The Rudd Labor Government has sought to avoid any scrutiny of its moves to establish its ill-defined $4.7 billion National Broadband Network by refusing to answer any questions about the process in Senate Budget Estimates, Senator Simon Birmingham said today.
Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has this morning attempted to shut down all discussion of the matter on the spurious grounds that any discussion could be “misconstrued” by those responding to the Government’s Request For Proposals.
“… discussion in a forum such as Estimates on the objectives or the criteria or speculation on the nature of the proposals or possible outcomes of the process could be misconstrued by proponents and could undermine the integrity of the process.”
            Senator Conroy, Senate Budget Estimates, 27 May 2008
Senator Conroy has refused to discuss even:
·         the timing or nature of the probity advice given to him upon which he has based his position;
·         the timing or nature of departmental advice that led to last week’s extension, until 12 weeks after the provision of existing network information, for proposals to be lodged;
·         the content of the Auditor-General’s advice to the Department which highlighted flaws in the process; or
·         anything to do with the original date for the closure of the Request for Proposals, surely now of little relevance to the current state of the process.
“This position simply is extraordinary given Senator Conroy’s own comments in relation to the bidding process, even stating a willingness to accept ‘non-compliant bids’,” Senator Birmingham said today.
“It is outrageous for the Government to seek to avoid all questions in relation to the expenditure of $4.7 billion of taxpayer funds.
“Senator Conroy would have us believe that the process cannot be discussed as of the lodgment of bonds at 5pm last Friday.
“The convenience of this timing – the last working day before Estimates commenced – is beyond belief. It is simply a shield behind which the Minister is hiding.
“The Rudd Labor Government’s pretensions to be an open and accountable government have been exposed as hollow rhetoric, with today’s stunts just the latest example of a Government in fact desperate to avoid scrutiny.
“This government is so frightened by the glaring deficiencies in its processes that it took the extraordinary step of gagging bidders from commenting on the process, and blocked a Senate Committee from holding public hearings into the legislation requiring the release of existing network data.
“This is one of the greatest abuses of Senate Estimates and the Prime Minister should order Senator Conroy to answer reasonable, non-commercially sensitive questions and/or publicly release the probity advice he is hiding behind.”