Senator Stephen Conroy is unable to release the National Broadband Network implementation report. Further evidence, if any was needed, that despite Labor’s 2009 platform calling for “New ways of governing for a stronger democracy”, truly participative Government 2.0 is still a long, long way off.

The 500-page report from McKinsey and KPMG examines the financial feasibility of the NBN company, with or without the transfer of any Telstra assets. It sounds very much like it might hold broader insights into Australia’s telecommunication industry. It’s certainly something you’d want to read before making any big decisions — like whether to carve up Telstra with the Telecommunications Legislation Amendment (Competition and Consumer Safeguards) Bill 2009. We should have seen this report before the NBN Co was even set up, let alone hired an ALP apparatchik on a $450,000 salary.

Yet on Wednesday last week Senator Conroy refused a Senate order to produce the document.

“It’s not unreasonable for the Government to say, ‘Well, we would actually just like to consider this document ourselves. We’d like to understand all of the implications for it and then we will make some decisions about when and if we release it’,” Conroy told ABC TV’s Lateline on Thursday. “But I have never said, not once, Tony, that we will not be releasing this document.”

But neither has he said he would release it.

Senator Conroy is privately keen to have the report made public, reported iTWire, or at least slabs of it, as the numbers supposedly support his NBN model. It would certainly make his life easier in the Senate, where the Greens won’t even debate the legislation until they see the report.

Yesterday The Australian says Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has “roasted” Conroy, with suggestions the government may be “too embarrassed to release the report because it will be found to be ‘shallow’, throwing up more questions than answers, with engineering considerations, for example, outweighing the critical issues of economic viability”.

Either way, all this represents the old-fashioned way of doing business. Government 1.0. Everything discussed behind closed doors and massaged in secret deals until it can be presented in a polished, media-friendly glimmer of spin.

Things are better than under Howard. As Conroy told the Senate: “I am advised that between 1 July 2005 and 2007 only one motion for the production of documents in the Senate was agreed to.” The redoubtable Bernard Keane tells me the Rudd government is more focused on the Green Paper/White Paper policy process, such that policy development is indeed more transparent.

But the transparency seems to be…selective.

Senator Conroy shouldn’t be singled out here. The NBN report is just one example of how the Rudd government slows everything down by channelling everything through Central Control before we citizens are involved. We have yet to see the Henry report on tax reform, for instance.

And Conroy is right. It does take time to get your head around a 500-page report. But it’s our report, paid for with $25 million of our taxes. So share the load! Some of us citizens know about the internet, others about business, others about the law. Many hands make light work. Many eyes make it easier to find the flaws, and it would be good to uncover any flaws in the reasoning before we spend — what was that number again? — $43 billion on an NBN.

“Government should be open to increased citizen participation in decision making, particularly in light of increased opportunities provided by technology and communications,” says the ALP’s own platform. “Government should be transparent and be driven by electoral mandate, not by hidden and unaccountable power.” These goals were reinforced by the forward-looking report from the Government 2.0 Taskforce.

Is this commitment to transparency genuine, Mr Rudd? Or is all this talk about open government just for show?

Peter Fray

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