The Coalition has backed the Green’s calls to ensure that NBN Co, the company responsible for rolling out the National Broadband Network (NBN), is not exempt from Freedom of Information Laws.
In a speech on the introduction of the National Broadband Network Companies Bill 2010 last night, shadow communications minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said proposed amendments to the bills would provide rules as to how the NBN Co would operate.
“One of the principles that it is designed to achieve is to define it as not a public authority,” he said. “Of course, by defining it as not a public authority it is exempt from the statutory requirements to comply with the freedom of information legislation and means that it would not be subject to the normal parliamentary oversight of public works defined in the Public Works Committee Act 1969.
“We will be seeking to amend the legislation to make it subject to both the freedom of information laws and also the Public Works Committee Act.”
As reported by Computerworld Australia Greens communications spokesperson, Senator Scott Ludlam, said the two bills were the place to fix the issue of NBN Co FoI exemption.
“The FoI one is quite a big one for [the Greens],” he said. “We are supportive of the [NBN] being built, but we believe that transparency is the best way to build confidence in it.”
Responding to the issue of whether the Government would support motions to bring the NBN under FoI laws, communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, said he was currently in discussions with the minor parties and the Greens.
“The existing FoI regime doesn’t apply because of the nature of the company,” Conroy said.
“No one sat down and said ‘right how can we avoid FoI, let’s set up that structure to avoid FoI’, there’s a range of government business that have been exempt and a range of government businesses that haven’t been exempt, it was just set up that way.
“I didn’t even know that they were exempt; it was set up in that structure to facilitate the actual build and the speed and we’re in discussion with the minor parties and the Greens to ensure that some information is available.”
Turnbull added that the Coalition would also press for amendments which restrict the NBN Co to business activities directly related to its core function of supplying wholesale communication services.
“We will seek to amend the legislation in a number of ways to make it quite explicit that the supply of services by the NBN can only be on a wholesale basis and, in particular, to prevent the NBN getting around this provision to provide that it must not supply services to another person unless that other person is a carrier or service provider and is a carrier or service provider which will use its service to supply services to the public,” Turnbull said.
“That is to prevent, for example, a large corporation establishing its own bespoke carrier whose only job is to provide services to the corporation concerned.”
The Coalition would also seek to amend the bills such that they allowed for the sale of the NBN prior to it being completely built.
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