Govt chaos: Has NBN Co stopped the rollout?

An NBN Co spokesperson this morning refused to confirm or deny that it would continue rolling out fibre around Australia

The National Broadband Network Company would not confirm this morning whether it would continue to roll out optic fibre around the nation while Australia’s Parliament attempts to resolve whether the Coalition or Labor would form Government.

Last night’s extraordinary political events — which resulted in a hung parliament, with neither Labor nor the Coalition able to form government immediately — could take up to a week to resolve, according to some commentators, with the possibility that either party could take power with enough support from independent members, or even a new election.

But an NBN Co spokesperson this morning refused to confirm or deny that it would continue rolling out fibre around Australia this week as part of Labor’s NBN policy, or to comment on any matter at all — even when asked what the reaction would be if journalists were to visit the NBN’s first release sites to check on progress. NBN Co is led by chief executive Mike Quigley (pictured, above).

NBN Co has been rolling out fibre to a number of early stage release sites around Australia, as well as in Tasmania — with the development of some sites, especially in Townsville, having received significant political attention during the campaign. However, the Coalition has pledged to cancel the NBN rollout if it wins Government.

Katherine Sainty, a communications and media lawyer and director of Sainty Law, said it was appropriate for NBN Co not to comment due to the company’s wholly government-owned nature.

The lawyer said she would expect NBN Co not to enter into any new significant arrangements such as putting new contracts out to tender, because until the parliamentary chaos was resolved, NBN Co would be more or less in a caretaker mode.

However, she said because of its nature as a commercial company, she would expect it to continue to deliver on on its legal obligations as such – including, for example, with contractors it had organised to roll out the early stage release sites.

The players

None of the politicians who take major roles in shaping Australia’s telecommunications industry lost their seats last night. According to the ABC’s election site, with 72.21 percent of Victoria’s Senate vote counted, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy was easily returned to parliament, as well as Industry Minister Kim Carr.

Shadow Communications Minister Tony Smith looks set to survive a 1.6 percent swing to the ALP in his seat of Casey, and it’s a similar case for Finance Spokesperson Andrew Robb in Goldstein, as well as Paul Fletcher in Bradfield and Malcolm Turnbull in Wentworth. Greens Communications Spokesperson Scott Ludlam wasn’t up for election in the Senate due to the upper house’s longer term, but the Greens did win the balance of power in the Senate, and Labor Senator Kate Lundy was also returned.

The future

The future of the National Broadband Network is still in doubt at the moment, depending on whether either the Coalition or Labor can form government with support from the independents.

Of the four, one last night — Lyne MP Rob Oakeshott — made it very clear that telecommunications was on his agenda, mentioning mobile phone coverage as one problem in his electorate on the ABC’s election coverage last night – noting you didn’t “have to be Einstein” to work out it was an issue.

Later on, Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said Oakeshott had clearly said that he wanted to improve telecommunications.

“Have we got a plan for him,” quipped Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith last night, apparently referring to the NBN policy.

Oakeshott won headlines during the campaign after his organisation developed a web site feature that would allow anyone across Australia to track the MP’s physical location online.

“If this election does become close along political party lines, the tracking device will be a handy tool for the nation to use if negotiations take place regarding the formation of Government over the coming week. “There will be no secrets and people will be able to confirm that there are no secrets by using this unique tracking device on an iPhone or smartphone,” Oakeshott at the time.

The website was last updated nine hours ago, showing Oakeshott in Port Macquarie by the water.

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