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Gillard Releases NBN Details to Gain Support for Telstra Laws

Gillard Releases NBN Details to Gain Support for Telstra Law
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard told reporters, “We’ve determined, following discussions, that it is possible to publicly release carefully selected materials which answer some key questions.” Photographer: Toshiyuki Aizawa/Bloomberg

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard released confidential details on the government’s planned high-speed Internet plan to try to gain support for a related law to split Telstra Corp.’s businesses.

Gillard released part of NBN Co.’s corporate plan, boosted consumer protection in the planned national network and established a committee to oversee its rollout as part of an agreement with independent Senator Nick Xenophon. This clears the way for a vote on the Telstra law in the Senate today.

Telstra’s retail business needs to be split from its copper-wire network to make way for a national plan to provide Internet services to Australia’s remotest corners. The plan is the nation’s biggest infrastructure project, with A$35.7 billion ($34.9 billion) in capital expenditure including a A$9 billion deal with Telstra, today’s documents show.

“We’ve determined, following discussions, that it is possible to publicly release carefully selected materials which answer some key questions,” Gillard told reporters in Canberra today about negotiations with senators. Telstra shares rose as much as 2.2 percent after Sky News reported Xenophon would support the laws. Xenophon said he’ll confirm his position at today’s vote.

The government needs to gain seven extra votes to pass laws in the Senate. The Australian Greens party, with five senators, will back the Telstra split and the government needs to secure Xenophon and Family First lawmaker Steve Fielding. Fielding’s spokesman, Kane Silom, said the senator was “close to a decision” and expected a vote between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Approval Process

“Throughout this process, I have argued that the government needed to publicly release the information in the NBN business plan that the Senate needed in order to make an informed decision on this bill,” Xenophon told reporters in Canberra today. “Until last night it was refusing, arguing that information was commercial-in-confidence. I didn’t buy that.”

Gillard’s Internet plan drew fire ahead of the Aug. 21 election for its cost. She clung to power by forming a minority government with independent lawmakers from rural regions who welcomed the improved services. Both houses of parliament are to debate the broader national broadband plan next year.

The broadband network is set to be completed by 2018, laying fiber optics that would reach 93 percent of the population, with the remainder served by wireless and satellite coverage. The project is comparable in size to the A$42 billion stimulus the government announced in February 2009 as it sought to protect the nation from recession.

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