Friday, 20 May 2016 02:15

Federal Police raid Labor Party offices over NBN documents leak Featured

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The National Broadband Network is once again mired in election politics after raids on Labor Party offices on Thursday by the Australian Federal Police over leaked documents about the nbn.

Several media outlets late yesterday and overnight reported the AFP raids and on the ABC 7.30 program ALP frontbencher Tony Burke confirmed the raids had taken place.

The AFP raids were on the Melbourne offices of shadow defence minister Senator Stephen Conroy and the home of a staffer employed by the shadow communications minister Jason Clare, and reportedly relate to leaks last February of confidential documents about continued delays and rising costs of the nbn – and critical differences in the nbn plans under the Turnbull Government compared to those proposed by the Labor Party.

Around 20 staff of nbn — the company building the broadband network — were also reported to have been interviewed over the leak by the AFP.

On the 7.30 program, Burke said that there was no doubt the leaks that came from the nbn caused "immense damage, immense damage to Malcolm Turnbull when they showed the cost blowout of the NBN, the fact it was slower and going to be delayed”.

He also raised concerns about many previous leaks which he claimed had not been referred to the AFP.

"During the life of this Parliament, on 23 different occasions we've asked about leaks from all parts of this government, right through to the National Security Committee of cabinet.”

Burke told the 7.30 program that the night before the budget, “government staffers were handing out cabinet in-confidence documents around the press gallery”.

"I know how many of those inquiries have resulted in police raids. I don't know how many times they've been referred to the AFP," Burke said.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, appearing with Tony Burke on 7.30, asserted the independence of the AFP.

"The AFP is an entirely independent organisation that makes their own judgements on these things," the Minister said.

And, commenting on the AFP raid on the ABC's Lateline program last night,the shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said, "These are extraordinary and unprecedented events and the government has a great deal of explaining to do.

"All Australians are right to be concerned about the appearance of a raid being conducted on a Labor senator's office and on the homes of Labor staffers in the second week of a campaign."

Of course, this current political spat over the AFP raid is just another chapter in the politics and issues over the building and rollout of the broadband network — particularly the constant changing of costs estimates by both sides of the political divide — which have dogged the NBN almost from its inception.

As reported by iTWire in December last year, an NBN cost scandal erupted with a new document revealing that copper for the Turnbull government’s hybrid MTM broadband network was going to cost 10 times as much as the original estimate.

And, just 10 days ago, we reported that the rollout of the NBN in the North-West region of Tasmania had been suspended while decisions are made on whether the region will have its NBN services delivered via satellite or a fixed line network.

The nbn refuted a media report that the suspension on the rollout of services in the north west of Tassie was to remain in place until after the federal election, describing it, instead, as a momentary pause.

The suspension of the rollout in Tasmania's north-west comes in the face of lobbying by local residents and business leaders in the region who are against the delivery of services by satellite and want deployment of a fixed line network instead.

“It would not be the best use of taxpayers’ money to commit expenditure to a satellite rollout if the rollout was then changed in the future," an nbn spokesman has said.

As ABC Radio also pointed out, delivery of the NBN is a prominent election issue on the west coast of Tasmania — right in the marginal seat of Braddon — and the Labor Party has promised to spend about $30 million to deliver NBN to the region.

Clare had announced Labor's plans in April, promising a fibre-optic network — not satellite services — would be deployed to deliver the NBN to communities in north-west Tasmania.

But, as we reported, Clare’s announcement sparked a vigorous response from federal Minister for Communications Mitch Fifield, criticising what he said was Labor’s "unfunded announcement" and saying the government expected the nbn to provide $29 million to pay for its “election promises” in north-west Tasmania.

And, so the political debate goes on, fuelled just yesterday by the AFP raids.

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Peter Dinham

Peter Dinham is a co-founder of iTWire and a 35-year veteran journalist and corporate communications consultant. He has worked as a journalist in all forms of media – newspapers/magazines, radio, television, press agency and now, online – including with the Canberra Times, The Examiner (Tasmania), the ABC and AAP-Reuters. As a freelance journalist he also had articles published in Australian and overseas magazines. He worked in the corporate communications/public relations sector, in-house with an airline, and as a senior executive in Australia of the world’s largest communications consultancy, Burson-Marsteller. He also ran his own communications consultancy and was a co-founder in Australia of the global photographic agency, the Image Bank (now Getty Images).

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