Independent senator Nick Xenophon has celebrated his victory in what he labelled a “Mexican standoff” with the Federal Government.
The deal, announced today with Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, will lead to the release of a 50-page summary of the NBN Co business case, first to independent senators and crossbench MPs and then to the public. Gillard said the summary, prepared by NBN Co for the senator, would reveal a total expenditure of $35.7 billion for the rollout of the National Broadband Network (NBN) rather than the $43 billion initially proposed.
“I am pleased to say, after I made it clear that my position was non-negotiable, the Government has had a change of heart and has agreed to publicly release a full summary of the NBN Business Plan which contains the numbers we need to make an informed vote,” Senator Xenophon said this afternoon.
Xenophon’s negotiations with the Labor Government also secured a briefing directly with NBN Co chief executive, Mike Quigley, but will not be required to sign the two-week non-disclosure agreement demanded of independent senators earlier this week.
The deal also cements a joint parliamentary committee announced by Infrastructure Minister, Anthony Albanese. The committee, to be chaired by an independent member of the House of Representatives, will report every six months on the rollout of the NBN and will receive ongoing advice from the Productivity Commission; a partway concession to continuing demands from the Opposition.
Leaping on what he called a “backdown” by the Gillard Government, shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, again called for a full cost-benefit analysis to be carried out by the Productivity Commission.
“In the light of that backdown why won’t [Julia Gillard] agree to ask the Productivity Commission to advise on the fundamental question, which is whether the $43 billion NBN is the most cost-effective way of delivering affordable broadband to all Australians,” he said during Question Time in Parliament this afternoon.
Senator Xenophon continued to reserve his judgement and pending approval of the Telstra separation bill, which went through to a second reading in the Senate the morning of the deal’s announcement.
It may also save the Gillard Government from having to deal with the coalition, who offered support for the bill in return for a cost-benefit analysis.
“With all this information I believe I will be in a position to make an informed vote when this Bill comes to a final vote,” Senator Xenophon said.
“Ultimately, to me, this has all been about scrutiny and safeguards, and I believe the significant concessions the Government has made were essential if the Australian people were to get the informed representation they deserve.”