The Federal Government faces a hostile Senate to pass its Telstra split bill after openly flouting an order to produce documents and with Liberal Senators indicating they will demand amendments and stall debate ahead of a planned vote.Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's decision to withhold the NBN business plan and the Government's response to the $25m NBN implementation study until after parliament's sitting - in defiance of a Senate order - caused outrage from the Coalition, Greens and key independents today.
It now appeared certain to delay passage of the Telstra split bill with Liberal Senators filing a new motion demanding "consequences" for the Government in retaliation for it "thumbing its nose at the Senate".In addition, a private members bill brought by Opposition Communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull in the Lower House seeking a cost-benefit analysis for the NBN - defeated earlier today by the narrowest of margins - would be re-introduced to parliament - this time in the Senate."We will re-introduce that members bill in the Senate," Senator Simon Birmingham said.
The Liberal motion introduced today sought to delay all debate on the NBN until the documents requested by the Senate were produced and made available to the public.
It was defeated 34-36 but exposed critical divisions among the Greens and key independents that could impact the passage of the Telstra split bill in the Senate.
The motion had been introduced in an attempt to show "that when this Senate orders something, when it instructs something be done and the Government thumbs its nose, there should be consequences," Birmingham said."We're trying to ensure that powers within the Senate come with consequences if the Government should choose to simply ignore the orders of the Senate. That's why this motion is important."The motion predictably caused fury from Labor Senators Stephen Conroy and Kate Lundy.Conroy accused the Liberal Senators of being "frauds" while Lundy labelled the latest motion "absurd obstructionism"."I'd rather have spent the last 20 minutes talking about the telecommunications bill," Lundy said."I think that would be a much more constructive approach for us to be debating this bill right now - not this ridiculous motion.""Table the documents today," Birmingham replied as tempers frayed."I'll happily debate you all of next week. Give us the documents to ensure the debate is as informed as it should be. "Don't treat us with contempt like the mushrooms that are fed the proverbial."South Australian Senator Mary Jo Fisher said the Senate shouldn't "be in any hurry to consider the legislation" in the absence of the documents.She also urged the independents "not to be bought off by the Government's cheap offer of a private briefing" on the NBN business plan, as reported by the Australian Financial Review today.Senators would reportedly be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement before taking the briefing. At least one - independent Nick Xenophon - said today he would refuse to sign.But the briefing offer swayed independent Senator Steve Fielding to vote down the Liberals delay motion today. The Greens and Senator Xenophon also did not support the Liberals' motion but they roundly criticised the Government's contempt for Senate processes."I think the Government is making a fundamental mistake in not providing the business plan [to us]," Xenophon said."So far the information we've received from the Government has been as reliable as dial-up [internet]. It's ironic this is about the creation of a world-class communications network while the Government's communication [about it] is third-world."Conroy's making it very difficult for supporters of the NBN to keep their support for it."The lack of support for the motion drew a rebuke from its creator, the leader of the Opposition in the Senate Eric Abetz.He accused the Greens and independents of being willing to complain about the lack of production of documents without demanding real consequences for ignoring the Senate order.He accused them of "attacking the Government with a limp lettuce leaf"."I'm sure Conroy's laughing all the way to his office," Abetz said.
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Issue: 324 | February 2014
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