Greens score changes to NBN parliament inquiry

A joint parliamentary committee into the National Broadband Network (NBN) will no longer be dominated by Labor politicians and will begin sooner than planned, Greens senator, Scott Ludlam, has said.

The inquiry was first secured by independent senator Nick Xenophon as one of several concessions made by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in attempt to secure support for legislation surrounding the separation of Telstra during the dying days of the sitting calendar. At the time, Gillard said the inquiry would begin in July this year and mirror the existing, 16 member Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit.

However, the makeup of the committee drew criticism from Liberal MPs at the time, who claimed the Gillard Government was “stacking” the committee with Labor members, nine of which would be on the inquiry panel.

In a statement today, Senator Ludlam said continuing negotiations with the government had produced more refined terms of reference for the NBN. As a result, the committee would no longer hold a government majority and it would begin immediately, provided the committee passed a vote in the House of Representatives on Tuesday this week.

"I am pleased we've reached a fair outcome, and I look forward to the committee picking up the oversight role that for the last several years was performed solely by a Senate select committee,” he said.

Outlined during Parliament this week, an equal proportion of Labor and Liberal members from both houses will make up the altered committee, with its first report due by August this year. Independent MP Rob Oakeshott was named as chairperson of the committee.

An additional crossbencher will be decided upon by Parliament to complete the 16-member panel, with the final spot likely to be fought over by South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon and Greens communications spokesman, Scott Ludlam.

Senator Ludlam said he was interested in being part of the committee, and had questions about managerial and financial matters.

"We want it rolled out as long as it doesn't cost a dollar more than it needs to," he said.

It is expected to grill NBN Co boss Mike Quigley, and have the ability to interview private sector players like Telstra. Infrastructure minister, Anthony Albanese, told Parliament it had wide terms of reference and a balanced membership, which demonstrated the government's commitment to openness and transparency.

The announcement comes as the second win in as many weeks for the Greens on the NBN, who last week ensured NBN Co would in future be subject to freedom of information laws.

"The Greens' approach to the NBN is to use the tools of the Parliament to provide ongoing transparency, as a way of building confidence in this important project. The committee will give the industry and the broader community a window into the financial and engineering decisions underpinning the National Broadband Network."

Additional reporting by AAP

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