Conroy and Minchin spar over Telstra valuation blunder

Senate sitting scene of rowdy sparring between Minchin and Conroy over NBN bill and Telstra network valuation blunder

In a rowdy sitting of the Senate communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy and his shadow, Senator Nick Minchin, have traded barbs over the erroneous tabling of an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) document containing a confidential valuation of Telstra's core network.

On the first day of the Senate's sitting, Senator Stephen Conroy blundered in tabling a January 2009-dated ACCC document, which was marked confidential, containing a valuation of just under $8 billion for Telstra's consumer access network, in parliament this week. Telstra has valued its own network at $33 billion.

Since Conroy's gaffe became apparent, Minchin has been on the attack, questioning his opponent's competence to rollout the National Broadband Network (NBN).

"It is regrettable as I have said, that an unfortunate error has resulted and this confidential information not being removed before the document -- I take responsibility; I make that absolutely clear -- was tabled. We have admitted the mistake," Conroy said in question time.

"We are confident that constructive talks with Telstra can continue. The value of network assets is a subject of talks with Telstra and we have already indicated we will not be giving a running commentary on these discussions. But as I have said, once again the gross hypocrisy of those opposite is on display in relation to this issue."

Conroy then went on to criticise a motion to delay the NBN bill being debated in the Senate but was told to take his seat by the speaker of the house. Minchin then went for the jugular.

"Given the minister's incompentent revelation of highly confidential information on Telstra's network, why should other telecommunication companies and utilities trust this minister with the handling of their sensitive network information, which the government insists on acquiring for the conduct of the NBN implementation study?" Minchin asked.

Conroy responded by saying, Minchin was exhibiting hypocrisy.

"Senator Minchin wants information supplied by companies in confidence as part of a tender process released into the public domain," he said over several interjections. "He asked for this information. He asked for this information and in actual fact his office put out its 164th press release yesterday before they read the information and condemned me for not releasing more information."

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