[the australian] INDEPENDENT MP Tony Windsor has questioned the $43 billion National Broadband Network price tag, describing it as a "fictitious number".
Mr Windsor is one of three country MPs at the centre of power-sharing negotiations, including Rob Oakeshott and Bob Katter, who want access to Treasury secretary Ken Henry and Finance department secretary David Tune as they prepare a "roadmap" before entering into talks with Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott.
They've issued a "call for information'' on seven key areas, including access to the costings on all election commitments. As a result Labor could finally be forced to reveal how the $43bn figure was derived.
Mr Windsor described the request as "a test to the parties in terms of their promises going into the election" and questioned the veracity of the NBN funds.
"I'll give you an instance - broadband. This $43bn figure that's bandied about. I haven't seen the real trail that ends up to that number and in fact I think that's a fictitious number ... we want to find out what the real one is and there should be a trail that leads us to that," Mr Windsor told reporters at the National Press Club this afternoon.
He was flanked by the two federal independents and newly elected Greens MP Adam Bandt.
The NBN is set to be the largest ever infrastructure project undertaken in Australia but the government has never provided a cost-benefit analysis to support the ambitious project.
In fact Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has repeatedly said there was no need for such a study.
Senator Conroy last reiterated that stance to reporters on August 10 at the National Press Club, Canberra.
"Telstra made it very clear that they could find no business case beyond five capital cities and north and south of Sydney.
"So the Gillard government has decided we're going to do it. We're not going to wait another 12 months doing a cost-benefit analysis.
"We are leading the world in leading Australians to the 21st century. We're not hiding it, we're making it clear that this is a government investment," Senator Conroy said then.
Taxpayers will provide $27bn to fund the NBN with the remainder coming from private equity.
The Coalition will scrap the fibre-based NBN and replace it with a $6bn version using a mix of technologies including HFC and wireless.
The Greens publicly back the project but don't want the network privatised in years to come.
"The NBN should go ahead, with priority for communities in regional areas, and it should absolutely stay in public hands so that we don't see another repeat of the debacle that followed the privatisation of Telstra," Greens communications spokesman Scott Ludlam said last month.
"The opposition's wrecking tactics in the telco sector have gone far enough with the in-principle agreement signed between Telstra and the Commonwealth Tony Abbott no longer has a constituency for blocking, delaying and avoiding reforms," Senator Ludlam said.
Labor and the Greens want Telstra to separate its wholesale and retail operations - a proposal the opposition has railed against.
Earlier today, the three independents outlined the process they would undertake before commencing talks with Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott.
"We need to establish where the budget bottom line is ... in terms of the promises made by the parties," Mr Windsor said.
"What we are actually talking about here is in terms of the promises that were made during the election campaign by both sides. We need a starting point of the finances of the nation."
NBN under scrutiny by country MPs