Coalition, Labor back new NBN committee

Labor flags concerns over committee rules

Labor has backed a move by the government to create a joint standing committee that will scrutinise the rollout of the National Broadband Network until its completion, which is expected in 2020.

Leader of the house Christopher Pyne this afternoon moved a motion that a “Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network be appointed to inquire into and report on the rollout of the national broadband network”.

Until the NBN is “declared built and fully operational”, assuming the Senate supports the committee's establishment, the committee will report annually on rollout progress.

The terms of reference include utilisation of the NBN, Australia’s comparative global position with regard to residential broadband infrastructure, take-up of NBN services and “any market, industry, or regulatory characteristics that may impede the efficient and cost‑effective rollout of the national broadband network”.

“We are pleased that there will be a committee established for parliamentary scrutiny of the NBN,” Labor’s broadband spokesperson Michelle Rowland said. However, the Labor MP said that she had some concerns over the rules governing the functioning of the committee.

The committee will have 17 members: Nine members of the House of Representatives (four each nominated by the Coalition and Labor, plus one non-aligned member) and eight senators (three each from Labor and the Coalition, one Greens senator, and one other cross-bench senator). (The government will nominate the committee’s chair and Labor its deputy chair.)

Rowland said she was concerned that under the government’s resolution, to achieve quorum a deliberative meeting of the committee would have to include a government member and an opposition member (and a total of five members overall).

The rules “could result in a perverse situation,” Rowland said. If three crossbenchers and seven Labor members turn up to a meeting but there is no government member present it wouldn’t be a quorum for a deliberative meeting of the committee, the MP said.

“We’ll be reserving our right to pursue this matter further in the Senate,” Rowland said.

Under the previous parliament, scrutiny of the NBN rollout was provided by a Senate committee dominated by non-government members.

At one point the Coalition senators on the former Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network called for it to be scrapped “and a new, properly constituted Joint Standing Committee on the National Broadband Network be formed as existed in the previous Parliament”.

Coalition Senator Cory Bernardi in 2014 unsuccessfully sought crossbench support for a motion to disband the Senate NBN committee.

The committee tabled two interim reports that were critical of the government’s handling of the NBN rollout, before the double dissolution election caused the committee to be disbanded and a perfunctory final report was issued.

The motion to create the new joint standing committee was passed unopposed in the lower house.

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