The Federal Opposition is planning to bombard Comms and Broadband Minister Stephen Conroy with questions following yesterday’s release of Auditor-General Ian McPhee’s report on the Government’s original $4.7 billion plan for a fibre-to-the node national broadband network eventually abandoned in favour of the current $43 billion fibre-to-the-premises NBN proposal.
The report examines in depth the request for proposals (RFP) procedure involved in the first plan. Opposition Senator Nick Minchin who had requested the audit seized on McPhee’s finding that the RFP process cost the Department of Broadband,
Communications and the Digital Economy and hence taxpayers $17 million, though it eventually came to nothing when none of the eight proposals were deemed acceptable.
The department’s costs included $11 million for RFP-related consultancies and $600,000 for paying the private sector members of the expert panel which assessed the proposals.
Another $13 million was spent by the companies and consortia involved, in preparing their proposals. Individual costs ranged between $1 million and $8 million.
The Auditor-General did not criticise the department’s $17 million expenditure, though he called it “significant”. And he reported that the expert panel and the department conducted the RFP process “well”, within the parameters of the Government’s broadband policy and in accordance with Commonwealth procurement guidelines.
However he noted that a two-stage process to select proponents rather than the single-stage adopted might have improved prospects of a successful outcome, though this would have needed a longer timeframe. And he said department officials had warned the Government about key risks to the success of the request for proposals process.
Opposition broadband spokesman Tony Smith called it “a damming indictment on Minister Conroy”. “I think the Government’s got a lot of questions to answer and we’ll pursue all of those questions next week in the Senate estimates process,” he said.