Prime Minister Julia Gillard has offered to set up a meeting between NBN Co chief executive, Mike Quigley, and the gang of three independent MPs holding the balance of power, as both the Labor and Liberal parties seek to form a minority government through coalition.
Gillard's offer comes in response to a letter released today by independent MPs, Bob Katter, Rob Oakeshott, and Tony Windsor, in which the three asked for briefings from the secretaries of eight departments in hopes of gaining clarification on key aspects of each party's policies. Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy topped the list, putting the department's Peter Harris as the relevant secretary.
However, in her response, Gillard said Quigley was a more relevant person in providing briefings to the MPs on the National Broadband Network (NBN), which Katter, Oakeshott and Windsor have all identified as a key priority in their negotiations. According to the letter, the briefing would include information on the NBN's technical aspects and the rollout.
A meeting with the secretaries of Treasury and Finance will also play into the MPs' knowledge of the NBN, as the three have sought greater clarification on costing of the project.
While the three MPs have indicated they prefer Labor's government-based broadband policy over the Liberal party's tendency toward the free market, the much-touted $43 billion figure for the NBN has unsurprisingly been a cause for concern.
“This $43 billion figure that gets bandied about; I haven’t seen the real trail that ends up with that number and in fact I think it’s a fictitious number," Windsor told media at a National Press Club event held to release the MPs' initial letter on negotiation priorities.
“I want to find out what the real one is and there should be a trail that leads us to that.”
In her letter, Gillard said costings would become clear once the MPs met with the relevant secretaries.
"I have sought advice from the Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Mr Terry Moran, as to how to accommodate your request for information from Dr Ken Henry (Treasury) and Mr David Tune (Finance) on the economy and the costings and impacts of Government and Opposition election promises and policies on the budget. As soon as I receive this advice, I will provide it to you and to the Leader of the Opposition," she wrote.
However, she noted the release of costings could contravene current caretaker conventions which, while not legislated, are an agreed set of rules that are abided by government departments during an election to prevent any preference for one party over another.
The relevance of the conventions and their application to key public service figures became a key point of contention in the lead up to the election, with NBN Co's Quigley lambasted by commentators for openly criticising the Liberal party's broadband policy.