Updated: Turnbull proposes bill demanding NBN cost benefit analysis

Private members' bill to be accompanied by Joint Select Committee if accepted

Shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, today revealed he had garnered Coalition support for a private members' bill that would force Labor to disclose key financial details of its flagship National Broadband Network (NBN) project and conduct a cost-benefit analysis into its construction.

A statement issued by Turnbull's office this afternoon said the National Broadband Network Financial Transparency Bill (2010) would require NBN Co to produce and publish a detailed, 10-year business plan for the $43 billion project, including key financial and operational indicators.

"It also requires the Productivity Commission to conduct a comprehensive cost/benefit analysis of the NBN and report back to Parliament by 31 May 2011," Turnbull said in the statement.

According to the bill, the Productivity Commission would be required to analyse the current availability of broadband across Australia (including identifying areas where services are of a lower standard/higher price than in capital cities) and consider the most cost-effective and speediest options by which all Australians could receive fast broadband.

In addition, the commission would need to analyse the economic, productivity and social benefits likely to flow from better broadband, and the applications that would be likely to be used. And a "full and transparent economic and financial assessment" would be conducted into the NBN.

Turnbull has proposed that a Joint Select Committee be established from both houses of parliament to oversee the NBN rollout - including Government, Opposition and cross-bench MPs and Senators.

"The Coalition will be seeking Government and cross-bench support for the Private Member's Bill and Motion in both houses," Turnbull said.

In his own statement, Conroy claimed the Liberal and National parties were only interested in delaying the NBN - not delivering what he said were "real reforms" for Australia. The communications minister added that detailed financial analysis about the NBN was already available in the Implementation Study published earlier this year.

“According to the Implementation Study, NBN Co will generate sufficient earnings by the end of year 7 so that the investment required by Government will peak at $26 billion, of which $18.3 billion will be required over the next four years," Conroy said, adding that NBN Co's deal with Telstra would cut the cost of deployment down further.

Conroy pointed out that Brisbane's city council this week had revealed plans to build its own fibre network in the city ahead of the NBN rollout. The council is led by Lord Mayor Campbell Newman, who is a member of Queensland's Liberal National Party.

“Across Australia people are crying out for affordable, high speed broadband ... if the Federal Liberals and Nationals were serious about ensuring Australians had access to world class telecommunications infrastructure they would support the NBN rollout," Conroy said.

“Australians have already had to wait 12 years for action while the former Howard Government did nothing to improve broadband services across the country, they don’t deserve to put up with further delays.”

The Liberal Party is currently somewhat divided in its opposition to the NBN plan, with the Tasmanian and Victorian branches pushing for the rollout to be utilised to its maximum in those states. However, in the Federal arena the Coalition has been staunchly against the NBN for some time - unveiling its own rival broadband plan during the Federal Election.

Greens senator, Scott Ludlam, added in a statement that the party would consider if the members' bill was "a serious bid for relevance and transparency, or another in a long line of Coalition delaying tactics designed to destroy the network”. While the Greens have been supportive of the NBN as a project, Ludlam has pushed for the Federal Government to ensure NBN Co remains in public hands, rather than privatised upon completion of the network build.

At least one aspect of the information that Turnbull is currently seeking is already being put together. NBN Co is known to be finalising the business plan for the next few years of its operations, for delivery to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy later this month. However, it remains unclear whether the document will be released.

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