Senate allows Telstra bill to progress

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Senate allows Telstra bill to progress

Government passes second hurdle.

The Senate has agreed 33-30 to read the Telstra split bill a second time, but the Government faced a battle today convincing the independents to support the legislation in a final vote.

Breaking: Labor reveals 36-page summary of the NBN Co business plan. Download the full document here.

The vote came after a final plea by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. It allowed the bill to progress to a committee stage where amendments were expected to be brought by the Greens, independents and other Senators.

Conroy had told the Senate that amendments proposed by the Coalition were "unnecessary".

"The choice is clear," Conroy said.

"You can have a bunch or wreckers who want to destroy the NBN because they believe it's their path to destroy the Government....," he said before he was cut off because time had expired.

Conroy had said that passage of the bill was important because the "existing telecommunications regime will remain important during the NBN rollout".

"This bill is designed to reshape that regime," he said. "It's about reforming a regime that the entire industry agrees is broken".

The Government still faced a battle winning over key independents to pass the bill a third and final time.

Senator Nick Xenophon indicated last night he would hold out for the release of the NBN Co business plan before he cast his final vote, despite the offer of a private briefing and meetings with the Prime Minister, NBN Co and Telstra.

More vitriol

The vote came after Coalition Senators again lined up to slam Conroy for refusing to release the NBN Co business case.

Conroy had walked out of a similar session yesterday.

Liberal Senator George Brandis went as far as to question Conroy's intelligence and competence.

Brandis told Parliament that Conroy was of "limited intelligence".

"He frankly lacks the maturity" to handle a "matter of high public priority," Brandis said.

He added that Conroy was an "out-of-his-depth, lightweight minister" and labelled him "incompetent".

"Senator Conroy is like a kid with a great big train set," he said.

Brandis' rant dubbed the National Broadband Network plan as "the biggest single thing Australia has ever done in peacetime".

He described Conroy as "the weakest link in the chain of a very weak Government".

"The Minister is ignorant," added Senator Eric Abetz, lining up for his turn. "If ignorance was a crime, Senator Conroy would be convicted ... by a unanimous verdict."

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