Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:45): My question is to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy. Minister, will you acknowledge that the decision to put the Australia Network out to tender in the first place was a mistake? Will the minister ensure that the service which belongs properly with a well resourced national broadcaster is not opened for tender again?
Senator CONROY (Victoria-Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:46): I thank Senator Ludlam for his ongoing interest. The Gillard government is extremely disappointed that the tender process was compromised by leaks. This was a significant commercial contract involving up to $223.1 million of taxpayers' money and it was important that both cabinet and the general public could have confidence in the process. This is why the Gillard government has called in the Australian Federal Police.
Government senators interjecting-
Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (14:49): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for a series of detailed answers to questions that I did not ask. I will try another tack. Does the minister intend to provide-
Opposition senators interjecting-
Senator LUDLAM: What is with the shrieking? Does the minister intend to provide a report on the shambolic tender process to the parliament so that the public can be confident that due process has been followed?
Senator CONROY: The need identified during a recent consular crisis is for strengthened information services. Both tenderers were given an equal and reasonable opportunity to respond to the additional criterion. At this time, cabinet also decided to appoint me as the approver and that the decision should be referred for cabinet consideration. The amended request for tender closed on 27 July 2011 and on 17 October an article appeared in the press which contained significant leaks of information from the tender process. On 27 October the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet wrote to the Australian Federal Police requesting an investigation into the leaks. As a result of the leaks, the government sought advice from the Australian Government Solicitor who indicated there is a possibility that the current process may in some way be tainted or corrupted such that it is not possible that a fair and equitable outcome can be achieved. The advice went on to say that it was open to the government to decide- (Time expired)
Senator LUDLAM: I will ask the minister to take the questions on notice. Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Does the government intend to provide a statement to parliament as to the process that was followed? Will the minister commit to letting the ABC run the service in perpetuity and fund it adequately to deliver an ABC world service of which all of us can be proud?
Senator CONROY (Victoria-Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on Digital Productivity) (14:51): As I was saying, the advice went on to say it was open to the government to decide to terminate the tender process on public interest grounds on the basis that a fair and defensible tender process outcome may now not be able-
Senator Ludlam: Mr President, I rise on a point of order in terms of relevance. The minister is simply reading from a prepared statement that was written well before I asked my questions. I would ask him to address the specific questions.
Honourable senators interjecting-
The PRESIDENT (14:51): Order on both sides! I am trying to listen to Senator Ludlam and it is very hard when you are interjecting. Start again, Senator Ludlam.
Senator LUDLAM: Mr President, I just seek you to direct the minister to answer the questions that I have actually asked. That is all I am seeking.
The PRESIDENT: You are chewing up question time.
Senator Ludwig: Mr President, on the point of order: the minister could not be more directly relevant to the question. The minister is making a statement to parliament. He is taking the Senate through the steps and explaining the process quite thoroughly. If those opposite, including the Greens, did listen to Senator Conroy, they would find he is taking us through this circumstance in great detail.
The PRESIDENT: I believe the minister is answering the question. The minister has 48 seconds remaining.
Senator CONROY: As I was saying, the advice said it was open to the government to decide to terminate the tender process on public interest grounds on the basis that a fair and defensible tender process outcome now may not be able to be achieved. The government will now consider the full range of options for the awarding of this contract and will make a decision no later than March next year. As I have said, the government is extremely disappointed that these leaks have occurred and that the tender process has been compromised. However, the government has taken the decision that it is in the public interest that the process be terminated. Put simply: it is no longer possible to be certain what each bidder knew about their rival's bid. This decision has not been taken lightly, but the government acted on the legal advice it had received from the Australian Government Solicitor. (Time expired)