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The two independent senators, Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon – one of whom was defeated in the recent election – hold the key to the immediate fate of the Government’s bill to structurally separate Telstra, which the Government wants passed in the current session of Parliament ending this week.

The two independent senators, Steve Fielding and Nick Xenophon – one of whom was defeated in the recent election – hold the key to the immediate fate of the Government’s bill to structurally separate Telstra, which the Government wants passed in the current session of Parliament ending this week.

Family First Senator Fielding has accepted an offer to be briefed confidentially on the NBN Co business plan, which the Government does not wish to release until December. Xenophon has declined, likening requirement for a gag order on discussing the briefing to a murder sentence.

However the Government has won the support of the Greens after agreeing to allow a parliamentary vote on future privatisation on NBN Co.

The Government has agreed to include a clause in its NBN legislation that requires parliament to approve any plan for the network’s privatisation – essential if the Government is to recoup the $26 billion cost, in taxpayer funds, of the network.

“That was the last issue that was a sticking point for us,” Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam told ABC Radio. He said that if NBN Co remained in public hands CEO Mike Quigley could be hauled in at Senate estimates to answer questions.

However the Government still needs to secure the votes of the two independent senators to ensure passage of the Telstra bill this week. (The Government can be assured the bill could pass the Senate after July, when the defeated Fielding’s term expires and the Greens gain the balance of power).

Meanwhile the Government had a lot of fun yesterday with the discovery that Opposition spokesman Malcolm Turnbull has a $10 million shareholding in Web hosting outfit Melbourne IT, which stands to benefit from the NBN.

PM Julia Gillard claimed that Turnbull has 10 million reason to be supportive of the NBN and, while many pollies are told to put their money where their mouth is, she said perhaps the member for Wentworth should put his mouth where his money is.
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