core requirements under the Request for Proposals (RFP).
Despite supposed policy commitments relating to a minimum 12 megabytes per second, coverage for 98 per cent of Australian homes and businesses, government equity and delivery within five years, departmental officials confirmed a much lower threshold for proposals to be accepted.
Senator Birmingham: Is it fair to say basically that any proposal, as long as it is in English and has Australian measurements of currency, is a valid proposal and everything else are objectives against which they will be assessed?
Mr Simon Bryant, Acting First Assistant Secretary, Broadband Division, DBCDE: I think that’s broadly correct…
“Australians didn’t vote for ‘objectives’ when they elected Mr Rudd and Senator Conroy on a promise of building the NBN last year,” Senator Birmingham said, “they voted for policy commitments that were repeated over and over again.
“Now we learn that the only fixed requirements of bidders for the NBN are that they do so in English and use our system of decimal currency. While literacy and numeracy standards are normally to be lauded, people have a right to expect much more of the NBN.
“It seems remarkable that after all the hype there is no actual requirement in the tender documents for bidders to reach 98 per cent of the population with broadband at minimum speeds of 12mbps within five years. Essentially, bidders have a blank canvas on which to draw their network.”
Senator Conroy has also remained farcically secretive, again refusing to answer even basic questions about the NBN, citing “probity advice … that further commentary of any sort would potentially risk the integrity of the project”.
The government has refused to reveal even if this advice was given in writing. Earlier this year Senator Conroy took on notice questions relating to whether he would provide the committee with details of the probity advice, and the answer recently provided was:
“I have considered the matter and there is nothing further to add”.
He was no more forthcoming under questioning in Supplementary Budget Estimates today:
Senator Birmingham: Why will you refuse to release at least the probity advice insofar as it relates to what you or your Ministerial colleagues can or cannot do or say.
Senator Conroy: I think my answer stands.
Senator Birmingham: So you’ll give us no opportunity to know what the boundaries are…
Senator Conroy: … end of the matter and we’ve given you all the advice we can give you.
Senator Birmingham: And that advice is zero?
Senator Conroy: (silently nods)
“Shrouded in secrecy, running late before a single piece of fibre is laid and without clear guidelines, it is little wonder the NBN is shaping up as a major embarrassment for Senator Conroy and the Rudd Government.”