Minchin rebuked by Expert Panel 'whistleblowers'

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Minchin rebuked by Expert Panel 'whistleblowers'

Opposition Senator Nick Minchin has dubbed members of the NBN Expert Panel 'whistleblowers', quoting controversial comments the panelists have made in public forums.

In a press release this morning, Minchin claimed National Broadband Network (NBN) Expert Panel members Professor Reginald Coutts and Professor Rod Tucker "finally lifted the lid on Labor's broadband incompetence and recklessness" at an Alcatel-Lucent hosted forum held in Melbourne last night.

Minchin quoted Coutts saying that the NBN was always going to involve Telstra, and quoted Tucker saying that "the panel of experts was never asked to and didn't make any judgement call on the issue of investment for a fibre to the home network."

Minchin said such a statement equates to 'whistleblowing' as "Senator Conroy and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd have repeatedly claimed that Labor's $43 billion fibre to the premise NBN announcement was simply a case of the Government following the advice of its expert panel."

Talking to iTnews today, Professor Coutts said he had been quoted out of context, and took issue with Minchin labelling him a 'whistleblower'.

"This is what annoyed me in Minchin's statement," he said. "The panel were not asked to evaluate the Government's [$43 billion Fibre to the Premise] proposal."

Coutts said the $43 billion figure was never mentioned during the failed NBN tender process. He believes it was calculated well after the NBN Expert Panel had made their recommendations and been disbanded.

"I'm not aware of what further analysis [The Government] did subsequent to our work since the 21st of January," Coutts told iTnews. "...and I know they did further analysis."

"We'd been disbanded, we'd done our job," he said.

Professor Tucker was equally unimpressed.

"My comment has taken out of context by the Shadow Minister," he told iTnews. "My statement is consistent with public statements Senator Conroy has made about the range of advice he took in advance of the announcement of the Government's decision on the NBN."

Minchin's efforts were also rebuked by his political opponent Senator Stephen Conroy at an address to the FTTH (fibre to the home) Council conference in Melbourne earlier this evening.

Strangely, Conroy tripped up whilst defending the process behind the forming of the Government's new policy, contradicting the panelists.

"The Panel of Experts that evaluated the proposals put forward encouraged the Government to invest in a FTTP network," he told the audience. "The Government also called on the ACCC to provide a report to the Panel on those proposals."

But Conroy said it was important to note that the Panel "did not consider costing for FTTP."

"This was done by central agencies based on advice from their technical advisors," he said. "In addition, the Government has received advice on the technical suitability of FTTP from a range of high-level sources."

Conroy quoted CSIRO advice which told the Government that "of all the technologies available, FTTP delivers the highest dedicated speed to the end user."

He then quoted the Defence Science and Technology Organisation as stating that the technology "is the only technology expected to meet the user demands of 2020 and beyond in urban and suburban environments."

Conroy said National ICT Australia told the Government that FTTP was "the most future-proof technology."

Conroy also quoted former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkowski and current Telstra chief technical officer Hugh Bradlow as advocates for the technology.

"I'm sure [the technology] is supported by those in the room this evening," he said.

Conroy concluded his speech with a discussion of the cost of the NBN, speculating that it may end up being cheaper than $43 billion if industry players like Telstra chip in with in-kind infrastructure in exchange for equity.

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