NBN oversight falls victim to partisanship

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott has lambasted the Joint Committee on the National Broadband Network (JCNBN) for becoming more about party politics than about the roll out of the NBN.

Oakeshott, chair of the committee, wrote in its fourth report [PDF] that the role of parliamentary committees is to leave party politics at the door.

However, he wrote it was a concerning trend “where sensitivities of our oversight work as compared to political party election platforms has made the work of the committee much more difficult than it need be.

“In my view, this is an early warning sign that the topic of higher speed broadband technology is likely to feature strongly in political debate throughout 2013, an election year.”

Oakeshott said the committee was becoming stuck on “policy dispute” about which technology was the most appropriate for the NBN roll out.

“Despite the opportunities to report and provide oversight on a number of important aspects of the current roll-out, there is every chance the next report will be nothing more than a compendium of political statements and election promises,” he said.

“If this is all we can produce, I could write it now, and it makes the entire committee process worthless and a waste of time for all involved.”

Committee recommendations

The JCNBN made eight recommendations in its report, among them calls for greater transparency from NBN Co, with the committee asking for performance indicators on business plan targets and actual results of the rollout progress every six months.

The JCNBN has also suggested private equity interest in the network should be explored at an earlier date – in its 2012-15 corporate plan, NBN Co said around $13.7 billion in funding would come from peak debt, with NBN Co’s initial corporate plan indicating additional debt funding would “involve private sector investment”.

Oakeshott previously told Computerworld Australia there was interest from domestic and international companies investing in the NBN but the private sector was reluctant to invest too early.

Other recommendations from the JCNBN report include requirements for NBN Co to provide annual statements on where workforce demand and training was needed for the NBN.

The JCNBN also cautioned the federal government on ensuring the NBN remained affordable to all Australians.

Dissenting report

The Coalition has used a dissenting statement in the parliamentary report to slam the federal government’s handling of the NBN rollout.

Malcolm Turnbull, Shadow Communications Minister, said the project is a “black box”, with Turnbull calling for greater transparency around rollout data, capital expenditure and take-up rates.

He also reiterated his call for a cost benefit analysis of the NBN to provide details on construction costs, revenue and any implications for end user prices based on NBN Co’s current SAU, which freezes wholesale prices of NBN products for five years.

The JCNBN is required to report to parliament every six months “until the NBN is complete and operational”.

Oakeshott challenged committee members to prove that the committee could provide valid commentary and recommendations on advancing the NBN policy.

“Somewhat naively, I live in hope!” he said.

JCNBN hearings

NBN Co downgrades construction targets

NBN Co still working out how to connect apartments to the NBN

NBN delay is NBN Co's fault, not ours: ACCC

Parliamentary report: NBN Co should prioritise funding models

Follow Stephanie McDonald on Twitter: @stephmcdonald0

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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