Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, confirmed this week that he would meet with Tasmanian Premier, David Bartlett, to discuss the commercial structure of the NBN in the state amid criticism from the Opposition that a planned joint venture with State Government-owned utility Aurora Energy has not eventuated.
The Tasmanian leg of the NBN was originally planned to operate as a joint venture with Aurora, which has previously been involved in other government telecommunications projects in the state, but in December last year NBN Tasmania chief executive Doug Campbell said Aurora was acting as the company's “agent”. The plans also came amidst problems regarding the sacking of the Tasmanian NBN Co board.
Currently NBN Tasmania operates as a 100 percent subsidiary of the larger national NBN Co.
“I'm seeing the Premier of Tasmania very shortly to have some discussion about it,” Conroy told a Senate budget estimates hearing in Canberra this week in response to pointed questions about the matter from Liberal senator, Mary Jo Fisher, who said the talks were “hastening very slowly”.
Conroy said Aurora was a “separate company” which contracted to NBN Co, and that the NBN rollout in Tasmania would be consistent with the national rollout – including, for example, the same operational and business support systems. He said the focus had been on rolling out the NBN in Tasmania.
“We work absolutely hand in glove, as you would expect us to,” said NBN Co chief executive, Mike Quigley.
Fisher asked whether NBN Co's board had sought to bring NBN Tasmania “to heel”, by excluding NBN Co as a contractor in Tasmania.
“Not that I'm aware of, and by the look on Mr Quigley's face, I don't think so,” said Conroy. “Aurora is a separate company it contracts to NBN Co.”
“Nobody has ever suggested that it would be excluded from applying to be included as a contractor.”
Quigley said he wasn't at liberty to discuss whether NBN Co's board had discussed the matter, but that Aurora had been signed up as NBN Co's agent in Tasmania.