National broadband network subjected to Conroy's cone of silence

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National broadband network subjected to Conroy's cone of silence

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has applied the same gag order imposed on bidders for the Government-funded $4.7 billion national broadband network (NBN) on himself, after refusing to answer questions regarding the NBN at a Parliamentary hearing yesterday.

Taking questions at a Senate Estimates hearing, Conroy refused to discuss details of the NBN other than narrating tender documents.

Bombarded by the Liberal Opposition with questions regarding the NBN tender process, Conroy said he could not divulge details because they are part of "live commercial negotiations".

"Certain companies involved in this process could be adversely affected by any comments I make," said Conroy after refusing to reveal what companies had lodged the required $5 million bond to be part of the tender process.

Liberal Senator Simon Birmingham angrily responded to Conroy’s refusal to answer, and suggested the Minister’s silence meant he had something to hide.

"It is outrageous for the government to seek to avoid all questions in relation to the expenditure of $4.7 billion of taxpayer funds," Birmingham said.

"Senator Conroy would have us believe that the process cannot be discussed as of the lodgment of bonds at 5pm last Friday.”

Conroy did not back down in the face of Birmingham’s jibes though, claiming his silence was no different to the stance adopted by the previous government.

"I do not propose to make any comments or answer any questions about the process in this estimates hearing,” he said.

“This is consistent with the approach taken by the Opposition when they were in government."

Shadow Communications Minister Bruce Billson was unsurprised by Conroy’s silence on the NBN tender process.

"This government has so far gagged a Senate inquiry, gagged potential bidders from discussing it, gagged parliament from debating legislation relating to it and now in its latest attack against the parliamentary process has attempted to gag estimates," Billson said in a statement.
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