A motion before the Senate today proposes replacing the existing Senate Select Coommittee on the NBN with a new Joint Committee. Those who fondly remember the scrutiny the former joint committee put on the NBN should be under no illusions that this committee will do the same.
The new Committee will be constituted with a majority of Government members (5/4). Anyone under any illusion of how the Government will use its numbers need only look to May Estimates where the Government used its numbers to limit the time available for the NBN and indeed to finish half an hour early.
The reconstituted Joint Committee also does not have analysis of the various reviews in its terms of reference. This will limit the public scrutiny of the Cost Benefit Analysis and so if it is littered with methodological flaws in the same way as the Strategic Review was these will not be scrutinised.
The disgraceful part is that the Palmer United Party Senators are supporting the change. It is well known that Mr Palmer thinks the NBN is an excessive investment of resources and the Government should only be contributing in regional areas. But that is no reason to hide what the Government is doing from scrutiny.
Let's be clear, the policy choice point is not between the NBN and No NBN, it is between building a fibre to the premises network in one stage rather than two or more. Which is the most cost effective pat his the subject of the Cost Benefit Analysis - the Strategic Review was only a costing exercise (and a poorly conducted one at that).
To hide the NBN from effective review is counter to everything Palmer claims he stands for. What did he trade Malcolm for his support at that dinner?
For the record the Minister has said some silly things about how we got to a Senate Select Committee rather than a Joint Committee and claims Jason Clare was rolled by Senator Conroy. The facts are that when Parliament resumed after the election Mr Clare proposed the Jount Committeebe reconstituted with the same structure - half each side with an independent chair (Oakshott). Turnbull insisted on a smaller committee with a majority of Government members.
At the same time Labor had progressed a notice of motion to institute the Senate Select Committee. When Turnbull became aware of this he offered equal numbers, but still Government Chair(and casting vote). Mr Clare advised Mr Turnbull that was too late.
The best solution would be for the PUP to agree to amend the motion in the Senate, to make the numbers 5/5 of Govt vs ALP/Greens with a PUP chair. I understand PUP has expressed no interest in the committee. This surprises me given how stridently Senator Lambie speaks out in behalf of Tasmanians. Tasmanians were systematically deceived by Mr Turnbull about his intentions for the NBN in Tasmania before the election.
If PUP are concerned about the resources required to undertake the Chair's role I can organise a pose of volunteers to help them.
And let's be clear. I am a fan of the NBN as it is. But if a properly constructed case can be made that the move to an all fibre network can be made more cheaply in two or more stages than one I am all for it. I just don't accept arguments that 25 Meg is more than enough for an average household, or that even a 50 Meg outcome for 90% is sufficient.