The Coalition majority of a Senate committee investigating whether the Government should mandate the rollout of fibre to Tasmanian premises has recommended the bill be scrapped, but the committee's Labor minority is continuing to push for its passage into law.
Labor Senator Anne Urquhart put forward a private member’s bill in March this year proposing that the National Broadband Network Companies Act 2011 be amended to require NBN Co to make only fixed line connections to the NBN in Tasmania using fibre to the premises (FTTP).
Urquhart tabled the bill after NBN Co chairman Ziggy Switkowski revealed the company’s contract in Tasmania with Visionstream did not specify the technology to be used, and would therefore be implemented with the Coalition’s preferred multi-technology mix.
Urquhart said at the time that Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull had broken his pre-election promise of full fibre to the premises (FTTP) for the state.
She argued that the NBN Companies Act should be amended to reflect the Government’s pre-election commitment to deliver fibre connections to over 200,000 Tasmanian premises.
Urquhart’s bill was referred to the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for inquiry.
The committee - which is made up of three Coalition members, two Labor MPs and one Green - released its final report today [pdf].
The Coalition majority said it did not support the proposed amendment, claiming that continuing with the “failed approach” of the previous Labor-led NBN would represent the “single largest destruction of value for taxpayers in the history of the Commonwealth”.
“The committee notes the shambolic nature of the previous NBN rollout and considers that flexibility is required to ensure that the ongoing rollout of the NBN is undertaken in a timely, cost-effective and efficient manner,” the Coalition members stated in the majority report.
The MPs said the previous Tasmanian rollout was failing to meet the needs and expectations of the state’s citizens, and the Coalition’s new multi-technology mix approach would have a positive impact on those rollout issues.
Coalition committee members added that the bill’s “deeply flawed” amendments would “unnecessarily restrict” NBN Co and remove the flexibility for the delivery of broadband upgrades sooner and at a lower cost for taxpayers and consumers.
The committee's two Labor MPs, however, called the majority report a “continuation of the distortion of facts that was presented in the NBN Co strategic review”, and recommendeded the bill be passed.
They said neither the Department of Communications nor Minister Malcolm Turnbull had provided a reason for why his “commitment to the people of Tasmania to rollout the FTTP NBN as contracted” could not be fulfilled.
The Labor Senators agreed with concerns raised by the Communications department that legislating one particular technology to a specific geography was not ideal, but said it was the only way to make Turnbull fulfil his promise to the state.
The Tasmanian rollout has suffered from missed targets and halted construction related to disputes with contractors and the discovery of asbestos.
In order to get the rollout moving again, the former Labor Tasmanian Government offered NBN Co free access to the state’s power poles for an aerial fibre rollout.
NBN Co recently begun a trial of FTTP over around 300 power poles in 16 areas of Tasmania, which will run for the next six months.