Thursday, February 04, 2010

Both shoes drop

The Opposition must be realing a bit in its pursuit of NBN matters. Their determinatio to pursue the Government over the processes for the NBN has led to two reports, one from a Senate committee and one from the ANAO.

The first report was from the Senate Standing Committee on Finance and Public Administration on Independent Arbitration of Public Interest Immunity Claims. This report ultimately arose from the demand from the Senate that the Government provide to it the report of the NBN expert panel. The government claims public interest immunity from providing it. The independent and Green senators, with coalition support, initiated this inquiry to determine whether the Government should have to undergo some sort of independent process to judge that claim.

The committee, chaired by a Liberal has recommended against that course of action. That should lead to the coalition backing down on its demand for the assessment report.

There might be more joy in the report of the Australian National Audit Office into the NBN process.

Most importantly the ANAO puts paid to any suggestion there is some cover up in not releasing the Expert Panel report, noting at para 25 "The conclusions and recommendations in the Panel’s Evaluation Report are supported by appropriate evidence. The Panel’s published observations of the process generally represent the reasons for the non selection of a national proponent, as well as provide some advice to the Government on policy options for going forward."

The report continues at para 28 to say, "Despite the RFP process’s complexity and short timeframe, the Panel and the department conducted the formal process well, within the parameters of the Government’s broadband policy and in accordance with the CPGs."

Some other parts of this report I find particularly enlightening though.

The first is from para 13 - "The Government’s approach was to pursue a process that maximised competitive tension between potential proponents and promoted innovation to achieve the best outcome and best use of up to $4.7 billion in government funding." I do not understand how anyone could think that "competitive tension" was the right objective. The major protagonists - Telstra and the G9 or FANOC - would have needed to become customers of the winner. That is not a logical model.

The report spends a great deal of time on the issue of "regulatory flexibility." At para 29 they note "requesting proponents to outline their preferred regulatory environment for their NBN was unusual for an RFP process and made a complex commercial transaction considerably more complicated."

The difficulty for the coalition in pursuing either of these is that the idea of competition for the right to build the network was the coalition's when in Government, as was the idea of "regulatory flexibility". Indeed the coaition just started to run a tender for the regulatory regime before the election was called.

So, back to square one. Tny Smith can call them Chaos Conroy and Reckless Rudd to his heart's content, but at the moment the record shows their only failing was to continue some processes Helen Coonan started.

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