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Conroy + A Labor Cabinet That Included Shorten Slammed Over NBN Co Roll Out

Conroy + A Labor Cabinet That Included Shorten Slammed Over NBN Co Roll Out

In what is an indictment of the way that Labour managed major infrastructure projects, Productivity Commission head Bill Scales has found that NBN Co which was set up to develop a high-speed internet network across Australia was given a job that only a “well-functioning, large and established” telecommunications company could do under the tight time-tables for the rollout. For a start-up, it was an “impossible assignment” he found.

In a devastating critique into the formation of Australia’s biggest infrastructure projects which was a pet project of Conroy and a key plank in Labors election policies, Scales has revealed that in the first 12 months management at the NBN Co which was headed by Mike Quigley, who was chief executive between 2009 and his retirement in October 2014, were “making it up as they went”.

Even PR executives were fabricating information in an effort to make Conroy, the Labour Government and executives at the NBN Co look good.

Scales said he was told that some of those involved in the first 12 months of the NBN Co revealed a “salutary anecdote” that, in the early days of NBN Co, ”all we had (to guide us) was the press release and a bunch of business cards”.

The Australian newspaper said today that big taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects worth more than $1 billion could now face stringent new hurdles after his landmark audit found the policy process for developing Labor’s National Broadband Network a disaster and costly. 

The Coalition late yesterday tabled the 186-page audit that contains sweeping recommendations on what future actions Canberra should take when considering major projects such as the NBN network. 

The audit examined the original “Mark I” NBN policy which was based on 2007 election promises by then opposition leader Kevin Rudd of $4.7bn public funding towards building a fibre-to-the-node network – and the vastly more ambitious $43bn Mark II policy that replaced it.

Both were developed under the Rudd Labor government. 

The audit revealed that that the public policy process for developing the NBN Mark II received only “perfunctory” consideration by the Rudd cabinet that included the now Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten.
Under Conroy, Shorten and Rudd the NBN plan got just 11 weeks’ consideration and “there is no evidence that a full range of options was seriously considered”.

“There was no business case or any cost-benefit analysis, or independent studies of the policy undertaken, with no clear operating instructions provided to this completely new government business enterprise, within a legislative and regulatory framework still undefined, and without any consultation with the wider community,” the report says.

In other findings, the audit says full cabinet did not consider the policy until very early on the April 2009 morning it was announced, and its role was to “rubber-stamp” a decision by the strategic priorities and budget committee of cabinet.

It also revealed that public servants had “difficulty” in having their “voice” heard on many of the most important policy matters related to Labor’s NBN policy, often finding their advice was ignored or that they were excluded from contributing.

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is overhauling the NBN is now promising to use a mix of technologies to meet its rollout targets rather than largely relying on fibre-to-the-premises.

The Scales review found that the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission overstepped its remit by providing unsolicited advice that FTTN technology was not a stepping stone to FTTP.

The Scales review not only questioned some of the ACCC’s estimates, it has also noted that the advice appeared not to have been fully tested by a panel of experts conducting the 2008 request for proposals process.