Senator Kate Lundy with Senator Stephen Conroy (centre) and other Select Committee members at one of many hearings on the NBN in 2013. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Australians are unlikely to see a full parliamentary assessment of the national broadband network until the eve of the next election, with more Senate committee hearings to come before a final evaluation of the infrastructure project is delivered.
The Senate committee on the NBN was due to table its final report on June 10. The date was subsequently changed to the “last sitting day of the 44th parliament”.
The decision extends the remit of the panel, which is made up of Coalition, Labor and Green senators.
Hearings will resume with two new members Labor senator Catryna Bilyk replacing Lin Thorp who retired and Liberal Cory Bernardi replacing Zed Seselja.
The next hearing will take place in Canberra on July 11 when the upper house committee is expected to call executives of NBN Co.
Should the promised cost-benefit analysis of the project not be delivered before then – it was due six months after an expert panel led by Michael Vertigan was appointed to the task by Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull on December 12 – Fairfax Media understands the hearing will want to hear from the advisors.
It is understood Mr Turnbull’s office will receive the analysis by the end of July.
A further hearing is believed to be scheduled for August 4, with an interim report by the committee possibly in late August or early September.
It has already issued one interim report on March 26. It was highly critical of the government-commissioned strategic review, saying it contained “unreliable assumptions and conclusions” and included “financial manipulations and other irregularities”.
Although the final report’s delay may have the effect of minimising ongoing discussion about the performance of NBN Co and the now mixed-technology network rollout, committee chairwoman Senator Kate Lundy said she was pleased the group’s tenure had been extended.
“It will allow the committee to scrutinise new information as it becomes public. It’s useful. It will help shine a light on the dealings of this government in the interest of transparency," she said.
Senator Lundy said people were concerned and frustrated about the government not being forthcoming with its NBN plans, with some in her ACT electorate delaying business decisions pending the network’s rollout.
Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said he expected the cost-benefit analysis to "do exactly what Malcolm Turnbull hopes it will do - a whole pile of mathematical formulations to justify the mixed-technology model".
The previous government had allocated $43 billion to build a fibre-to-the-premises broadband service to 93 of the Australian population, with the remainder delivered via fixed wireless and satellite.
The Abbott government changed the design of the network to take advantage of existing technologies such as pay TV cables (hybrid coaxial, or HFC) and copper lines to be combined with new fibre cables delivered to street cabinets or building basements. It said it would enable it to deliver a cheaper network sooner.
Its strategic review, delivered in December, looked at six scenarios and recommended the "optimised multi-technology" design at a cost of $41 billion. It estimated the original proposal would have cost $73 billion.
Since it came to office the Abbott government has tightly controlled the release of information, limiting it to NBN Co milestone and review announcements.
This week the company released an updated product roadmap, effectively pushing back the rollout of fibre-to-the-basement products to 2015, instead of the original forecast of October 2014.
An NBN Co spokesman said timelines were subject to revision. Testing for service providers would be available from October.
Senator Lundy said her electorate found some plans were available, but there was not enough information in them.
“Canberra businesses and homes face uncertainty,” she said.
Senator Ludlam said he was looking forward to a "change of government in 2016" so the all-fibre NBN "could get back on track". He said the inquiry's extension was necessary for the committee to continue to provide oversight.