Senate Estimates - Highlights from Day Three: 13 February 2013

NBN’s caffeine fix is no network fix

NBN Co admitted that it purchased 31 coffee machines for its office staff at a cost of $164,188 and spent almost $4,000 per month on coffee beans.

But the taxpayer-funded coffee breaks don’t seem to have helped NBN Co do its real job – rolling out the network.  Senate Estimates heard that:

  • As at December, only 10,400 premises were connected to the fibre network.  That’s just 7.6 premises a day since NBN Co was established on 9 April 2009.
  • The company subcontracted to rollout the network in WA, SA and the NT has failed to deliver a single activated service in 19 months.
  • Most of premises in multi dwelling units passed by the NBN cannot be connected to the service.
  • NBN Co says it is no longer willing to provide Estimates with “granular detail’ about the progress of the rollout – such as its progress in each State.  That’s totally unacceptable, but given all of the above it’s probably not surprising. 

Small business not a priority for the PM or Cabinet

The Small Business Commissioner has told Senate Estimates that he has not yet met the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, the Assistant Treasurer or any Treasury officials.

Nor has the Commissioner been asked for input on many issues important to small business, including changes to workplace laws, GST on imported goods and consumer credit protections to small business from the Prime Minister’s Department told Estimates that: “Small business issues don’t often come up in terms of issues that are before the Prime Minister or before the Cabinet”. 

Little wonder that the latest Sensis business survey finds that only 6% of respondents think that Federal Government policies are supportive of small business, while 55% believe its policies work against it.

Manufacturing Technology Innovation Centre – all spin and no substance

In last year’s Budget Industry Minister Combet announced a $29.8 million Manufacturing Technology Innovation Centre “to help power Australian manufacturing”.

Nine months later officials from the Department of Industry confirmed yesterday that no progress had been made on rolling out the Centre, and that even on the Department’s website there has been no mention of it of any kind since last June.

Where’s the money coming from

On 12 February Workplace Relations Minister Shorten called a media conference to announce that “the Federal Government, for the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, is making workplace bullying a Federal workplace relations issue”.

On 13 February the Fair Work Commission told Senate Estimates that it could not afford these additional responsibilities without significant additional financial support. This says it all, really. 

Terminological trauma

  • Safe Work Australia no longer refers to ‘stakeholders’, they are now known as ‘social partners’.
  • The Defence Department doesn’t receive ‘complaints’, it receives ‘feedback’. 

In Brief

Senate Estimates also heard that:

  • So far, the cost of changing the name of Fair Work Australia to the Fair Work Commission is $100,000. That’s $100,000 to change just one word.
  • Due to budget cuts it will take another ten years to complete the upgrade of security at Defence Force bases as recommended following the foiled terror attack at Holdsworthy in 2009.
  • Cuts to the Defence budget have caused the planned $145 million upgrade of the Joint Logistics Unit at Lavarack Barracks to be postponed indefinitely
  • The draft Defence White Paper leaked late last year was genuine

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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