Government mum on independent NBN examination

Senators Conroy, Wong refuse to confirm or deny the public release of the Greenhill Caliburn report

The Gillard Government has refused to publicly release an independent examination of the assumptions used to develop NBN Co’s business plan.

A draft report of the examination, conducted by corporate consultants Greenhill Caliburn at the request of the Department of the Finance and Deregulation, was expected to be delivered to the government today. A contract of requirement to Greenhill Caliburn stipulated the consultants “examine the business case robustly” including assumptions such as capital expenditure, operational expenditure as well as potential market and telecommunications constraints which could affect the National Broadband Network (NBN) rollout.

The 400-page, 30-year business case for the network wholesaler is slated for public release in December, with those elements considered commercial-in-confidence redacted.

However, the accompanying independent examination will be kept from release.

Communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, or finance minister, Senator Penny Wong, insisted the use of external advice was a “common sense” practice used by the Howard Government on several occasions during the privatisation of Telstra. However, when asked several times by Liberal senators whether the independent report would be released, both Conroy and Wong refused to provide a definitive answer.

Asked once more, Conroy said “no”.

Computerworld Australia contacted spokespeople for both ministers, but did not receive a response at time of writing.

“It is common practice for governments to seek external expert advice relating to complex policy transactions,” Conroy said in the Senate.

“This additional advice demonstrates that the government is taking a diligent and responsible approach to implementing the National Broadband Network, ensuring that the government has access to the necessary technical expertise.”

Conroy’s unwillingness to readily provide the report follows a similar timeframe to arguments surrounding the public release of the $25 million NBN Implementation Study and the NBN business case. The Implementation Study was released prior to the 2010/2011 Federal Budget in May after Conroy initially refused to release the 500-page document, while the communications minister cited commercial sensitivity as cause for keeping the business case itself private.

Liberal senators have in the past week accused Conroy of being contemptuous toward the Senate, and this week questioned whether the communications minister had been consulted by Wong over the commissioning of the independent report from Greenhill Caliburn. Conroy responded that he and Wong were joint shareholders in the NBN.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAu

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Tags NBNTelstranbn coSenator Stephen ConroySenator Penny WongNBN Co business plan

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