Coalition Senators have stated their opposition to a Bill enabling the Rudd Government to raid the $2 billion regional Communications Fund in order to fund its election promise of an ill-defined National Broadband Network, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
Coalition Senators have issued a dissenting report on the inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Communications and the Arts into the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Communications Fund) Bill 2008, describing it as “one of the first official acts of financial mismanagement by the new Labor Government”.
“The Communications Fund was established by the former Coalition Government in recognition of the fact there will always be additional costs associated with the delivery of some communications services to regional Australia,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“The Fund was intended to be an ongoing source of funds to help meet these costs, based on recommendations of the Regional Telecommunications Independent Review Committee (RTIRC).
“The possibility that this fund could be applied to a broadband network in metropolitan areas not intended to be assisted by the fund, let alone possibly leave nothing to fund a response to the RTIRC, is simply unacceptable to Coalition Senators.”
The dissenting report states, in part:
“Having cancelled the OPEL contract the Government is now putting all of its eggs in one ill-defined, unjustified broadband project. It has not successfully mounted a case to justify the use of $4.7billion in public funds to build a network much of which has been and would continue to be provided by the private sector.”
On the possibility of funds spent on a broadband network proposal still so ill-defined as to have drawn criticism, as in the Australian Financial Review of 12 April, for its “lack of clarity on key competition and regulatory issues”, the report states:
“The only thing that is clear in the development of this network is that the Government is seeking a broad and blank cheque to commit these funds to an end it doesn’t know how to achieve. Liberal Senators believe it would be irresponsible in the extreme to grant the Government this blank cheque with taxpayer savings.”
“Australians, particularly in rural and regional areas, deserve better,” Senator Birmingham said.
Note: The dissenting report will be available in full on the Senate Committee’s website at http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/eca_ctte/index.htm or will be provided on request