Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has admitted that the National Broadband Network has taken much longer than the government expected, but says the outcome will be worth it.
Speaking on the ABC Inside Business program on Sunday, Conroy said the government’s ambition, when it announced the NBN during last year’s election campaign, was to have the commencement of construction by the end of this year.
“What we found upon coming to government was that when we talked to the potential bidders they said look, we need all of this information if we want to make a fair dinkum bid. So we needed to pass some legislation through Parliament requiring all telcos to give us this information. Now that took longer than I would have hoped and I'm certainly sure than the bidders would have hope.”
He said the delay will ensure the government makes sure it gets the build right.
“There was no point doing what the previous Government did without any information inviting tenders. There was no network information available to people under the former government's proposals to build a high speed network in the five major cities, but what we said was we are going to get this right.”
But the minister did not state when he thought the network will be up and running.
Submissions for the NBN closed last week. They are now in the hands of the expert panel which will make a recommendation to the government towards the end of January. Depending on what the recommendation is from the expert panel, Conroy said he hoped to be signing a contract some time towards the end of March.
“We would then want to start the build obviously as fast as we can.”
Conroy admitted that the spectre of legal action hangs over the entire process but said that was “par” for this sector.
“So at every stage the first threat that anybody makes in this sector is hey, we're taking you to court. The Government is not going to be swayed by any of this behaviour. We have set down a process, we're going to complete the process and then we'll make a decision and ultimately what we're going to do is put the national interest ahead of any individual company’s company interest.”