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Wednesday, 25 August 2010 17:15

Independents Day offers few NBN clues


The so-called "Independents' Day" at the National Press Club provided few clues on who will form the next federal government and even fewer about what the nation's future broadband infrastructure might look like.

The three king-making rural independent MPs - Tony Windsor from New England and Lyne's Rob Oakeshott from New South Wales and Bob Katter from Kennedy in far north Queensland - joined the freshly-minted Greens MP from the seat of Melbourne Adam Bandt to face the media en masse for the first time for post-election analysis.

And though broadband services in the bush has formed a large part of the background to the demand of the three rural MPs, it was only a supporting issue in broader demands for stable government, a more open and representative process in the Parliament that allowed disparate voices to be heard, and a strong economy that was shared more of the wealth with the regions.

Adam Bandt said he would back a Labor minority Government. The other three said they were undecided - and that they were undecided as individual representatives rather than undecided as a bloc.

Mr Katter and Mr Windsor said they were not interested in a Cabinet appointment in return for their support. Mr Oakeshott and Mr Bandt did not rule it out.

Having met late last night to discuss a strategy for negotiating with the two sides, the three presented Prime Minister Julia Gillard with a joint letter outlining seven points - 'pathways to progress' - they want to see addressed. The letter has also been given to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

Among the seven points, the three MPs wanted a briefing from Treasury Secretary Ken Henry and the head of Finance. They want a costing of all election promises from both sides of politics, as well as a briefing on the state of the economy.

They have also understood to have sought changes to Parliamentary procedures that would include the ability to debate Private Members Bills, a beefed up committee system and a re-writing of Question Time rules that would put time limits on questions and answer.

The three appear most interested in the costings of election promises from both sides, an issue that is problematic from both sides, if only because it is not entirely clear whether the public service had been able to cost promises to any level of detail. The election promise costings will also be released publicly for the first time.

It might also be an issue for the broadband network, and may be that costings for the NBN roll-out have been asked for. Mr Windsor wants further details of where the money for the roll-out is being spend, although he fell short of asking for the NBN Company business case.

The Prime Minister Julia Gillard said at a press conference in Canberra this afternoon that some of the requests from the three would require actions not normally undertaken by a Government in 'caretaker' mode.

She has sought advice from Prime Minister & Cabinet on what she is allowed to do and what would require amendments to caretaker conventions.

Ms Gillard said she is required to consult with Mr Abbott on any changes that would be necessary to caretaker provisions and to seek his agreement on those changes.

Broadband is clearly an issue for the three independents, but it is not the number one issue.

The question of who forms government is muddied with the apparently success of the independent Andrew Wilke in the seat of Denison in Tasmania. Mr Wilkie will meet with the Prime Minister in Melbourne on Saturday and with Opposition leader Tony Abbott next Saturday.

Further, Julia Gillard said she had spoken with the newly-elected Western Australia MP Tony Crook, who told her that he "does not consider himself to be a Truss National," opening the door to his possibly cooperation with Labor.


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