I have to ask the question – What does this government have to hide?
Seriously—what does the government have to hide? What is it worried about here that it is willing to take this bill back to the House in trying to remove these provisions from the bill?
Just so everyone understands what we are talking about here, what the government is trying to do right now is to amend legislation so that NBN Co does not have to release information that it used to release.
Basic, simple information, like total capex, total opex, total revenue and the amount of interest that nbn co will pay.
All of this is information that NBN Co used to release in Corporate Plans when we were in government.
So this argument that the government is now using, that this is somehow commercial-in-confidence information, is arrant nonsense. It is arrant nonsense by a desperate government, willing to do whatever it takes to try to hide information about the mess they have made of the NBN.
It is evidence, again, of the hypocrisy of this Prime Minister, because when he was the Shadow Minister for Communications he would come into this chamber on a regular basis and scold us about the lack of transparency with the NBN. I will give just a couple of examples. On 24 September 2013, Malcolm Turnbull said:
“Our commitment is, our focus is, to have a much greater level of transparency and openness.”
On 11 February 2014, he said:
“Maximum transparency is going to be given to this project.”
On the same day, he said:
“The bottom line is that as far as the NBN project is concerned, the government’s commitment is to be completely transparent.”
On 8 April 2014, he said:
“The Government requires a high degree of transparency from NBN Co in its communication with the public and Parliament.”
And, as recently as this week, in a courtyard press conference the Prime Minister said:
“We believe fervently, passionately, in a transparent democracy.”
But, typically of this Prime Minister, they are just words. They are not actions. It is just waffle. He says one thing and does another because, as Prime Minister, he has not been transparent with the NBN project.
Information on rollout has been taken down from the website and NBN Co executives turning up to Parliamentary Committees are now refusing to answer even basic questions, like the value of contracts that NBN Co has signed up to on behalf of taxpayers. Questions on Notice are coming back with non-answers, or outright evasion to simple questions. It took a Senate order in 2014 to get the now Prime Minister to release the NBN Co Corporate Plan, and when it was released it was threadbare and disclosed little. And now this: an attempt by the government to try to overturn this Senate amendment, to refuse access to information that was released when we were in government—despite the fact that it has been asked for by the Senate in Senate hearings and through two orders of the Senate for the production of documents in June last year and in September. On every occasion this government has refused to provide this information, and is still refusing to do it.
Why? The only reason I can think of for why the government is refusing to release information which was released by a previous government is that they do not want to reveal information about what a mess they have made of this project. I have said it before and I will say it again: they have doubled the cost of this project.
The minister doubts my comment when I say they have made a mess of this project. This Prime Minister promised that it would cost $29.5 billion. Does the minister refute the allegation that it has now gone up to $56 billion? That is double the cost, and they have doubled the time it will take to build.
Everyone in Australia was told this project would be built this year. That has blown out to 2020.
The cost of fibre to the node—the second-rate version of the NBN—has tripled, from $600 a premise to about $1,600 a premise. And the cost of fixing the copper to make this second-rate network work has blown out by 1,000 per cent.
Even in places where they are switching it on—in the Hunter, the Central Coast and Bundaberg—when they do switch it on it is not working properly. It is a mess. So I am not surprised that the government scurries back into the House of Representatives and desperately tries to cover that up by moving amendments here to refuse access by the Australian people to basic information about the mess they have made of the NBN.