The West

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has backed down on key elements of the disputed national broadband network proposal to win the backing of key independent Senator Nick Xenophon.

Ms Gillard has agreed to demands from Senator Xenophon that will see much of the business plan underpinning the proposed $43b NBN released for public scrutiny.

The Government has also promised to set up a parliamentary oversight committee of the telco, and NBN boss Mike Quigley will give Sen Xenophon a personal briefing on the company.

The agreement paves the way for Senator Xenophon to support legislation that will see the structural separation of Telstra between its retail and wholesale arms.

Senator Xenophon said it appeared that without the cooperation of Telstra the NBN would be at least $5.5b more expensive.

He said he was pleased that the Government had a change of heart and decided to make much more information publicly available.

"I argued that they had to make a better effort to come clean with the Australian people, and provide the information that we need and deserve," he said.

Senator Xenophon’s vote is essential to getting the Telstra separation bill through the Senate, which is now expected before parliament rises on Thursday.

While happy with the deal, Sen Xenophon said he reserved his position on the final NBN Bills, which will go to the Senate next year.

Ms Gillard said the summary would show that broadband prices would fall over time as the market became more competitive and the rate of return for the government would be higher than the long-term bond rate.

She said it was important that the legislation was passed this week.

“This bill will deliver historic reforms and allow the rollout of high speed broadband to go ahead,” she said.\

“Securing the passing of this bill would secure that result.”

Ms Gillard said the government and NBN Co decided what to put in and leave out of the summary document.

“Clearly, we are not putting anything into the public domain that would cause market uncertainty,” she said.

“We are not putting anything into the public domain that is properly the province of cabinet once it has received the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) information.”

The government is waiting on a report from the commission on how many retail companies will be able to plug into the network, which isn’t due until November 30.

Ms Gillard said that because Family First senator Steve Fielding had accepted Labor’s offer of a confidential briefing on the NBN, the summary wouldn’t give him any more information.

“For Senator Xenophon, this information is, obviously, information he can rely on,” she said.

“He chose not to take the confidential briefing because he had an issue about confidentiality clauses.”

The West Australian

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