Monday, October 25, 2010

Agreement on an NBN? It's almost within sight

Tim Madden, ABC News Online
After a relatively short inquriy

Bipartisan support for the $43 billion national broadband network is in sight after the Coalition declared it would find a tick of approval from the Productivity Commission "incredibly persuasive".

Until now Coalition spokesman Malcolm Turnbull has been arguing for a cost-benefit analysis of the nationwide project but has declined to say whether even such an inquiry would make his parties support it.

But speaking to Network Ten Sunday he said the inquiry he is proposing might do the trick.

"I would not as a matter of principle give a blank cheque to anyone, even the Productivity Commission," he said. "But if the Productivity Commission were to report on the NBN as they should, and if they were to give it a big tick from a cost-benefit point of view, it would be incredibly persuasive, I think it would obviously change a lot of people's perceptions."

Mr Turnbull will introduce a private members bill this week calling for the Productivity Commission to inquiry into the project and report by May 31.

The Commission's administrative Michael Kirby told a Senate hearing Thursday he was prepared to conduct the inquiry and would be able to do it while work on the network proceeded.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy knocked back the olive branch... saying an inquiry would "waste money".

"All around the world cost benefit analyses have been done into the productivity boost of a broadband network. And it's all been positive, overwhelmingly positive," he told the ABC.

"This is just another time-wasting proposal by an opposition that are desperate to stop the rollout of the national network. Even though Malcolm said he might be prepared to accept it, Tony Abbott has made it very clear they are not going to change their policy and they're going to demolish it."

The bipartisan support offered by Mr Turnbull holds out the prospect of network being completed. Scheduled to take eight years, the proposed rewiring of more than 90 per cent of Australian households and businesses will be interrupted by two elections.

Mr Turnbull said he did not oppose new technology but wanted a "hard-headed businesslike" approach to delivering it.

"What the government is proposing to do is to spend $43 billion without any cost-benefit analysis to create a massive government owned monopoly placing a bet on one technology," he said.

"If you are concerned about what people are choosing today, they're actually choosing wireless. The government is using $43 billion of our taxes to back one technology where every indication from the market is that it is moving in another direction."

Published in today's SMH and Age

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