Fielding, Xenophon back Telstra split bill

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Fielding, Xenophon back Telstra split bill

The Telstra split bill appeared likely to clear the Senate after positive statements from key independents Nick Xenophon and Steve Fielding in the lead-up to today's expected vote.

The Senators issued separate statements late yesterday.

Together with the support of the Greens, it now appeared the Telstra split bill would clear its final hurdle without the Government having to rely on votes from the Coalition.

Today's Senate order of business indicated the bill would be back up for debate before 12.45pm.

The breakthrough for the Government came yesterday afternoon when Senator Xenophon revealed he had brokered a deal with the Prime Minister for the public release of a 36-page "summary" of NBN Co's business plan.

Other concessions given to Xenophon included:

  • A briefing with NBN Co chief Mike Quigley that did not require a confidentiality agreement and that could be discussed in public.
  • The creation of a new Joint Parliamentary Committee to report on the NBN every six months.
  • Consumer protection amendments to the Telstra split bill.

"I am pleased to say, after I made it clear that my position was non-negotiable, the Government has had a change of heart and has agreed to publicly release a full summary of the NBN Business Plan which contains the numbers we need to make an informed vote," Xenophon said.

"With all this information I believe I will be in a position to make an informed vote when this Bill comes to a final vote."

Family First Senator Steve Fielding said in a statement that there was " no reason not to support the development of the National Broadband Network."

“Stalling this legislation so the Productivity Commission can do a cost-benefit analysis is just a smokescreen by the Coalition to hide the fact that they are plain and simple against building an NBN," he said.

"I don’t believe there is any reason to hold back on the development of the NBN anymore."

Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull maintained the Coalition's critical line, despite the prospect of the legislation now passing.

He said that the 36-page NBN business plan summary was "thoroughly inadequate... beyond a few scraps of information and other warm words".

"It is a sop thrown to the independent Senators in the hope that they will give the Government their vote," Turnbull said.

ABC Lateline said that the Government had sought to extend the Senate's sitting hours last night to ensure there was time for the legislation to be voted on. However, it could not muster the numbers to force the issue.

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