SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Three years is a long time in anyone’s terms and it’s an eternity in politics. We’ve seen the rise and fall of the Rudd Government and the coming of the Gillard Government in the last three years, but the Gillard Government is at risk of making the Rudd Government look like a stable one, a focused one, one that was able to progress its agenda, because the Gillard Government is a hapless government that really has already, in a short period of time, lost its way, to quote Julia Gillard when she seized the Prime Ministership from Kevin Rudd.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the National Broadband Network where they are unable to clearly articulate why this is the best policy to deliver for Australians fast, affordable broadband access and their inability to deliver this is why the Coalition continues to push hard for a Productivity Commission inquiry into whether this is the best way to deliver fast, affordable broadband to all Australians.
Today we’ll throw the Government a lifeline. I will move in the Senate to amend the Telecommunications Amendment Bill to provide for the Productivity Commission inquiry. By asking for the PC inquiry, if the Government accepts it then we’ll ‘play ball’ with them on their legislation.
We have other, serious amendments that we’ll pursue, but if the Government accepts this fundamental request from the Opposition to have a PC inquiry then we’re willing to ‘talk turkey’. So the question for Stephen Conroy is, it’s ‘deal or no deal’ time, does he want a deal on his legislation this week, does he want to get it through without having to compromise every single aspect of it with the Greens, with Senator Fielding and with Senator Xenophon? Will he accept a root and branch review of his National Broadband Network and alternative options by the Productivity Commission?
JOURNALIST: Labor is saying that the rollout of the network will be basically delayed if this [legislation] doesn’t get through this week, are you concerned then that you guys will just be seen as wreckers and holding this thing back?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We’re giving Senator Conroy a clear option. He can accept the Productivity Commission review of his National Broadband Network and in doing so we’ll be able to find out whether the Government is wisely spending $43 billion of Australians’ money. Now he can accept that, it’ll get his legislation, he’ll be able to continue building on his trial sites, he’ll be able to continue to waste taxpayers’ money quite potentially, but at least by May of next year we’ll have an analysis that all Australians could see and we can bring a halt to this madness if that’s what it shows. So Senator Conroy has a choice. The Opposition isn’t seeking to block him, to stop him, we just want to get the experts in the field, let them do the assessment and give all Australians the opportunity to see whether this is madness, whether this is $43 billion of waste and whether there are better ways to deliver fast, affordable broadband to all Australians.
JOURNALIST: [Unclear]… still prepared to offer them the deal that you’re referring to now regardless of whether the NBN business case is released sooner rather than later?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We want to see the business case too and that’s important, but critically the business case of course is established to prove how the NBN will work. It’s been written by the NBN, we don’t expect the business case to have examined any other options other than a $43 billion fibre-to-the-home network. A PC inquiry will be a root and branch assessment of whether it is the best way to deliver fast, affordable broadband to all Australians. We believe it can be done for a fraction of the $43 billion that’s being talked about, we believe the PC would likely support that and demonstrate that but we’re happy to put it in the hands of the experts, we’re happy to hand it over to the experts. Why isn’t Senator Conroy?
JOURNALIST: What do you think about Julia Gillard personally intervening and going to Senator Xenophon to sort of push him into agreeing to pass it?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: The Government’s desperation is quite clear in this and they’re desperately negotiating with all of the cross benchers. We’re offering them an easy way out if they’re willing to cooperate with the Opposition, if they’re willing to actually test their own policy and what’s clear is that the Government is not willing to test its own policy because they’re clearly afraid it won’t stand up to that test, it won’t stand up to an assessment of whether the $43 billion is the best way to deliver fast, affordable broadband.
JOURNALIST: Have you got any thoughts on what’s happening in Korea?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Look, obviously the Korean situation is a concern to everybody and we would hope to see some resolution of it, but it’s a difficult one. We all know that North Korea is an unpredictable, unstable regime and very hard for much of the world to actually communicate with in the terms that normal diplomacy works with but hopefully cool heads will ultimately prevail.